Business investment in the UK: October to December 2017 revised results

Estimates of short-term indicators of investment in non-financial assets; business investment and asset and sector breakdowns of total gross fixed capital formation.

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22 February 2018

A change was made in UK National Accounts: the Blue Book 2017 to correct the estimation of elements of purchased software, which were being double-counted from 2001 onwards along with discrepancies in the modelled data prior to 2001. During further quality assurance, we have identified that 2017 adjustment did not fully address the issue and an additional amendment to other machinery and equipment, and information and communication technology (ICT) equipment is required. Purchased software will be unaffected by this additional amendment. When implemented in the Blue Book 2018-consistent Quarterly National Accounts dataset, to be published 29 June 2018, it will increase the level of gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) across the period by around 1.5% per year in current prices. The average impact on quarter-on quarter GFCF current price growth is positive 0.01% and the average impact on quarter-on-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) current price growth is 0.00%. We do not yet know the definitive impact on the chained volume measures of GFCF or GDP growth rates, we expect them, though, to be similarly small.

This is an accredited national statistic.

Contact:
Email Alison McCrae

Release date:
29 March 2018

Next release:
25 May 2018

1. Main points

  • Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF), in volume terms, was estimated to have increased by 1.1% to £84.1 billion in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2017 from £83.2 billion in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2017.

  • Business investment was estimated to have increased by 0.3% to £46.2 billion in Quarter 4 2017 from £46.1 billion in Quarter 3 2017.

  • Between Quarter 4 2016 and Quarter 4 2017, GFCF was estimated to have increased by 4.0% from £80.9 billion; business investment was estimated to have increased by 2.6% from £45.0 billion.

  • Between 2016 and 2017, GFCF grew by 4.0% and business investment grew by 2.4%; the 4.0% increase in GFCF for 2017 was the strongest annual increase of any G7 nation.

  • The main assets that contributed to the 1.1% GFCF increase between Quarter 3 2017 and Quarter 4 2017 were intellectual property products, and other buildings and structure and transfer costs.

  • The sectors that contributed to GFCF growth over the same period were general government, private sector dwellings and business investment.

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2. Upcoming changes

A change was made in UK National Accounts: the Blue Book 2017 to correct the estimation of elements of purchased software, which were being double-counted from 2001 onwards along with discrepancies in the modelled data prior to 2001. During further quality assurance, we have identified that the 2017 adjustment did not fully address the issue and an additional amendment to other machinery and equipment, and information and communication technology (ICT) equipment is required. Purchased software will be unaffected by this additional amendment.

When implemented in the Blue Book 2018-consistent Quarterly National Accounts dataset, to be published 29 June 2018, it will increase the level of gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) across the period by around 1.5% per year in current prices. The average impact on quarter-on quarter GFCF current price growth is positive 0.01% and the average impact on quarter-on-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) current price growth is 0.00%. We do not yet know the definitive impact on the chained volume measures of GFCF or GDP growth rates, we expect them, though, to be similarly small.

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3. Things you need to know about this release

The estimates in this release are short-term indicators of investment in non-financial assets in the UK, such as dwellings (residential buildings), transport equipment (planes, trains and automobiles), machinery (electrical equipment), buildings (non-residential buildings and roads) and intellectual property products (assets without physical properties – formerly known as intangibles). This release covers not only business investment, but asset and sector breakdowns of total gross fixed capital formation (GFCF), of which business investment is one component.

Business investment is net investment by private and public corporations. These include investments in transport, information and communication technology (ICT) equipment, other machinery and equipment, cultivated assets (such as livestock and vineyards), intellectual property products (IPP, which includes investment in software, research and development, artistic originals and mineral exploration), and other buildings and structures.

Business investment does not include investment by central or local government, investment in dwellings, or the costs associated with the transfer of non-produced assets (such as land). Business investment is not an internationally recognised concept and it should not be used to make international comparisons, however, GFCF is an internationally recognised standard and is therefore internationally comparable. Please see A short guide to GFCF and business investment for more detailed information, including asset and sector hierarchies.

All investment data referred to in this bulletin are estimates of seasonally adjusted chained volume measures. To see a time series of the data please use our time series datasets.

The Business investment QMI was recently updated on 30 January 2018 and includes updated information on the quality and methodology used in the production of business investment statistics.

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4. GFCF and business investment main figures

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5. Which sectors are contributing to growth in GFCF in Quarter 4 2017?

Between Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2017 and Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2017, gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) increased by 1.1%. On a sector basis, the largest growth was seen in general government, which contributed 0.7 percentage points, along with slightly smaller contributions from private sector dwellings and business investment of 0.2 and 0.1 percentage points respectively (Figure 1).

