There has been much talk of a double-dip recession, with many suggesting that the UK economy is already in a recession. However, according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), a recession is not inevitable. Although the businesses surveyed showed that the economy had significantly weakened, John Longworth the Director General of the BCC said that a ‘new recession is not a foregone conclusion’.
Even though many of the figures showed a continued weakening of the economy, the results are still not as bad as they were back in 2008. The concern is that if the weakness continues, as it is predicted to do in the first quarter of 2012, confidence will remain low and then the economy may stagnate and a recession becomes a more likely scenario. Action is needed to prevent this from happening, especially with the eurozone crisis still causing concern. As John Longworth said:
The UK does have the potential to recover and make its way in the world. We have the talent, the energy and the enterprise. All we need is an environment that puts business first.
At the beginning of December 2011, many analysts thought retail sales would remain low, as they had been throughout 2011. However, British consumers came through in the second half of December and retail sales were up by 4.1% compared with a year ago. According to the British Retail Consortium, this Christmas rush should not be seen as a fundamental change in the direction of the economy and will have done little to boost the overall annual sales of most retailers.
Recession ‘not foregone conclusion’ Guardian (10/1/12)
UK economy likely to shrink amid eurozone crisis, says BCC The Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (10/1/12)
UK recession is not yet inevitable, survey says BBC News (10/1/12)
UK risks recession and lengthy stagnation – BCC Reuters, David Milliken (10/1/12)
U.K recession fears build Wall Street Journal, Ilona Billington (10/1/12)
BoE stimulus expansion may not be enough for recovery, BCC says (quick ad before article appears) Business Week, Scott Hamilton (10/1/12)
- How is a recession defined?
- What data has the BCC used to come to the conclusion that a recession is not inevitable?
- What action is needed by the government to tackle ‘short term stagnation and a lack of business confidence’?
- What could explain the 4.1% increase in sales in December compared with the previous year? Why is this data not thought to represent a ‘fundamental change in the circumstances of UK consumers’?
- What is expected to happen to UK inflation and employment during the first quarter of 2012?
- Why does the eurozone crisis present a problem for confidence and British exporters?
With Christmas approaching, many high street stores will be hoping for a big increase in sales, but that seems unlikely to be enough for Arcadia, whose brands include Top Shop, BHS and Dorothy Perkins. Arcadia’s profits have decreased to £133m, which is a fall of 38% and, based on this data, it is planning on closing many stores across the country over the next few years. With leases expiring on many of their stores within about 3 years, the current plan, according to Sir Phillip Green, is to close about 250 stores. Speaking to the BBC, he commented:
‘Now, there may be other opportunities that turn up that we might want to open. But certainly, in terms of our existing portfolio, currently that’s our thinking.’
The economic climate has obviously played a key role, but so has the weather. With the hottest October and November for decades, people have been delaying their shopping and purchases of winter clothing and this has put increased strain on many high street traders (see the news item Dreaming of a white Christmas).
What is perhaps of more concern than one company’s profits being significantly lower is the impact this may have on unemployment. With over 2500 stores, Arcadia is one of the largest private employers in the UK and if 250 stores are closed, there may be severe consequences for the labour market and this may have further adverse effects on aggregate demand. A key factor that may partly determine the future of firms such as Arcadia is how much consumers spend this Christmas. Perhaps for these stores, they really may be hoping for a white Christmas – at least that may encourage people to stock up on winter clothes – if they can get to the shops!
Arcadia to close stores after reporting loss Financial Times, Andrea Felsted (24/11/11)
Arcadia and Dixons post profit loss BBC News (19/4/10)
Retail slowdown hits Arcadia stores Guardian, Zoe Wood (9/5/11)
Arcadia set to close up to 260 stores as profits fall BBC News (24/11/11)
Has Sir Phillip Green lost his Midas touch? Independent, James Thompson (25/11/11)
Arcadia suffers 40% slide in profits The Press Association (24/11/11)
- Explain why the current economic situation has caused a slowdown in retail sales.
- Illustrate the way in which a firm will maximise profits. If profits are declining, is it because sales revenue has fallen or that costs have risen? Adapt your diagram to show a fall in profits based on your answer.
- According to the article by the Press Association, margins were ‘squeezed by 1.8% as it took a £53 million hit to absorb price increases’. What does this mean?
- How might the unseasonably warm weather be an explanation for a weaker trading environment?
- If 260 stores are closed, what impact might this have on unemployment?
- If more workers lose their jobs, how might this have a subsequent adverse effect on sales? Think about the multiplier effect here.
