Budget 2021: Pound to Remain Sensitive

Rishi Sunak’s budget has unnerved the pound as investors have been waiting to hear the details. A bullish scenario for the UK currency will be the announcement of more financial support to help recovery, while any attempt to balance the book that will affect growth will hurt the pound.

Main Points: What did Rishi Sunak say?

The chancellor said that he would do “whatever it takes” to help the economy recover from the pandemic as the damage has been great. It is estimated that more than 700,000 people lost their jobs, the economy shrank by 10% and borrowing has been at its highest. Sunak noted: “It’s going to take this country, and the whole world, a long time to recover from this extraordinary situation.”

He has underlined his own and the government’s desire to be clear and transparent about fixing the public finances, and about what plans they have in the future.

Growth

Expectations are for a quick recovery by the middle of next year. However, the economy will still be 3% smaller even in 5 years from now. GDP will grow by 4% this year, and by 7.3% next year. The coronavirus has profoundly affected the economy and Sunak’s comments suggest that tax rises should be expected in the near future.

Furlough

The chancellor said that unemployment will reach 6.5%, which will be much less than originally forecast, with 1.8 million fewer people expected to lose their jobs. The furlough scheme will continue until the end of September. Employees will receive 80% of their wages until the end of the scheme but businesses will have to contribute 10% in July and 20% in August and September. The self-employment income support scheme will also be extended and the £20-a-week uplift in universal credit will be extended for six months.

Grants for Businesses

Sunak announced a £5bn restart grant for businesses and noted that the total direct cash support to businesses has reached £25bn. The Treasury is also starting a new loan scheme with loans ranging between £25,000 and £10m.

Spending

£352bn will be the Covid support package this year and the next and Sunak underlined the amount that was spent to help the economy recover.

Borrowing

Sunak said the budget deficit will be £355bn this year and will continue at high levels with the underlying debt rising indefinitely. He said that due to his actions, borrowing will fall to 4.5% of GDP in 2022-23, then to 3.5% in 2023-24, and 2.9 and 2.8% in the following two years. He added: “It’s going to be the work of many governments over many decades to pay it back, just as it would be irresponsible to withdraw support too soon, it would also be irresponsible to allow our future borrowing and debt to rise unchecked.”

Corporation tax

In April 2023, the rate of corporation tax will go up to 25%. But Sunak explained that this will affect businesses that are making profits of more than £250,000 and will be taxed at the full 25% rate. Companies with profits of less than £50,000 will remain at 19%.

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Sterling fell to a one-week low against the dollar on Tuesday following the release of disappointing data confirming that British economic recovery will be slow.

Neil Wilson of Markets.com said that “Sterling extended a selloff after the GDP numbers disappointed”: “The UK is already seeing what a non-V recovery looks like. GDP growth rebounded 1.8% in May, which was well short of the 5.5% expected. In the three months to May, the economy contracted by 19.1%. Some of the numbers are truly horrendous and it’s hard to see how the economy can deliver the +20% rebound required to get back to 2019 with confidence sapped like it is and unemployment set to rise sharply.”

GDP numbers

The Office for National Statistics reported that the Gross domestic product rose by 1.8% in May after falling 20.3% in April, and a 6.9% in March. This was due to the reopening of businesses with factories and construction workers returning to work. Britain’s manufacturers increased their output by 8.4% while the construction sector grew by 8.2%.

However, City economists forecast a 5.5% rise in growth for May. Additionally, the last quarter, the economic slowdown has been worse than expected. The data today shows that the UK economy contracted by 19.1% in the March-May quarter.

Jonathan Athow, Deputy National Statistician for Economic Statistics, says: “Manufacturing and house building showed signs of recovery as some businesses saw staff return to work. Despite this, the economy was still a quarter smaller in May than in February, before the full effects of the pandemic struck. In the important services sector, we saw some pickup in retail, which saw record online sales. However, with lockdown restrictions remaining in place, many other services remained in the doldrums, with a number of areas seeing further declines.”

Services sector disappoints

The services sector fell by 18.9% in the last quarter and production shrank by 15.5%, according to the ONS. There was a 37.8% fall in education and a 31.4% drop in health output. Food and beverage service activities contracted by 69.3%. Manufacturing output fell 18.0% in March-May and the transport equipment manufacturing dropped by 45.7%.

