In the blog The global economy we considered the economic performance of countries across the globe, including the UK. In the first estimate of UK economic growth for the first quarter of 2013, the economy grew at 0.3%, thus avoiding a triple-dip recession. This first estimate is always subject to change, but in this case, the data was confirmed.
The April 2013 figure provided by the ONS of 0.3% growth has been confirmed, once again indicating the slow recovery of the UK economy. Despite these more positive signs for the economy, the IMF has raised concerns of the weak performance of the UK and has urged the government to invest more in projects to stimulate growth. Although the economy has started to grow, economic growth has continued to remain weak since the onset of the financial crisis and recession. Martin Beck, an economist at Capital Economics said:
With employment and average earnings both dropping in the first quarter on their level in the previous quarter, the foundations for a sustained recovery, even one driven by consumers, still look pretty rickety.
Initial estimates by the ONS are always updated and there is still time for the 0.3% growth figure to be changed, as more data becomes available. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.) This latest figure, although unchanged, has given a more concrete indication of where the UK economy is continuing to struggle. Consumer spending increased by only 0.1%, investment and exports declined, but in further signs of a weak economy, the building up of stocks by companies was a big contributor to the UK economic growth – a contribution of 0.4 percentage points. The service sector continued to growth with a 0.6 percentage point contribution to GDP.
So, what does the future look like for the UK? Although the estimate of 0.3% figure did prevent a triple-dip recession and the IMF did comment on the ‘improving health’ of the economy, signs of recovery remain weak.
Crucial to the recovery will be government spending, but more than this, the government spending must be in key growth industries. Data suggests that the UK invests less than other G8 countries as a percentage of GDP and this is perhaps one of the key factors that has prevented the UK recovery from gathering pace. The future of the UK economy remains uncertain and government policy will be crucial in determining this future course. The following articles consider the latest growth data.
Signs of weakness mar UK economic growth Reuters, Olesya Dmitracova and William Schomberg (23/5/13)
UK first quarter growth unchanged BBC News (23/5/13)
Concerns over underlying health of UK economy as 0.3% growth confirmed The Guardian, Philip Inman (23/5/13)
Statisticians confirm 0.3% UK growth for first quarter of 2013 Financial Times, Claire Jones and Sarah O’Connor (23/5/13)
UK GDP: concerns about underlying economy as 0.3pc growth confirmed The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (23/5/13)
Britsh economy returns to growth in first quarter The Economic Times (23/5/13)
U.K. households not loosening purse strings Wall Street Journal, Ainsley Thomson and Ilona Bllington (23/5/13)
IMF: UK should push for economic growth BBC News (22/5/13)
- Why are numerous estimates of GDP made by the ONS?
- How is GDP measured? Is it an accurate measure of economic growth? What about economic development?
- Why does 0.3% growth in the first quarter of GDP not necessarily imply that the UK economy is recovering?
- Why have certain aspects of the UK economy performed better or worse than others?
- What areas should the government invest in, according to the IMF?
- Why would government spending in investment create economic growth? Is this likely to be short term or long term?
A simple model in economics is that of demand and supply. Through the price mechanism, signals are sent between consumers and producers and this interaction results in an equilibrium market price and quantity. However, what happens when the market for a good or service is in disequilibrium?
When a market is in equilibrium, demand equals supply. However, as we discussed in a previous blog concerning baby milk in China (see Milking the economy), markets are not always in equilibrium. If demand exceeds supply, a shortage will emerge and to eliminate this, the price must rise. If, on the other hand, supply exceeds demand, there will be an excess supply and thus the price must fall to restore equilibrium.
The market in question here is toilet paper in Venezuela! A severe shortage of this product has emerged in recent months, with shops running out of supplies. In a bid to relieve this shortage, the country’s Minister of Commerce has received approval for a $79 million credit, which can be used to import this basic product in short supply. Fifty million rolls will be imported to help fill the shortage that has emerged. The shortage is not just a problem for toilet paper, but also across a range of basic consumer goods. The article from Reuters comments that:
The government says the toilet paper shortages, like others, are the results of panicked buying and unscrupulous merchants hoarding the goods to artificially inflate prices.
