The key economic stories from National Statistics produced over the latest month, painting a coherent picture of the UK economic performance using recent economic data.
The economy grew by 0.7% in the final quarter of 2013, supported by higher household consumption, stronger investment and net trade. Output was 1.8% higher in 2013 than a year earlier.
Measures of spare capacity in the UK economy have tightened over the last year, with indications of spare capacity being greatest in the labour market. Spare capacity in the manufacturing sector now appears to be below its long run average.
The economic recovery appears to have had an impact on the inactivity rate, which is at its lowest rate since the early 1990s. This appears to have been affected by both increased participation among older workers – and by older female workers in particular – as well as by larger numbers of young people remaining in education during the economic downturn.
Analysis of the input-output analytical tables suggests that production (including manufacturing) was the most internationally orientated element of the UK economy in 2010: importing around a third of goods and services inputs and exporting a similar proportion of production. However, exports played a much larger role for some products, including motor vehicles, pharmaceuticals and aircraft.
Estimates of productivity in the services industry – which accounts for the largest share of UK output and hours worked – suggest that recent weakness is accounted for by several specific sub-industries, including finance & insurance, accommodation & food and transport & storage services. Productivity growth in some sub-industries has now broadly returned to pre-downturn trend rates.
Economic developments during February pointed to a continued economic recovery in the UK, which appears to have been more balanced during the final quarter of 2013. Stronger business investment combined with continued growth in household consumption to deliver Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 0.7% in Q4 2013, taking annual growth to 1.8%: the highest rate since 2007. This edition of the Economic Review examines the recent modest contribution of net trade to expenditure growth through an analysis of the input-output analytical tables, which highlights the degree to which different elements of the UK economy are exposed to international trade.
The continued strength of the recovery has raised questions about the sustainability of recent growth, the extent of spare capacity and the potential for non-inflation accelerating output growth. This edition of the Economic Review presents evidence that several measures of spare capacity have tightened over the last year. Average full-time hours worked and reported capacity constraints in the manufacturing sector in particular are above their long-term averages, while an array of other measures are consistent with a recent reduction of spare capacity. However, there is little evidence as yet that these are feeding into stronger wage growth or higher rates of inflation. The measures which point to the greatest spare capacity are indicators of slack in the labour market, including the unemployment rate and the share of part-time workers who would prefer to work full-time.
The recent improvement in labour market conditions also appears to have had an impact on the inactivity rate, which is at its lowest rate since the early 1990s and close to the lowest level recorded since the early 1970s. This Economic Review presents evidence which suggests this is a result of slightly higher inactivity amongst those aged 16-24 (possibly as a consequence of greater participation in education) and higher activity amongst older workers, and older female workers in particular.
Finally, this edition of the Economic Review presents an analysis of productivity growth in the services sector. It suggests that the recent weakness of services productivity is a consequence of poor output per hour growth in finance & insurance, accommodation & food and transport & storage services in particular. Productivity growth in some services sub-industries is now broadly at pre-downturn trend rates.
The second estimate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) indicated that the economy grew by 0.7% in the final quarter of 2013, unrevised from the preliminary estimate. Output growth was strongest in the services industry (0.8% quarter on quarter), supported by the business services & finance (1.2%) and the government & other services (0.6%) sub-industries in particular. Output growth in the production industry was revised down from 0.7% on the quarter to 0.5%, while growth in construction was revised up from -0.3% to 0.2% in the final three months of 2013. Taken together, these revisions mean that GDP was around 2.7% higher in Q4 2013 than in Q4 2012, 0.1 percentage points lower than in the preliminary estimate. Taking 2013 as a whole, GDP was 1.8% higher than in 2012, the strongest annual growth since 2007.
The second estimate of GDP also provided the first information on the expenditure components of GDP in Q4 2013. Figure 1 shows the contributions of household and government spending, investment and net trade to the growth of total expenditure since Q1 2011. Household spending, which accounted for around 62.1% of total expenditure during 2013, continued to grow strongly by recent standards in Q4, and accounted for 0.3 percentage points of the growth in expenditure on the quarter. Household spending has now grown for nine consecutive quarters – the longest sustained run of expansion since the mid-2000s – and accounted for more than 75% of expenditure growth since Q4 2011.
While households have supported the growth of expenditure over the last two years, the second estimate suggested that investment played an enlarged role in the second half of 2013. Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF) – which has been relatively weak since the start of the economic recovery – grew in each quarter of 2013 and accounted for around half of all expenditure growth during Q4 2013. Business Investment – which is closely watched as an indicator of firm behaviour and forecast by the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) to grow strongly over 2014 – also grew for a fourth consecutive quarter in Q4 2013, and was 8.5% higher than the same quarter a year ago.
