UK consumer sentiment sinks to 16-month low, business mixed

Britain’s closest-watched gauge of consumer sentiment fell this month to its lowest since just after last year’s Brexit vote, and business morale also softened, as households and firms took a darker view of the economic outlook.

The GfK consumer confidence index dropped by 2 points to -12 in November, its lowest since July 2016 and below the average forecast of a decline to -11 in a Reuters poll.


A woman holds a Union Flag shopping bag in London

“Sadly there’s no festive cheer,” said Joe Staton, an executive at the market research company. “Household jitters following the recent interest rate hike, squeezed incomes, higher inflation and economic uncertainty have dampened the consumer mood across the UK.”

Britain’s economy has slowed this year as higher inflation - largely due to the fall in the pound after the Brexit vote last year - pushed up costs for households and businesses.

At the start of the month, the Bank of England raised interest rates for the first time in over a decade to tackle inflation that is at a five-year high, and last week government forecasters slashed their growth outlook.

GfK said households’ willingness to make major purchases was the fastest-falling element of its index, falling to its lowest level since October 2014 in bad news for retailers in the run-up to Christmas.

A separate survey by Lloyds Bank showed business confidence slipped this month - with their economic optimism the lowest since June 2016 - though figures from the British Chambers of Commerce suggested exporters are enjoying strong sales.

“Firms are confident about their future, although the fall in economic optimism is an indication of economic and political uncertainties ahead,” said Hann-Ju Ho, senior economist at Lloyds Commercial Banking.

British Prime Minister Theresa May hopes to move Brexit talks on to trade negotiations after a meeting with European Union leaders next month. But she first needs to make progress on Britain’s outstanding bills, the rights of EU citizens in Britain, and future border arrangements between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic.

British media reported on Tuesday that May was ready to pay around 50 billion euros ($59 billion) to leave the EU.

The BCC said exporters were benefiting from a weaker pound that made their prices more competitive, as well as stronger demand from the faster-growing euro zone economy.

The volume of trade documentation - a leading indicator for export volumes - was 4 percent higher than a year earlier and its third highest since records began in 2004.

But some exporters were suffering from higher raw materials costs or staff shortages.

“The depreciation of sterling has undoubtedly benefited some firms, but has ratcheted costs up significantly for others,” BCC director-general Adam Marshall said.

“Taken together with higher domestic costs ... a tipping point may soon be reached for some firms – with consequences for investment, recruitment and trade,” he added.

($1 = 0.8441 euros)
 

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