1. Statistician’s comment

Commenting on today’s short-term economic indicator figures, Office for National Statistics (ONS) senior statistician Ole Black said:

"Manufacturing has recorded its ninth consecutive month of growth but with a slower start to 2018. Total production output continues to advance, bolstered in January 2018 by the Forties oil pipeline coming back on stream after December's shutdown.

“Construction continues to be a weak spot in the UK economy with a big drop in commercial developments, along with a slowdown in house building after its very strong end to last year.

“The total trade deficit widened again as rising oil prices made for dearer fuel imports.”

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2. Main figures

This section presents the latest figures and trends for the UK’s short-term economic indicators.

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3. Main points


  • Growth in total production output continued to slow in the three months to January 2018, increasing by 0.2% – the weakest three-month on three-month growth since June 2017 (Figure 2).

  • The largest negative contribution came from mining and quarrying, which rebounded in January 2018 following a sharp fall in December 2017 due to the unexpected shutdown of the Forties pipeline system.

  • Following the 19.1% fall in the output of mining and quarrying in December 2017, it increased by 23.5% in January 2018 to recover to levels seen prior to the December shutdown (Figure 3); such an immediate recovery was not seen following previous significant shutdowns in both September 2012 and October 2016, which were due to maintenance occurring outside of the usual periods.

  • While manufacturing recorded its seventh consecutive three-month on three-month growth in January 2018 – the first time since June 2014 – growth slowed to 0.9%, from 1.3% in the three months to December 2017 (Figure 2).

  • The three-month on three-month growth in manufacturing was driven by basic metals and metal products, which accounted for over half of the total 0.9% growth in manufacturing output.

  • Manufacturing output increased for the ninth consecutive month in January 2018, growing by 0.1%.

  • The monthly growth of 0.1% for manufacturing output and 1.3% for production output were both weaker than market expectations of 0.2% and 1.5% respectively.


  • Construction output continued to weaken in the three months to January 2018, with total construction output falling by 1.0%, marking the ninth consecutive fall in three-monthly output growth.

  • This was driven by a 4.1% decrease in private commercial new work and a 2.1% decrease in total repair and maintenance – subtracting 0.8 and 0.7 percentage points respectively from total growth in construction output.

  • Monthly construction output fell by 3.4% in January 2018 – the largest monthly fall since June 2012 and weaker than market expectations of a 0.5% fall; this was due mainly to a 8.3% fall in private new housing, following a historically high level of output in December 2017.

  • While today’s release of construction new orders for Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2017 shows a sharp decrease of 25.0%, this follows a 38.1% increase in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2017 due to the High Speed 2 (HS2) project; compared with Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2017, new orders increased by 3.6% in Quarter 4 2017.


  • The UK trade deficit widened by £3.4 billion to £8.7 billion in the three months to January 2018; excluding erratics, the trade deficit widened by £2.6 billion to £8.9 billion.

  • This primarily reflected a £3.2 billion widening in the goods deficit, driven by a £1.5 billion increase in the import of oil.

  • Today’s latest trade figures incorporate revisions to the UK trade deficit throughout 2017, with a narrower deficit than previously estimated in Quarter 3 and Quarter 4 2017 (a revision of £2.0 billion and £3.0 billion respectively) (Figure 4); the revision in Quarter 4 2017 was driven by downward revisions to goods imports, particularly unspecified goods, and upward revisions to services exports.

  • In volume terms, both goods exports and imports excluding oil and erratics increased in the three months to January 2018 by 0.2% and 0.5% respectively; growth in exports has been relatively subdued in recent months following a period of strong growth since mid-2016 (Figure 5).

  • There have been revisions to the volume of total goods exports in 2017, with Quarter 3 growth revised up from 0% to 1.2% and Quarter 4 revised down from a fall of 0.7% to a fall of 3.2%; Quarter 4 growth in imports has also been revised down from a rise of 1.7% to a fall of 0.5%.

  • The sterling exchange rate index appreciated by 2.1% in the three months to January 2018, coinciding with a 0.9% increase in goods export prices and a 1.1% increase in goods import prices; however, removing the effect of price movements in oil, export and import prices of goods both fell by 0.3%.

  • The UK trade deficit widened by £0.6 billion to £3.1 billion in January 2018; this is compared with a market expectation of a narrowing of £1.6 billion.

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