Figure 1 also suggests that expenditure growth became more balanced during the second half of 2013, as growth in Q4 2013 was supported by stronger household spending, more investment activity and a larger contribution from net trade. Taking the year as a whole, however, net trade in particular made a relatively modest contribution to growth. Trade added just 0.1 percentage points to total expenditure growth in 2013, as higher export volumes (0.8% annual growth during 2013) were partially offset by higher import volumes (0.4% higher over the same period).
Figure 2 shows the evolution of goods and services import and export values relative to the pre-downturn peak of output in Q1 2008 alongside the trade deficit. It indicates that import values fell more sharply than export values following the financial market shocks, but that despite a fall of around 25% in the effective Sterling exchange rate between Q4 2007 and Q1 2009, exports and imports have grown at broadly comparable rates since the downturn ended. As a result, the UK has run a persistent trade deficit over this period.
The weakness of trade and the absence of a clear response to such a large depreciation is one of the more unusual developments of the UK economy in recent years. Previous ONS analysis (Explanations beyond exchange rates - trends in the UK since 2007) suggested a range of possible causes, including the weakness of overseas demand, the importance of financial services exports before the downturn and the rising import intensity of UK output. The publication of the input-output analytical tables for 2010 by ONS during February sheds light on this final factor, by demonstrating the importance of trade for different industries.
Figure 3 uses the data in the input-output tables to demonstrate the extent to which domestic UK production is exposed to international trade. The dark blue bars show the proportion of goods and services inputs to production that were directly imported by UK firms in 2010. The light blue bars capture the share of final product demand – comprising exports, intermediate consumption, household and government consumption and investment – that is exported. These therefore provide some of the most detailed measures of the importance of trade for different types of domestic production. Figure 3 suggests that production and information & communications goods were the most import-intensive in 2010: direct imports accounted for 32.2% and 28.0% of goods and services used in their production. Real estate products, by contrast, involved direct imports worth just 5.5% of total intermediate consumption, highlighting the very different import intensities in different industries.
Figure 3 also suggests that the fraction of production that is exported varies across the different product categories. Production (33.7%) and financial & insurance products (26.4%) recorded the largest export shares, while real estate (0.2%) and construction (0.7%) registered the lowest shares. Taken together, the shares presented above suggest that there are some industries that are highly integrated into global supply chains, including financial & insurance activities, information & communications and professional & support activities. However, production activities were by far the most integrated in 2010, with imports accounting for almost one third of intermediate consumption and exports accounting for a similar proportion of final demand.
Table 1 uses the more detailed industry and product breakdowns included in the Input-Output tables to calculate the same quantities presented in Figure 3 for a selection of manufacturing sub-industries and products. This shows that within manufacturing, exports account for the largest share of final demand for chemicals products and transport equipment, and among the lowest shares for products that are relatively short lived – including baking and dairy products. Exports accounted for almost two-thirds of motor vehicles production in 2010. By contrast, imports accounted for a larger fraction of intermediate consumption for products which involve the processing for raw materials, including petroleum products and rubber & plastics.
|% Final demand from Exports||% Intermediates accounted for by direct imports|
|Air & spacecraft||91||49|
|Basic Pharmaceutical Products||84||38|
|Coke & Refined Petroleum||41||74|
|Motor Vehicles, Trailers And Semi-Trailers||63||31|
|Ships and boats||53||35|
|Rubber And Plastic||31||49|
|Fabricated metal products||15||37|
|Printing & Recorded Media||0||29|
While trade has made a modest contribution to the growth of expenditure over the last tweleve months, the recent strength of the broader economic recovery has had an impact on the labour market. Table 2 shows the headline labour market measures for the second half of 2013 for rolling three-month periods. Comparing consecutive three-month on three-month periods (the strongest comparison using labour market statistics), the number of people aged 16 and over who were in employment increased by around 193,000 between July to September 2013 and October to December 2013, while the number of unemployed people fell by 125,000. Partly as a consequence, the employment rate increased 0.6 percentage points between October to December 2012 and October to December 2013, while the unemployment rate has fallen by a similar amount over the same period.
|Employment 16-64||Unemployment 16+||Inactivity 16-64|
The economic recovery also appears to have affected the inactivity rate: the proportion of the population aged 16-64 who are neither in work nor looking for work. Figure 4 shows the inactivity rate between 1972 and 2013, and highlights the four most recent economic downturns. It indicates that the rise in inactivity following the economic downturn in 2008 was smaller than those following the previous two downturns. It also suggests that following a period of relative stability between 1992 and 2007, the inactivity rate has fallen sharply since the end of 2011. Partly as a consequence, the inactivity rate is now lower than at any point since the early 1990s.