Between Quarter 4 2016 and Quarter 4 2017, GFCF increased by 4.0%. The increases came from business investment, general government and private sector dwellings, which contributed 1.4, 1.3 and 1.1 percentage points respectively to overall GFCF growth. No sector contributed negatively to quarter on same quarter a year ago growth. Since Quarter 3 2016, quarter on same quarter a year ago growth has averaged 4.2%, with one value below 4% recorded in Quarter 3 2017 (3.6%).

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6. Which assets are contributing to growth in GFCF in Quarter 4 2017?

On an asset basis, the largest contributor to growth in gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) between Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2017 and Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2017 was intellectual property products (IPP), which contributed 0.6 percentage points (Figure 2). Other buildings and structures and transfer costs contributed 0.5 percentage points and transport equipment along with dwellings each contributed 0.2 percentage points to growth. This growth was slightly offset by a negative contribution from information and communication technology (ICT) equipment and other machinery and equipment, which contributed negative 0.3 percentage points.

The Quarter 4 2017 quarter on same quarter a year ago GFCF increase of 4.0% had a positive contribution from other buildings and structures and transfer costs, which contributed 1.8 percentage points. IPP contributed 1.5 percentage points, while dwellings, and ICT equipment and other machinery and equipment contributed 1.1 and 0.6 percentage points respectively. The only negative contribution came from transport equipment, which contributed negative 1.1 percentage points. Quarter on same quarter a year ago growth averaged 7.1% in 2014, fell to 2.8% in 2015 and then fell further to 1.8% for 2016.

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7. What are the contributions to annual growth in GFCF?

For the calendar year of 2017, gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) increased by 4.0%, up from the 1.8% increase for the calendar year of 2016. Total GFCF growth had been slowing since 2014. The 4.0% growth in GFCF represents the strongest annual growth since 2014. Business investment grew by 2.4% in 2017 following growth of negative 0.5% in 2016. Between 2010 and 2015, business investment averaged growth of 4.9% per year, with a maximum growth of 7.3% in 2012.

In 2017, on a sector basis, the largest contributor to annual growth was private sector dwellings, which contributed 1.6 percentage points to growth. Business investment contributed 1.4 percentage points to growth, with smaller positive contributions from the remaining sectors (Figure 3).

Other buildings and structures and transfer costs was the asset that contributed most to growth in 2017, contributing 2.1 percentage points. Dwellings was the next strongest contributor, at 1.7 percentage points, with smaller positive contributions from intellectual property products, and information and communication technology (ICT) equipment and other machinery and equipment.

The only negative contribution to growth came from transport equipment. Expenditure on transport equipment declined by 7.5% in 2017, following large increases in each of the previous three years. This led to a negative contribution of 0.6 percentage points to growth in 2017 (Figure 4).

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8. How has GFCF performed over a longer period?

Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) is now 11.7% above the pre-economic downturn peak of Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008 and 36.0% above the level seen at the trough of the financial crisis in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2009.

GFCF has grown positively for the last nine quarters, with the last negative quarter-on-quarter growth being recorded in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2015 (Figure 5). Since Quarter 1 2016, quarter-on-quarter GFCF growth has averaged 1.1%, with the largest increase being 2.0% and the smallest increase being 0.5%.

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9. What other information can tell us more about GFCF?

Developments in the housing market can be an important indicator of investment and wider activity in the economy. Construction fell by 0.7% in the three months to December 2017, but grew in the month-on-month series by 1.6% in December 2017 (see Construction output in Great Britain: December 2017 for more information). Construction output “remains at a relatively high level” following a peak in March 2017. The largest positive contributor to construction in Quarter 4 2017 was private housing. This is reflected in the increase in private sector dwellings series for GFCF for both quarter-on-quarter growth and annual growth.

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10. Which assets are contributing to the growth in business investment?

Business investment for Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2017 has been revised up since the Quarter 4 2017 provisional release, from 0.0% to 0.3% compared with the previous quarter. This increase can be attributed largely to intellectual property products (particularly software data), which contributed 0.9 percentage points to this growth. There was also a smaller contribution of 0.3 percentage points from transport equipment. This growth was offset partially by a negative contribution from information and communication technology (ICT) equipment and other machinery and equipment of 0.9 percentage points (Figure 6).

Quarter on same quarter a year ago growth in business investment has been revised up from 2.1% to 2.6%. The main asset contributing to this growth is intellectual property products, which contributed 3.0 percentage points. Other buildings and structures also gave a relatively strong contribution of 1.3 percentage points. However, the largest negative contribution came from transport equipment, which contributed negative 2.0 percentage points to business investment. This was due to particularly strong investment in transport equipment in Quarter 4 2016.

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11. How has business investment performed over a longer period?

For the calendar year of 2017, business investment grew by 2.4%; the last negative quarter-on-quarter value was in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2016. Business investment growth has been relatively subdued for more than two years, with its Quarter 4 2017 level being just 1.1% higher than the level seen in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2015 (Figure 7).