Opposition critics say the problem is caused by the currency controls, created a decade ago by late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, and years of nationalizations that weakened private industry and left businesses unwilling to invest.
With shortages across a variety of products, the President has begun to work closely with business leaders to address this situation. The following articles consider this basic market, the intervention and consequences.
Venezuela hopes to wipe out toilet paper shortage by importing 50m rolls The Guardian (16/5/13)
Venezuela ends toilet paper shortage BBC News (22/5/13)
With even toilet paper scarce, Venezuelan president warms to business Reuters, Eyanir Chinea (22/5/13)
Toilet paper shortage in Venezuela to end after lawmakers back plans to import 39 million rolls Huffington Post, Sara Nelson (22/5/13)
Venezuela’s toilet paper shortage ended; 3 other basic goods that went scarce in the country International Business Times, Patricia Rey Mallen (22/5/13)
- Using a demand and supply diagram, explain how equilibrium is determined in a free market.
- Illustrate the shortage described in the aticles on your above demand and supply diagram. How should the price mechanism adjust?
- What types of government intervention have led to the shortages of such basic consumer goods?
- How have currency controls created a problem for Venezuela?
- With an increase in imported products, what impact might there be on Venezuela’s exchange rate and on its balance of payments?
When you hear about China, it’s often regarding their huge population, their strong growth or their dominance in exports. But, when it comes to baby milk, China is certainly an importer – and a big one at that. For many new parents, getting the ‘real thing’ when it comes to baby formula is absolutely essential.
Chinese baby formula is feared by many new parents, due to the potential for it to contain hormones and dangerous chemicals. This has led them to go to great lengths to ensure they have sufficient supplies of imported baby formula, often only trusting it if it has been hand carried from overseas. However, such is the demand for this safe version of baby milk that the global response has been to place restrictions on it. Essentially, we are seeing a system of rationing emerging.
Hong Kong was the first government to limit the amount bought to two cans of formula per day, with the potential for a fine of over $64,000 and up to two years in prison for those who do not abide by the rules. The UK has now also responded with restrictions on the quantity that can be purchased and other countries may follow suit if the excess demand continues.
According to Sainsburys:
As a short-term measure, retailers including Sainsbury’s are limiting the amount of baby milk powder that people can buy. In this way we aim to ensure a constant supply for our customers and we therefore hope they won’t be inconvenienced.
The Chinese government has reacted to this and is aiming to restore confidence in the food industry, but as yet there has been little positive effect and until there are 100% guarantees of food safety the surge in demand for baby formula from abroad is likely to continue.
This policy of rationing is clearly not only going to affect Chinese parents looking to import baby formula, but is already having an impact on domestic residents. Parents living in the UK are feeling the rationing effects and are also being restricted in terms of how many cans of formula they can buy per day. For many families this isn’t a problem, but for those with multiple children and for whom a trip to the supermarket is not a simple task, the restrictions on baby milk purchases is likely to become a problem. The following articles consider this topic.
Baby milk rationing: Chinese fears spark global restrictions BBC News, Celia Hatton (10/4/13)
Stop rationing information about baby formula milk The Telegraph, Rosie Murray-West (9/4/13)
Baby milk rationed in UK over China export fear BBC News (8/4/13)
Baby Formula rationed in UK over China demand Sky News (9/4/13)
Supermarkets limit sales of baby milk to stop bulk buying to feed China market Independent, Emma Bamford (8/4/13)
Cahinese thirst for formula spurs rationing Financial Times, Amie Tsang and Louise Lucas (7/4/13)
Entrepreneurs milk Chinese thirst for formula Financial Times, Amie Tsang and Louise Lucas (7/4/13)
Baby milk powder rationing introduced by supermarkets The Guardian, Rebecca Smithers (8/4/13)
- Using a diagram of demand and supply, illustrate how a shortage for a product can emerge. How does the price mechanism usually work to eliminate a shortage?
- What actions can be taken to deal with a shortage?
- How will more stringent regulations by the Chinese government help to restore confidence in Chinese baby milk formula?
