This note draws together key economic stories from National Statistics produced over the latest month. This is in order to paint a coherent picture of the UK's economic performance using recent economic data.
UK gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 0.7% in the final quarter of 2013, taking economic growth to 1.9% between calendar years 2012 and 2013: the strongest growth since 2007. Both services and production output grew, while construction output fell in the latest quarter.
Output of the services sector is now 1.3% higher than at the pre-recession peak in Q1 2008. The fall in services output during the recession was cushioned by growth in services that are mainly provided by government, such as public administration & defence, education and health. The opposite has occurred since the trough in Q3 2009.
The fall in unemployment during 2013 has been broadly based, with unemployment falling in each of the main age categories. Workers in the 18-24 year age group have borne a larger proportion of the unemployment adjustment than their share in the labour force: older workers, and in particular those aged 35-49 have fared relatively better.
The weakness of labour productivity in the UK largely reflects poor productivity growth in the services sector and in the non-manufacturing elements of the production sector, including the extraction industries. Output per hour in manufacturing returned to strong growth during 2010 and 2011, but has since then suffered another large fall.
While the growth of real wages and labour productivity has been unusually weak, the positive association between these variables holds for both the manufacturing and services sectors, both before and after the 2008-2009 downturn. This accords with recent ONS analysis of real wages (An Examination of Falling Real Wages - 2010 to 2013).
According to the preliminary estimate of GDP the UK economy grew by 0.7 % during the last quarter of 2013, resulting in growth of 1.9% for the year as a whole. The services sector continued to be the main driver of growth and is the only sector where output in Q4 2013 was above its pre-downturn peak – although growth in non-government services and all services has differed noticeably.
Four consecutive quarters of positive GDP growth in 2013 has been complemented by an improving labour market – the unemployment rate has fallen considerably over the past two years, although rates vary considerably between age groups. Labour market performance has been buoyant in recent years given the severity of the 2008/09 economic downturn - resulting in productivity growth comparing unfavourably to previous downturns in the early 1980s and 1990s.
Despite an improving labour market and consistent positive GDP growth in 2013, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) continued to fall in the year to December, following a 5 year period when inflation was continually above the Bank of England’s 2.0% target.
The preliminary estimate of GDP suggested that the UK economy grew by 0.7% in the final quarter of 2013, taking growth between calendar years 2012 and 2013 to 1.9%, the fastest since 2007. Both the production and services sectors of the economy grew in the latest quarter, but output in the construction sector contracted. The Q4 figure means that GDP is now 1.3% below the pre-downturn peak, compared to 4.0% below in Q4 2012 and 4.2% below at the end of 2011. Excluding oil and gas production, Gross Value Added (GVA) was just 0.3% below the Q1 2008 level at the end of 2013.
Much of the recent growth in output has been based on the relatively strong performance of the services sector, which accounts for 78% of the whole economy. Figure 1 shows the contributions to output growth of each of the main sectors since the beginning of 2007. It shows that a sharp contraction in services output reduced GDP in 2008 and early 2009, accounting for almost half of the fall in output over this period. Services recovered modestly during 2010 and 2011, but since the beginning of 2013 it has grown more consistently and accounted for the majority of output growth over this period.
The services sector includes a wide range of types of economic activity, ranging from privately provided service activities such as distribution, hotels and restaurants, and business services to defence, health and education which are largely provided by government. Many of the subsectors that are mainly provided by government performed differently to the headline index, in part reflecting their relative lack of exposure to the economic cycle.
Figure 2 shows both the headline index of services output and an index of services output excluding those mainly provided by government in - (a) public administration & defence, (b) education and (c) health & human services. Figure 2 shows that in the early stages of the 2008-2009 economic downturn, the fall on total services sector output was cushioned slightly by the relative stability of these mainly government services . While the output of services as a whole declined at an average quarterly rate of 0.9% between January 2008 and August 2009, the output of mainly private services declined at a faster average rate of 1.2% per quarter over the same period. As a consequence, the output of mainly private services fell 7.7% between Q1 2008 and August 2009, compared to just 5.6% for all services.