The relatively sharp fall in the inactivity rate from an average of around 23.4% between 1992 and 2007 to around 22.1% in the three months to December 2013 is likely to reflect a wide range of different factors, including changes to benefits, pensions and work incentives, broader economic conditions and education participation rates. However, even taking into account the long-term downward trend in inactivity, the recent fall looks unusually strong.
Figure 5 examines this recent period in more detail by calculating the contributions of different age and gender groups to the change in the inactivity rate relative to January to March 2008. The line – which captures the percentage point change in the inactivity rate over this period – indicates that inactivity rose by around 0.6 percentage points between Q1 2008 and Q1 2010, largely as a consequence of higher inactivity rates among 16 to 17 and 18 to 24 year olds. This may reflect students’ deferral of entry to the labour market during an economic downturn, as the proportion of 16 to 24 year olds reporting that they are in full-time education increased from 38.7% to around 41.8% over this period.
While the rise in education-related inactivity explains much of the rise in the overall rate between 2008 and 2010, Figure 5 also indicates that the recent fall is largely a consequence of rising participation among older workers. While inactivity in the 18 to 24 age group remains elevated compared with the pre-downturn level, the inactivity rates for 35 to 49 year olds and for female workers aged 50-64 have fallen relatively sharply: from 14.5% to 13.9% and from 39.3% to 34.7% respectively. This particularly large fall for older female workers is likely to reflect changes to the female retirement age and a growing willingness among older workers to remain in the labour market. While the employment rate among men aged 50 and above increased by 0.9 percentage points between Q1 2008 and Q4 2013, the employment rate for women of the same age has risen by around 2.8 percentage points, albeit from a lower starting point.
The combination of a recovery in output growth alongside the recent relative strength of the labour market has done little to improve the UK’s labour productivity position in recent quarters. Recent ONS analysis (An international perspective on the UK - Labour Market Performance) indicates that after experiencing the strongest productivity growth of the G7 between 1991 and 2007, the UK’s performance was the weakest of this group between 2007 and 2012, and was one of only two countries to experience declining output per hour over this period.
Much of this recent weakness in productivity growth is attributable to the services industries. Output per hour in services – which accounts for around 77.8% of UK output and 79.0% of total hours worked – has been unusually weak since the onset of the economic downturn. Figure 6 shows average compound quarterly productivity growth rates for the services industry and its constituent sub-industries. The red dots indicate average quarterly growth rates of output per hour between Q1 1997 and Q1 2008, approximating a long-term average, while the bars show the quarterly growth of output per hour during the downturn (Q1 2008 to Q4 2009) and since the recovery began (Q4 2009 to Q3 2013).
Figure 6 suggests that the fall in output per hour in the services industry between Q1 2008 and Q4 2009 was broad based. All but three sub-industries saw average quarterly contractions in productivity over this period, with pronounced falls in transport & storage (-1.9% per quarter), professional (-1.8%), and administrative & support services (-1.7%). In the information & communication and other services industries, productivity growth during this initial phase of the downturn remained well below trend. As a consequence, services output per hour declined from trend growth of 0.6% per quarter to an average contraction of 0.7% per quarter between Q1 2008 and Q4 2009.
However, while productivity has been broadly flat in services as a whole since 2009, Figure 6 also suggests that productivity growth has resumed in several services sub-industries since Q4 2009. Growth in output per hour has broadly returned to its long-run trend in both arts, entertainment & recreation and other services, and is well above trend in administrative & support services. Output per hour growth has also resumed in the professional and wholesale & retail sub-industries, albeit well below trend. The main sectors which are limiting productivity growth in services are the finance & insurance, accommodation & food and transport & storage sub-industries.
The recent fall in labour productivity is one of the defining characteristics of the UK’s economic performance in recent years. Output per hour often falls during economic downturns, but as previous ONS analysis (Economic Review - February 2014) has shown, the recovery of productivity since 2009 has been weaker than in any previous recovery of the last fifty years. The persistence of this productivity shock matters because of its implications for macroeconomic policy: if the fall in productivity is reversed as the economy gathers pace, then firms can both draw in new resources and use existing inputs more efficiently to meet growing demand. If the fall in productivity is permanent, then firms will only be able to call on finite new resources to meet the growth of demand. In this latter situation, economic growth is likely to raise inflation more quickly as firms use up spare capacity more rapidly. More precisely, the persistence of the productivity shock has implications for the potential for non-inflation accelerating economic growth.
