The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that the world economy remains “hobbled” by Covid-19 and revised its global growth forecast for this year downwards. The organisation now expects the world economy to grow by 5.9% in 2021.
The IMF also noted that the emergency support provided by central banks and finance ministries during the Covid-19 crisis could leave the world vulnerable to another financial crisis.
As we entered October, the UK continued to face several supply challenges. The impact this has had on fuel and energy continued to make headlines throughout the month.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his Autumn Budget in October. After previously announcing that National Insurance rates and Dividend Tax rates would both be increasing, he unveiled the new taxation and spending proposals. Promising a “stronger economy for the British people” Sunak announced a raft of changes from a new levy on property developers to the introduction of the new National Savings & Investments (NS&I) Green Savings Bond.
Inflation has also been in the headlines this month. In the 12 months to September, prices rose on average by 3.1%. This figure is above the Bank of England’s 2% annual target. The central bank thinks the figure could go above 4% this year. One of the ways the Bank of England can limit inflation is to increase interest rates. There is speculation that the interest base rate will begin to rise from historic lows later this year or in 2022.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng noted that supply chain disruptions are affecting the economy.
The UK construction sector has been hit by the challenges this presents. The IHS Markit PMI for the sector fell from 55.2 in August to 52.6 in September. This reading shows the sector is still growing, but that the pace is slowing.
As businesses struggle to access the material they need, prices are likely to rise. The PMI for the services sector show prices are rising at their fastest pace on record. In line with this, almost two-thirds of UK firms expect to increase prices during the run-up to Christmas, according to the British Chambers of Commerce. This could mean that inflation will continue to rise as we head into 2022.
It’s not just a materials shortage that’s causing problems, but a staff shortage too. According to a survey conducted by advisory firm BDO, more than a quarter of firms polled said a lack of staff was putting pressure on their ability to operate at normal levels.
The latest industrial trends survey conducted by CBI also supported this. Two in five firms said they were worried about a lack of skilled labour. In addition, two-thirds said material shortages were likely to hit their output next quarter. This is the highest rating since 1975.
As well as the effects of the pandemic, the UK is facing challenges related to Brexit. The Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated that Covid-19 could reduce GDP in the long term by around 2%. In contrast, Brexit is double this figure, and cut GDP by around 4%.
One area where the impact of Brexit, as well as of the pandemic, can be seen is in exports. The UK’s trade deficit widened to £3.7 billion in August compared to £2.9 billion in July.
With these challenges in mind, it’s not surprising that consumer confidence has hit its lowest level since lockdown measures were eased in April, according to data from YouGov.
Global chip shortages are just one of the supply issues affecting businesses across the eurozone area. According to figures from Eurostat, production figures across the eurozone fell by 1.6% in August. The area’s largest economy, Germany, also posted the largest contraction of 4.1%. This fall was partly due to weak car manufacturing.
Inflation is also an issue, with it reaching a 13-year high.
Mirroring the situation in Europe, US inflation reached 5.4% in September, a 13-year high.
US industrial output fell 1.3% in September, data from the US Federal Reserve shows. This impacted output, which also declined by 0.7%. The decline was partly blamed on the production of motor vehicles and parts falling by 7.2% due to shortages within the supply chain.
Job figures were also disappointing. Economists had been expecting around 500,000 new jobs to be added, but the figure was far below this forecast at 194,000.
Despite worries about inflation, the US Conference Board’s consumer confidence index shows optimism is improving. After three months of decline, consumer confidence increased in October. It’s a sign that consumer spending will continue to support economic growth.