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12. Business investment in the wider economy

The Bank of England, in its most recent Agents’ summary of business conditions (PDF, 484KB), stated that investment intentions had “remained positive”, however, it is noted that these intentions are mainly the investment needed to maintain business activity and improve efficiency. The Bank of England states that strength in global demand and growth should encourage exporters to invest in additional capacity.

The Bank also notes that a range of different indicators suggests that Brexit-related uncertainties and expectations around lower future sales are weighing on business investment growth. From a survey source, it was found that nominal business investment was 3 to 4% lower in the year to June 2017 than it would have been otherwise. For a more comprehensive analysis around Brexit and business investment, please see page 17 of the Bank of England’s latest inflation report.

Another important factor to consider when looking at business investment is the availability or supply of credit. Although the increase in Bank Rate has pushed up the cost of borrowing, the cost of borrowing to firms remains low. The Credit Conditions survey, however, reported a fall in demand for lending across firms of all sizes in the second half of 2017.

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13. International comparisons of GFCF

Between 2016 and 2017, the UK had the strongest growth in gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) of any G7 nation at 4.0% (Figure 8). The next largest annual growth was seen in Italy, where GFCF grew by 3.7%. The weakest growth of 2.5% in GFCF was seen in Japan. Canada (2.8%) was the only other nation to record an annual growth in GFCF of below 3%. This is the first time since 2014 that the UK has had the highest annual growth of any G7 country, when UK GFCF increased by 7.2%.

The average growth in annual GFCF for the UK has been 3.5% since 2010. This, again, is the highest average annual growth of any G7 nation from 2010 to 2017. The United States has the second-largest average annual growth between 2010 and 2017 at 3.3%, while Italy has the lowest at negative 1.5%. All G7 nations have equalled or surpassed their average annual growth between 2010 and 2017 in the calendar year of 2017.

The estimates quoted in this international comparison section are the latest available estimates at the time of preparation of this statistical bulletin and may have subsequently been revised.

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14. Revisions to GFCF and business investment

Revisions have been made to gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) from Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017 to Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2017 in line with National Accounts Revisions Policy (PDF, 41KB). When actual data for full-year calendar years are available, this can cause revisions to seasonal adjustment and this was the case for Quarters 1 to 3 of 2017.

The majority of revisions were caused by taking on revised source data for 2017. Updated government source data particularly affected Quarter 1 to Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2017. The maximum revision to GFCF in 2017 was an upward revision of 0.5% seen in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2017, while the absolute average revision to GFCF was 0.3% (Figure 9).

Revisions in business investment (Figure 10) were due to the incorporation of later data. Revisions in Quarters 3 and 4 were primarily as a result of revisions to intellectual property products, particularly software data. The maximum revision to business investment in 2017 was an upward revision of 0.7%, which was seen in Quarter 2 2017, along with a smaller upward revision of 0.3 in Quarter 4 2017. This was alongside two negative revisions of 0.4% and 0.1% in Quarter 1 and Quarter 3 2017 respectively. The absolute average revision was 0.4%, while the mean revision was 0.1%.

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16. Quality and methodology

The Business investment Quality and Methodology Information (QMI) report contains important information on:

  • the strengths and limitations of the data and how it compares with related data
  • uses and users
  • how the output was created
  • the quality of the output including the accuracy of the data

The changes signposted in this bulletin have not yet been reflected in either the Quarterly Acquisitions and Disposals of Capital Assets Survey QMI or the Business investment QMI, but changes will be incorporated into revised QMIs in the future. We recently updated the Business investment QMI on 30 January 2018.

In February 2017, we introduced an improved gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) estimation system, which incorporated methodological changes including improved deflation and seasonal adjustment. A data impact assessment of the new GFCF system for the periods Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2016 to Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2016 can be found in an accompanying article: Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) new system deployment and data impact assessment. Further information on the methods changes introduced in the new GFCF estimation system can be found in the article Changes to the Gross Fixed Capital Formation methodology and processing.

Adjustments

Large capital expenditure tends to be reported later in the data collection period than smaller capital expenditure. This means that larger expenditures are often included in the revised (month 3) results, but are not reported in time for the provisional (month 2) results, leading to a tendency towards upwards revisions in the later estimates for business investment and gross fixed capital formation (GFCF). Following investigation of the impact of this effect, from Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2013, in the provisional estimate a bias adjustment is introduced to business investment and its components. The bias adjustment for this revised release has been removed completely.

Survey response rates

Table 2 presents the provisional (month 2) and revised (month 3) response rates for the Quarterly Acquisitions and Disposals of Capital Assets Survey (QCAS). The estimates in this release are based on the Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2017 provisional survey results.

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