That shrinking feeling

In the third quarter of 2011, the UK economy grew by 0.6% – nothing to shout about, but at least it was positive. Since then there has been growing concern about the state of the recovery with many commentators widely expecting to see much lower growth in the final quarter of last year.

Today, those commentators were proved right, as official figures released show the UK economy shrank by 0.2%. It doesn’t mean we’re in a recession (that requires 2 successive quarters of negative growth), but if growth doesn’t pick up in quarter 1 of 2012, then ‘Double-Dip Recession’ headlines will fill the front page.

Despite the disappointment that the UK economy has shrunk, the figures were not wholly unexpected, especially given the data released a week or so before, which showed unemployment had risen. Furthermore, with the crisis in the eurozone and many other countries still struggling to mount an economic recovery, there have been few external stimuli for the UK.

Although the fall in growth was larger than expected (0.2% as opposed to the predicted 0.1%), the UK economy is expected to grow throughout 2012. However, the IMF has reduced its forecast annual growth rate from 1.6% to 0.6%. The economic climate for 2012 remains uncertain and much will depend on developments in the eurozone. Further problems could spell trouble, but if there is an improvement in the fortunes of Europe, confidence could return to the markets and economic recovery could be faster. Ian McCafferty, the Chief Economic Adviser of the CBI said:

While the acute fears seen at the end of last year over global demand may be subsiding, 2012 will prove to be a difficult year for UK manufacturing, as the crisis in the eurozone – our biggest export market – has yet to reach any definitive resolution.

Whether or not we do move into a double-dip recession is uncertain and following this latest data, many commentators say it is a 50:50 change; and even then it hinges on many factors. However, even if quarter 1 of 2012 sees negative growth and hence a return to recession for the UK, Chris Williamson from Markit said that ‘there are growing indications that any downturn is likely to be ‘mild and short-lived’. The following articles consider the state of the UK economy.

Unemployment to soar as UK heads back into recession The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (25/1/12)
UK economy shrinks by 0.2% in last 3 months of 2011 BBC News (25/1/12)
UK GDP: what the economists say Guardian (25/1/12)
UK recession threat: can we dodge the double dip? Citywire, Chris Marshall (25/1/12)
Double-dip recession fears as UK economy shrinks 0.2 percent Independent, Peter Cripps (25/1/12)
PM says ‘no complacency’ on economy Financial Times, Norma Cohen and Elizabeth Rigby (25/1/12)
The UK economy is shrinking. Time to listen to gloom-mongers? Guardian, Phillip Inman (25/1/12)
UK economy shrinks in Q4, raising recession fears The Associated Press (25/1/12)
FTSE CLOSE: Stocks slide as 0.2% GDP fall sparks recession fears; banks among the biggest fallers This is Money (25/1/12)
Sorrell: ‘UK will avoid double-dip recession’ Sky News, Tom Rayner (25/1/12)
Recovery in rehab BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (25/1/12)


  1. How is a recession defined? What are the typical characteristics of a recession? (Think about the macroeconomic objectives).
  2. Which particular sectors of the UK economy were the most severely affected in Q4 of 2011?
  3. Examine the main causes of the UK’s decline in national output.
  4. Which of the causes identified in question 3 do you think is the key factor keeping UK national output from growing? Explain your answer.
  5. Why is there a growing presence of companies from emerging markets in the top 100?
  6. Why are many commentators suggesting that even if the UK goes into a recession, it is likely to be ‘mild and short-lived’?
  7. What has happened to stock markets following the release of this latest economic data?
  8. Evaluate the options open to the Coalition government in stimulating the UK economy. To what extent would your policy solution damage the Coalition’s aim of cutting the UK’s structural budget deficit?