Nokia is finding out just how competitive the phone industry is, as it sees its third quarter figures come in at a loss. Google and Apple have seen their market shares rise and this has had an adverse effect on the Finnish company, Nokia. This goes some way to backing up the job losses seen earlier in the year, when 7000 jobs were cut and there was a re-allocation of workers towards ‘smartphones’.
Despite Nokia’s disappointing results in this sector, it has seen growth in its sales of other more simple phones, illustrating its ability to focus on this aspect of the market. Its sales were higher than forecast at 107 million handsets in the third quarter, showing some signs of a changing trend for the firm. However, with competition ever increasing, Nokia will need to consider its future strategy very carefully.
Nokia reports lower-than-estimated loss as profit forecast for phone unit Bloomberg, Diana Ben-Aaron (20/10/11)
Nokia swings to loss in third quarter BBC News (20/10/11)
Nokia boosted by sales of cheap handsets Financial Times, Daniel Thomas (20/10/11)
Nokia beats forecasts with sales of 107m phones Guardian, Juliette Garside and Charles Arthur (20/10/11)
Nokia prepares for ‘solid’ windows phone launch Telegraph, Matt Warman (25/10/11)
- How would you describe Nokia’s strategy of focusing on cheaper and simpler phones?
- Would you say Nokia’s strategy is sensible? What factors will determine its success?
- How have Apple and Google managed to expand their market share and become serious competitors to firms like Nokia?
- Into which market structure would you classify the phone industry?
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?
The outbreak of E. Coli has already cost lives, but it is also costing livelihoods of farmers who rely on producing and selling agricultural produce. Immediately following the outbreak in Germany, the blame was put on Spanish producers of cucumbers, which lead to the destruction of tens of thousands of kilos of fresh produce, costing Spain an estimated £177m per week in sales. Although Spain is not the source of the outbreak, the problem has not disappeared and will now affect the whole of Europe: at least until the source is identified. Countries such as Spain, France and Germany are big exporters to Russia and these countries are likely to take a big hit with the Russian health service banning imports of EU vegetables. The impact of this action (together with other countries implementing similar strategies) has not only affected agricultural producers, but is also having wider impacts on other sectors, including transportation. If no-one wants to buy the products, there’s very little use for the companies and indeed drivers to deliver them.
The Spanish economy will be looking for compensation from Germany for the losses they incurred, when sales of fruit and vegetables practically ceased following Germany’s initial accusation. As the Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero said:
“We acted as we had to, and we are going to get reparations and the return of Spanish products to their rightful place. … I believe that any other interpretation or any effort to politicise the huge mistake made by the German authorities is totally unfair.”
The effects of this outbreak have spread to UK supermarkets and producers. The former have reported a slight drop in sales of fruit and vegetables, but have not taken this opportunity to drop the prices paid to British growers, which is particularly important for cucumber producers, given the high production costs. Sarah Pettitt of the National Farmers Union said she was ‘extremely encouraged to hear that the major supermarkets … are not using this unfortunate situation as an excuse to drop prices to British growers.’ In fact some believe that the outbreak could be good for UK producers, as consumers increasingly turn to home-produced products. While the source of the outbreak remains unknown, so does the future of agricultural producers throughout Europe, as well as all those that have any dependence on this huge industry.
E. Coli outbreak: UK cases rise to 11 BBC News (4/6/11)
E coli source hunted as growers fear sales slump Guardian, Robin McKie (4/6/11)
Farmers reel as outbreak hits demand Financial Times, Matt Steinglass and Victor Mallet (3/6/11)
Spain seeks compensation for E. Coli blame BBC News (3/6/11)
E.Coli: Economic impact on the agriculture industry BBC News, Richard Anderson (3/6/11)
Spain says Germany mulls EU aid over cucumber slur Associated Press (3/6/11)
Rose Prince: Cucumbers, diet and Prof Moth Telegraph, Rose Prince (4/6/11)
- Why have cucumber producers been experiencing falling profit margins in recent years?
- Could the outbreak of E Coli bring any benefits to the UK economy?
- What are the costs and benefits to Russian consumers and producers from the protectionists measures that have been imposed on EU imports of fruit and vegetables?
- Which sectors within the European market are likely to experience the biggest problems?
- Explain why the Chairman of the National Farmers Union was ‘encouraged to hear that the major supermarkets … are not using this unfortunate situation as an excuse to drop prices to British growers’. Why would supermarkets have an incentive to do this?