Having cushioned the fall in output during the downturn, this trend has reversed during the subsequent recovery. This can be seen graphically above, with the size of the shaded ‘mainly government services wedge’ gradually shrinking between August 2009 and November 2013. Total services output has grown at an average quarterly rate of 0.4% over this period, compared to 0.5% for mainly private services. On both measures, services output has now regained the respective pre-downturn peak. In November 2013, total services output was 1.3% above its level in Q1 2008 while mainly private services were 0.7% higher.
While growth has picked up during 2013, the recovery remains the weakest of any experienced by the UK during the previous half-century. Figure 3 shows the path of GDP following the three downturns which started in the early 1980s, early 1990s and in 2008, in each case indexed to the period when the level of output was at its lowest.
If the starting point of the current recovery is shifted from the trough in 2009 to the final quarter of 2012 – reflecting the start of the recent sustained recovery (four consecutive quarters of positive GDP growth) - the resulting pattern of growth (shown by the red dotted line in Figure 3) broadly tracks the trajectory of the early stages of previous recoveries. It is also similar to the initial experience of the current upturn. However growth between Q3 2009 and Q3 2010 was driven by a short-lived surge in construction output while output of services industries grew only slowly, resulting in a much slower period of growth during 2011 and 2012. The composition of growth during 2013 has been better balanced, with steady expansion in the key services sector as well as in manufacturing and construction.
Strengthening GDP growth during 2013 has been accompanied by a marked improvement in labour market conditions and a sharp fall in the unemployment rate. At the same time, annual consumer price inflation has fallen back from 2.9% in June to 2.0% in December. The return of inflation to the Bank of England’s 2% target rate in December contrasts with the volatile inflation experience of recent years. The annual rate of CPI inflation rate has remained within the target range of between 1% and 3% continuously since April 2012.
Figure 4 shows that since 1997, CPI inflation has been 2.0% on only six occasions, and the path of inflation can be split into two distinct periods. Between 1997 and 2006 inflation averaged 1.6%, and fell predominantly in the lower half of the target range. In contrast, inflation was generally above the 2% figure for most of the period since 2006, and between 2008 and 2011 it frequently exceeded the 3% upper limit of the Bank of England’s target range.
Figure 5 shows annual average inflation rates for headline CPI components in both periods. Between 1997 and 2006, inflation was held down by falling prices for clothing & footwear, communications, and furniture & household equipment. Inflation in some of these categories was contained by the impact of low cost imports of manufactured goods from emerging market economies. High inflation since 2006 was the result of faster price rises in food, energy and transport, reflecting periods of strong commodity price inflation and the impact of sterling’s 2008 depreciation on import prices. Inflation was also boosted by factors such as the rise in the rate of VAT from 17.5% to 20% in 2011 and the increase in university tuition fees.
The continuing economic recovery is reflected in the strength of the labour market. The unemployment rate for those aged 16 and above has fallen from 8.4% in the three months to November 2011, to 7.7% in the corresponding period of 2012 and 7.1% in 2013. As is shown in Table 1, the fall in unemployment during the last six months has been particularly pronounced and has affected all age groups. Compared to Q1 2013, the total number of unemployed people has fallen to 2.3m from 2.5m, and the number of people in employment has risen by around 440,000 over the same period.
Figure 6 shows the contributions of different age categories to the change in the rate of unemployment since 2008. All age groups experienced an increase in unemployment during 2008 and 2009, contributing to a 3 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate. The 18-24, 25-34 and 35-49 age groups contributed 0.7, 0.8 and 0.7 percentage points respectively to the increase in the headline unemployment rate between Q1 2008 and Q1 2010, with those aged 50-64 adding a further 0.5 percentage points.
The contributions of all age groups to the unemployment rate in the latest three months have fallen by varying degrees since the peak in unemployment in Q4 2011. This is shown by the contraction of all the bars in Figure 6. Unemployment rates among the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups have fallen from 20.0% and 8.1% to 18.0% and 6.7% respectively over this period. However, the largest contribution to the fall over this period is amongst those aged 35-49: the contribution of this group to the increase in the unemployment rate compared to Q1 2008 has fallen from 0.7 percentage points in Q4 2011 to 0.3 percentage points in the three months to November. None of these age groups have yet returned to their pre-downturn unemployment rates.