- What impact will the imports of baby milk formula into China have on China’s exchange rate and its balance of payments?
- How could this situation be taken advantage of by entrepreneurs? Could it be used as a viable business opportunity?
In the blog No accounting for trade, the rise in the UK’s balance of trade deficit was discussed. Many factors have contributed to this weakening position and no one market is to blame. But, by analysing one product and thinking about the factors that have caused its export volumes to decline, we can begin to create a picture not just of the UK economy (or more particularly Scotland!), but of the wider global economy.
Scotch whisky may not have been the drink of choice for many British adults, but look outside Great Britain and the volume consumed is quite staggering. For example, French consumers drink more Scotch whisky in one month than they drink cognac in one year. The volume of Scotch whisky exported from our shores was £4.23 billion for 2011, accounting for 90% of all sales and making its way into 200 markets. However, one problem with this product is that it is highly susceptible to the business cycle. Add to this the time required to produce the perfect Scotch (in particular the fact that it must be left to mature) and we have a market where forecasting is a nightmare.
Producers typically look to forecast demand some 10 years ahead and so getting it right is not always easy, especially when the global economy declines following a financial crisis! So what has been the impact on exports of this luxurious drink? In the past few years, it has been as key growth market for UK exports rising by 190% in value over the past decade. But in 2012 the volume of Scotch whisky exports fell by 5% to 1.19 billion bottles. What explains the decline in sales?
The biggest importer of Scotch whisky is France and its volumes were down by 25%. Part of this decline is undoubtedly the economic situation. When incomes decline, demand for normal goods also falls. Many would suggest Scotch whisky is a luxury and thus we would expect to see a relatively large decline following any given fall in income. However, another factor adding to this decline in 2012 is the increased whisky tax imposed by the French government. Rising by 15% in 2012, commentators suggest that this caused imports of Scotch whisky to rise in 2011 to avoid this tax, thus imports in 2012 took a dive. Spain is another key export market and its economic troubles are clearly a crucial factor in explaining their 20% drop in volume of Scotch whisky imported.
But, it’s not all bad news: sales to Western Europe may be down, but Eastern Europe and other growth countries/continents, such as the BRICs and Africa have developed a taste for this iconic product. Latvia and Estonia’s value of Scotch whisky imports were up by 48% and 28% respectively, as Russian demand rises and China, still growing, is another key market. Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association said:
A combination of successful trade negotations, excellent marketing by producers, growing demand from mature markets, particularly the USA, and the growing middle class in emerging economies helped exports hit a record £4.3bn last year.
Furthermore, while the volume of exports worldwide did fall, the value of these exports rose to £4.27 billion, a growth of 1%. This suggests that although we are exporting fewer bottles, the bottles that we are exporting are more expensive ones. Clearly some people have not felt the impact of the recession. For Scotland and the wider UK, these declining figures are concerning, but given the cyclical nature of the demand, as the world economy slowly begins to recover, sales are likely to follow suit. Gavin Hewitt continued his comments above, saying:
We are contributing massively to the Government’s wish for an export-led recovery. There is confidence in the future of the industry, illustrated by the £2bn capital investment that Scotch whisky producers have committed over the next three to four years.
The following articles consider the rise and fall of this drink and its role as a key export market across the world.
Scottish whisky industry puts export hope in new market BBC News (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky sales on the slide The Guardian, Simon Neville (2/4/13)
Growth stalls for Scotch whisky exports BBC News (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky accounts for 25pc of UK’s food and drink exports The Telegraph, Auslan Cramb (2/4/13)
Whisky sales fall but value of exports hits new high Herald Scotland (3/4/13)
Scotch whisky exports rise to record value The Telegraph, Auslan Cramb (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky exports hit by falling demand in France The Grocer, Vince Bamford (2/4/13)
New markets save Scotch from impact of austerity Independent, Tom Bawden (2/4/13)
Scotch exports hit by falling demand Financial Times, Hannah Kichler (2/4/13)
- Which is the better measure of an industry’s performance: the value or the volume of goods sold?
