With all the doom and gloom of recent economic data, including rising inflation and higher unemployment, there’s finally a small speck of light and that’s in the form UK retail sales. The latest data from the ONS suggests that sales in the UK in September were higher than previously forecast and reversed the 0.4% decline we saw in August. A big contributing factor to this positive data was a boost to online sales, but this small glimmer of hope is unlikely to be sufficient to keep the economy going – unless sales keep rising, we are unlikely to see any significant increase in economic growth.
The data, while positive, is still unlikely to have any impact on economic policy. The minutes from the Monetary Policy Committee showed that there was unanimous support for further quantitative easing, as the threat of weak growth and financial instability and uncertainty remains. An economist from Barclays Capital said:
‘We don’t think the recent strong growth in monthly sales is likely to be sustained…The environment for retailers is likely to remain challenging as consumer spending remains depressed driven by low confidence and slow earnings growth.’
The data from September is positive, but it does little to offset the decline in sales seen in August. It was revised down from 0.2% to 0.4% – some blame the hot weather, which discouraged consumers from hitting the high streets in preparation for the winter. The key data to look out for will be sales figures for the next few months. Only then will we have more of an indication about exactly which direction the economy is moving in. The following articles consider this latest economic data.
Retail sales in UK unexpectedly increase at fastest pace in five months Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton (20/10/11)
UK retail sales see stronger-than-expected rise BBC News (20/10/11)
Nothing expected from today’s UK retail sales figure FX-MM, Richard Driver (20/10/11)
Retail sales: what the economists say Guardian (20/10/11)
£1 in every £10 now spent online, says ONS Telegraph, Harry Wallop (20/10/11)
Retail sales rise more than expected Financial Times, Sarah O’Connor (20/10/11)
Retail sales up but good weather has a price Sky News (20/10/11)
- Which factors have contributed to the higher than expected sales figures for September?
- Why do economists not believe that the higher growth in sales means signs of recovery for the UK economy?
- How has higher inflation impacted UK households?
- To what extent do you think the warm weather held back retail sales?
- What could explain why there has been a significant growth in online sales?
With the UK economy already struggling, the atmosphere in the financial sector has just a bit moodier, as Moody’s have downgraded the credit rating of 12 financial firms in the UK, including Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland and Nationwide. The change in credit rating has emerged because of Moody’s belief that the UK government was less likely to support these firms if they fell into financial trouble. It was, however, emphasized that it did not “reflect a deterioration in the financial strength of the banking system.” The same can not be said for Portugal, who has similarly seen nine of their banks being downgraded due to ‘financial weakness’. George Osborne commented that it was down to the government no longer guaranteeing our largest banks, but he also said:
“I’m confident that British banks are well capitalised, they are liquid, they are not experiencing the kinds of problems that some of the banks in the eurozone are experiencing at the moment.”
Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland both saw falls in their shares following their downgraded credit rating. Other banks, including Barclays also saw their shares fall, despite not being downgraded. Perhaps another indication of the interdependence we now see across the world. In interviews, George Osborne has continued to say that he believes UK banks are secure and wants them to become more independent to try to protect taxpayer’s money in the event of a crisis. Moody’s explained its decision saying:
“Moody’s believes that the government is likely to continue to provide some level of support to systemically important financial institutions, which continue to incorporate up to three notches of uplift…However, it is more likely now to allow smaller institutions to fail if they become financially troubled. The downgrades do not reflect a deterioration in the financial strength of the banking system or that of the government.”
The above comment reflects Moody’s approach to downgrading UK banks – not all have seen the same credit rating cuts. RBS and Nationwide have gone down 2 notches, whilst Lloyds and Santander have only gone down by 1 notch. Markets across the world will continue to react to this development in the UK financial sector, so it is a story worth keeping up to date with. The following articles consider the Moody environment.
UK banks’ credit rating downgraded The Press Association (7/10/11)
UK financial firms downgraded by Moody’s rating agency BBC News (7/10/11)
Moody’s downgrades nine Portuguese banks Financial Times, Peter Wise (7/10/11)
Bank shares fall on Moody’s downgrade Telegraph, Harry Wilson (7/10/11)
Moody’s cuts credit rating on UK banks RBS and Lloyds Reuters, Sudip Kar-Gupta (7/10/11)
Moody’s downgrade: George Osborne says British banks are sound Guardian, Andrew Sparrow (7/10/11)
Whitehall fears new bail-out for RBS Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins (7/10/11)
- Do you think that Moody’s have over-reacted? Explain your answer.
- What factors would Moody’s have considered when determining whether to downgrade the credit rating of any given bank and by how much?
- Why did share prices of the affected firms fall following the downgrading? What does this suggest about the public’s confidence in the banks?
- Do you think it is the right move for the government to encourage UK banks to become more independent in a bid to protect taxpayer’s money should a crisis develop?
- How might this downgrading affect the performance of the UK economy for the rest of 2011? Explain your answer.
- What are the differences behind the downgrading of UK banks and Portuguese banks?