While the fall in unemployment rates across the different categories suggests that all age groups have benefited from the economic recovery, the 18-24 year old age category has borne the brunt of the overall rise in unemployment since Q1 2008. Table 2 shows the share of the change in unemployment since 2008Q1 attributable to each age group, alongside their respective proportions of the labour force in the latest three months. If the increase in unemployment had been distributed evenly across the labour force, both sets of figures should be broadly similar.
|% of Unemployment Adjustment|
|Proportion of Labour Force|
Between Q1 2008 and Q4 2011, the 18-24 year old age group accounted for 29.7% of the rise in the unemployment rate. This is roughly double their proportion of the labour force, providing an indication of how the rise in unemployment has affected younger workers in particular. Those aged 25-34, who currently make up almost a quarter of the labour force, accounted for a slightly larger share – 26.2% - of the rise in unemployment. By contrast, the 35-49 age group, just over a third of the labour force, accounted for only around a fifth of the increase.
This suggests that the recent improvement in labour market conditions has been felt most among the 35-49 year old age group. In the three months to November 2013, the 35-49 age group accounted for 16.4% of the rise in unemployment since Q1 2008 - down from 21.8% in Q4 2011. However the corresponding figures for the 18-24 age group increased when making the same comparison - from 29.7% to 31.3%. The burden of higher unemployment has therefore fallen most heavily on younger workers; while the recent fall in unemployment rates has benefited workers aged 35-49 proportionately more than those aged 18-24 and 25-34.
The combination of strengthening GDP growth and rising employment has implications for the behaviour of labour productivity at the end of 2013. Figure 7 shows the path of output per hour worked in three recent economic downturns, indexed to the pre-downturn peak. It indicates both that the fall in labour productivity during the most recent economic downturn was more severe than either of the previous downturns shown, and that output per hour changed relatively little over the following five years. In Q3 2013, output per hour was around 4.4% below the pre-downturn peak, while in the corresponding period of the downturns in the early 1980s and 1990s, output per hour was 12.6% and 19.9% above the pre-downturn peak.
Weak labour productivity is one of the defining features of the economic downturn which started in Q1 2008 and has important implications for the degree of slack in the economy. If recent reductions in labour productivity are permanent, then the extent of GDP growth which can be sustained without a corresponding increase in inflation may be limited. However, if recent reductions in labour productivity are reversed as the economy strengthens, then the potential for more rapid and sustained economic growth without rising inflation may be greater. Figure 8 shows the path of output per hour in the production, manufacturing and services sectors alongside that in the whole economy. It suggests that all three sectors experienced a decline in output per hour during 2008 and 2009, but that their trends have been quite different since 2010.
Productivity in the services sector – which accounts for the largest share of UK economic activity – has changed relatively little since the start of Q1 2010 and was still 4.1% below the pre-downturn peak in Q3 2013. Output per hour in the production sector as a whole – which includes the manufacturing, extraction and utilities industries – was more erratic during 2010 than services output, but has declined sharply since the end of 2011. However, output per hour in manufacturing has been more volatile. After suffering a fall in productivity of around 3.9% between Q1 2008 and Q4 2009, manufacturing productivity grew at broadly the same rate as before the downturn until the end of 2011, as output grew more rapidly than employment. However, since the end of 2011 output per hour in manufacturing has fallen again, by even more than during the early phase of the downturn itself: manufacturing productivity fell by 4.7% between Q4 2011 and Q3 2013. This is the result of weakening output for much of the period accompanied by a rise in total hours worked in manufacturing.
Figure 9 examines productivity growth within the manufacturing sector at a more detailed level, comparing productivity growth in each manufacturing subsector over several different periods. The circles on the chart show the average quarterly growth rate of output per hour in each sector between Q1 1997 and Q4 2007, giving an indication of their long-run performance. The bars show the average quarterly growth rate of the sector during three periods: during the initial downturn, during the recovery in manufacturing productivity and during the renewed fall since Q4 2011.
Figure 9 suggests that the initial fall in manufacturing productivity was broadly based: all subsectors saw slower than trend productivity growth between Q4 2007 and Q4 2009 and only three sub-sectors (Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals, Computer & Electrical and Rubber and Plastic products) experienced a rise in productivity over this period. The recovery in productivity growth between Q4 2009 and Q4 2011 was similarly broad, with all but three subsectors experiencing growth, but was especially strong in Transport Equipment, Machinery & Equipment and Coke & Petroleum products. Output per hour in Transport Equipment grew almost four times as fast as the long run average.