- Why would you expect volumes of Scotch sold to decline during an economic downturn?
- When a higher tax was imposed on Scotch whisky in France, why did volumes fall? Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate the impact of the tax.
- What type of figure would you expect Scotch whisky to have for income elasticity of demand? Does it vary for different people?
- Why is forecasting demand for Scotch so difficult? What techniques might be used?
- Why does demand for Scotch whisky remain high and even rising in many emerging markets?
- Is the market for Scotch whisky exports a good indication of the interdependence of countries across the world?
The exchange rate for sterling is determined in much the same way as the price of goods – by the interaction of demand and supply.
When factors change that cause residents abroad to want to hold more or fewer pounds, the demand curve for sterling will shift. If, instead, factors change that cause UK residents to want to buy more or less foreign currency, then the supply curve of sterling will shift. It is these two curves that determine the equilibrium exchange rate of sterling.
There are concerns at the moment that sterling is about to reach a peak, with expectations that the pound will weaken throughout 2013. But is a weakening exchange rate good or bad for the UK?
With lower exchange rates, exports become relatively more competitive. This should lead to an increase in the demand for UK products from abroad. As exports are a component of aggregate demand, any increase in exports will lead to the AD curve shifting to the right and thus help to stimulate a growth in national output. Indeed, throughout the financial crisis, the value of the pound did fall (see chart above: click here for a PowerPoint) and this led to the total value of UK exports increasing significantly. However, the volume of UK exports actually fell. This suggests that whilst UK exporters gained in terms of profitability, they have not seen much of an increase in their overall sales and hence their market share.
Therefore, while UK exporters may gain from a low exchange rate, what does it mean for UK consumers? If a low exchange rate cuts the prices of UK goods abroad, it will do the opposite for the prices of imported goods in the UK. Many goods that UK consumers buy are from abroad and, with a weak pound, foreign prices become relatively higher. This means that the living standards of UK consumers will be adversely affected by a weak pound, as any imported goods buy will now cost more.
It’s not just the UK that is facing questions over its exchange rate. Jean-Claude Junker described the euro as being ‘dangerously high’ and suggested that the strength or over-valuation of the exchange rate was holding the eurozone back from economic recovery. So far the ECB hasn’t done anything to steer its currency, despite many other countries, including Japan and Norway having already taken action to bring their currencies down. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, however, said that ‘both the real and the effective exchange rate of the euro are at their long-term average’ and thus the current value of the euro is not a major cause for concern.
So, whatever your view about intervening in the market to steer your currency, there will be winners and losers. Now that countries are so interdependent, any changes in the exchange rate will have huge implications for countries across the world. Perhaps this is why forecasting currency fluctuations can be so challenging. The following articles consider changes in the exchange rate and the impact this might have.
A pounding for sterling in 2013? BBC News, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (17/1/13)
UK drawn into global currency wars as slump deepens Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (16/1/13)
Foreign currency exchange rate predictions for GBP EUR, Forecasts for USD and NZD Currency News, Tim Boyer (15/1/13)
Euro still looking for inspiration, Yen firm Reuters (16/1/13)
Daily summary on USD, EUR, JPY, GBP, AUD, CAD and NZD International Business Times, Roger Baettig (16/1/13)
UK inflation bonds surge on Index as pound falls versus euro Bloomberg, Business News, Lucy Meakin (10/1/13)
- Which factors will cause an increase in the demand for sterling? Which factors will cause a fall in the supply of sterling?
- In the article by Stephanie Flanders from the BBC, loose monetary policy is mentioned as something which is likely to continue. What does this mean and how will this affect the exchange rate?
- Explain the interest- and exchange-rate transmission mechanisms, using diagrams to help your answer.
- If sterling continues to weaken, how might this affect economic growth in the UK? Will there be any multiplier effect?
- What is the difference between the volume and value of exports? How does this relate to profit margins?
- Why are there suggestions that the euro is over-valued? Should European Finance Ministers be concerned?
- Should governments or central banks intervene in foreign exchange markets?
- If all countries seek to weaken their currencies in order to make their exports more competitive, why is this a zero-sum game?