The extent of spare capacity in the economy has been at the centre of the UK’s economic policy debate in recent months, although the degree of ‘slack’ is difficult to measure with any precision. In its February Inflation Report (BoE Inflation Report - Febraury 2014) the Bank of England’s MPC set out its view that there is around 1.0% to 1.5% spare capacity in the UK economy, centred mostly in the labour market. Figure 7 sheds light on this debate by showing a range of measures which can be used to judge the degree of spare capacity, both within firms (including average hours worked and the Bank of England’s capacity constraints measures) and within the labour market (including the unemployment rate and the proportion of part-time workers who would like to work full time). Variables which capture the degree of capacity utilisation – including average hours worked, capacity constraints and recruitment difficulty – are inverted to give a measure of spare capacity, and all variables are standardised and shown relative to their long-run average and spread. Red dots – which indicate the most recent observation – to the left of the axis indicate lower-than-average spare capacity, while points to the right of the axis indicate higher-than-average spare capacity. Yellow points indicate the variable’s value a year ago.
Figure 7 suggests that much of the spare capacity in the UK economy is in the labour market, as measures of unemployment and part-time employment are well above their long-run averages. In particular, the proportion of part-time workers who would prefer to work full-time is almost 16 standard deviations above the long-run average, suggesting that there are resources in the labour market which firms can mobilise to increase output. However, the extent of spare capacity within firms is much more limited: the extent of within-firm slack indicated by the Bank of England’s capacity constraint measure for manufacturing firms in particular is below its long-run average.
Figure 7 also provides a sense of how these variables have changed over the past year. With the exception of long-term unemployment and the proportion of part-time workers who would like a full-time position, all of the variables show a shift to the left over the last twelve months, indicating a tightening in spare capacity as the economy has recovered. Of these, the ratio of unemployed people to vacancies has shown the strongest evidence of tightening – falling from more than 14 to just less than nine standard deviations above the long-term average – reflecting both lower unemployment and higher vacancies. Average full-time hours worked and reported capacity constraints within manufacturing have also tightened and are now both above their respective long-term averages.
However, despite this recent tightening there is little evidence as yet of stronger wage growth or higher rates of inflation: the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rate of inflation fell to an annual rate of 1.9% in January, while average wages increased at an annual rate of just 1.5% in December. Taken together, these trends suggest that there remains a degree of spare capacity in the UK economy, and that while the recovery is beginning to draw in resources left idle following the economic downturn, there has been little impact as yet on wages or inflation.
|Index of Services|
|Business Services & Finance1||KI7L||2.1||2.3||0.7||1.1||1.2||0.3||0.7||0.1||:|
|Government & Other1||KI7T||1.2||0.6||0.0||0.4||0.6||0.3||-0.1||0.0||:|
|Distribution, Hotels & Rest. 1||S2MV||0.9||3.6||1.6||1.2||0.5||-0.7||0.9||0.5||:|
|Transport, Stor. & Comms. 1||KI7B||0.0||1.5||0.0||-0.1||0.5||-0.2||0.9||0.6||:|
|Index of Production|
|Mining & Quarrying1||K224||-9.8||-1.8||2.1||0.3||-1.9||-1.3||-2.1||2.9||:|
|Retail Sales Index|
|All Retailing, excl.Fuel1||J467||1.4||2.1||0.9||1.6||0.9||-0.6||0.2||2.6||-1.5|
|Predom. Food Stores1||EAPT||0.0||-0.1||-0.7||1.7||0.0||-0.1||0.1||2.5||-3.4|
|Predom. Non-Food Stores1||EAPV||1.7||2.0||2.0||1.1||1.5||-1.3||0.1||2.6||0.4|
|Balance 2, 3||IKBJ||-33.6||-29.9||-5.1||-10.2||-8.0||-3.4||-3.6||-1.0||:|
|Public Sector Finances|
|PNSB-ex, ex RM & APF 6,||L65P||2.5||-11.4||-2.9||0.1||-2.5||1.1||-0.1||-3.5||1.3|
|PNSD-ex as a % GDP||HF6X||74.4||75.7||74.3||74.5||75.7||74.0||74.5||75.7||74.6|
|Employment Rate1, 2||LF24||71.1||71.7||71.5||71.8||72.1||72.1||72.1||:||:|
|Unemployment Rate1, 3||MGSX||7.9||7.6||7.8||7.6||7.2||7.1||7.2||:||:|
|Inactivity Rate1, 4||LF2S||22.6||22.2||22.3||22.2||22.1||22.2||22.1||:||:|
|Claimant Count Rate7||BCJE||4.7||4.3||4.5||4.2||3.8||3.9||3.8||3.7||3.6|
|Total Weekly Earnings6||KAB9||£469||£475||£478||£475||£476||£476||£475||£478||:|
|Recreation & Culture5||D7C4||0.2||1.1||1.4||0.8||0.9||0.7||1.1||0.8||0.4|
|Food & Non-alcoh. Bev. 5||D7BU||3.2||3.8||4.2||4.1||2.8||3.9||2.8||1.9||2.0|
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