The renewed fall in manufacturing productivity since Q4 2011 has also been broadly based. All but two subsectors have experienced declines in output per hour, and for the majority these falls have been larger than the initial productivity shocks. Productivity in the Transport sector continued to grow (resulting in the level of output per hour rising to double that in 1997), as it did in the Computer, Electronic & Optical sector.
Alongside the fall in the growth of productivity, a second central characteristic of the 2008-09 economic downturn is the weakness of real wage growth. While output growth appears to have resumed during 2013, real wages have declined in 62 of the last 66 months (between June 2008 and November 2013): the longest consecutive fall in real wages since records began. Figure 10 highlights the centrality of productivity to the debate on real wages. It shows the annual growth of output per hour in the manufacturing and services sectors against the annual growth in real wages in each sector. It divides the observations into the periods 2002-2007 and 2008-2013 and makes several points. Firstly, taking observations before and after the downturn together, there appears to be a strong positive association between productivity growth and real wage growth, and that association appears to hold for both the manufacturing and services sectors. Secondly, both output per hour and real wages have grown unusually weakly since 2008, as the darker points in the chart show. Thirdly, taking both sectors in both sub-periods, there remains a positive association between productivity growth and real wages.
As Figure 10 suggests, the weakness of labour productivity is one explanation for the relatively slow growth of real wages in the UK in the post-downturn period. Productivity is one of several possible determinants of real wage growth which is discussed in a recent ONS analysis paper (An Examination of Falling Real Wages - 2010 to 2013), alongside changes in the composition of the workforce, movements in the relative prices of output and consumption and changes to non-wage labour costs. A further analytical piece from ONS examines trends in UK real wages in an international context (An international perspective on the UK - Labour Market Performance).
|Index of Services|
|Business Services & Finance1||KI7L||2.1||0.7||1.2||0.1||0.4||0.6|
|Government & Other1||KI7T||1.2||0.0||0.4||0.4||0.3||-0.1|
|Distribution, Hotels & Rest. 1||S2MV||0.9||1.8||1.1||0.3||-0.6||0.9|
|Transport, Stor. & Comms. 1||KI7B||0.0||0.0||-0.2||0.0||-0.2||0.5|
|Index of Production|
|Mining & Quarrying1||K224||-9.8||2.2||0.6||1.0||-1.2||-2.2|
|Retail Sales Index|
|All Retailing, excl.Fuel1||J467||1.4||2.1||0.9||1.6||0.8||1.2||-0.7||0.2||2.8|
|Predom. Food Stores1||EAPT||0.0||-0.2||-0.5||1.7||-0.1||-0.3||-0.1||0.1||2.4|
|Predom. Non-Food Stores1||EAPV||1.7||2.1||1.8||1.2||1.4||2.9||-1.5||0.1||2.8|
|Balance 2, 3||IKBJ||-33.6||-5.0||-10.0||-3.7||-3.5||-3.2|
|Public Sector Finances|
|PNSB-ex, ex RM & APF 6,||L65P||2.6||-11.1||-3.0||-0.7||-1.2||-1.1||0.8||0.1||-2.1|
|PNSD-ex as a % GDP||HF6X||74.4||75.7||74.3||74.5||75.7||74.5||74.0||74.5||75.7|
|Employment Rate1, 2||LF24||71.1||71.5||71.8||71.8||72.0||72.1|
|Unemployment Rate1, 3||MGSX||7.9||7.8||7.6||7.6||7.4||7.1|
|Inactivity Rate1, 4||LF2S||22.6||22.3||22.2||22.2||22.1||22.2|
|Claimant Count Rate7||BCJE||4.7||4.3||4.5||4.2||3.8||4.0||3.9||3.8||3.7|
|Total Weekly Earnings6||KAB9||£469||£478||£475||£475||£476||£475|
|Recreation & Culture5||D7C4||0.2||1.4||0.8||0.9||0.9||0.7||1.1||0.8|
|Food & Non-alcoh. Bev. 5||D7BU||3.2||4.2||4.1||2.8||4.3||3.9||2.8||1.9|
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