Economists

Jeremy Thomson-Cook, Chief Economist at Equals PLC, said that that there are few signs of the UK economy recovering quickly: “May’s run of GDP, industrial production and services sector activity confirms that it’s easier to fall down a lift shaft than walk up a flight of stairs and the ongoing economic recovery will need many more months before any vague sense of normality is restored. There are few signs that the UK economy is close to anything resembling a v-shaped recovery although we expect that June’s data will be better than May’s which have shown little more than a false dawn.”

James Smith, Research Director of the Resolution Foundation, says that economic recovery from the Covid-19 has started: “Today’s data tells us that the UK economy started to recover as lockdown restrictions were eased in May. But what would normally be seen as strong growth in May of 1.8 per cent mainly reflects the depth of the lockdown’s economic damage, rather than a swift or V-shaped recovery. The economy was still just three-quarters of the size it was as recently as February. While we should expect strong immediate bounce backs in many sectors, such as retail which grew by 12 per cent in May, what recovery we actually see from here will depend on how people respond to the easing of restrictions and, crucially, the course of the public health crisis. Ultimately, the UK economy is unlikely to return to close to its pre-covid economic path until a vaccine or treatment is found.”

Indeed, the figures are dire and the challenge great. The chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said that the numbers “underline the scale of the challenge we face. I know people are worried about the security of their jobs and incomes. That’s why I set out our Plan for Jobs last week, following the PM’s new deal for Britain, to protect, support and create jobs as we safely reopen our economy. Our clear plan invests up to £30bn in significant and targeted support to put people’s livelihoods at the centre of our national renewal as we emerge through the other side of this crisis.”

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The UK economy has shrunk sharply in the first quarter of 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Sterling fell initially, but then stabilised after the British government extended its furlough scheme until the end of October.

GDP

GDP fell 2.0% fall in the three months to March after there was no growth in the three months to February. Particularly, March was a terrible month for the economy, as the GDP dropped by 5.8%, marking the worst performance since the ONS started calculating monthly data back in 1997.

While the UK economy before the Covid-19 lockdown was not faring well, contracting by 0.2% in February, as the coronavirus pandemic started, in March, however, it suffered dramatically. The drop in the first three months is considered to be the biggest quarterly drop in activity since 2008 after the collapse of the Lehman Brothers and the beginning of the global financial crisis.

Yesterday, chancellor Rishi Sunak warned that the UK recession was “already happening”, and that things will not improve in the near future. Last week, the Bank of England forecast that the UK economy might contract by 25% in the April-June quarter, which could be the deepest recession in three centuries.

Decline in Services, Manufacturing and Construction

The ONS reported that in March, with the beginning of the lockdown, the GDP contracted by 5.8% with the services sector shrinking by 6.2% during March, manufacturing output dropping by 4.6% during the month and construction contracting by 5.9%.

The Office for National Statistics explains that there is a close connection between the lockdown measures and the drop in economic activity:

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, public health restrictions and social distancing measures have been put in place in the UK, leading to a widespread disruption to economic activity. These measures have impacted upon the spending behaviours of consumers as well as how businesses and their employees operate. It has also affected the provision of services provided by government, including health and education.

Services output decreased by 1.9% in Quarter 1 (January to March) 2020, the largest quarterly fall since records began. Production output fell by 2.1% in Quarter 1 2020, driven by declines in manufacturing. Construction output decreased by 2.6% in the first quarter.

According to Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics, in March, the coronavirus pandemic hit the economy hard, with certain industries such as services and construction declining sharply and others, such as IT support and pharmaceuticals seeing growth.

Key points from the release:

The release reflects the dire effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic disruption to various sectors. March was the worst month as education fell by 4.0% due to school closures, wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles by 10.7%, food and beverage service activities by 7.3% and accommodation by 14.6%. The travelling sector was also hit falling by 23.6% while transport equipment-making declined by 20.5%.

What economists say:

Talking on Sky News, Sunak said that the government was positive and could “emerge stronger” on the other side. He said: “In common with pretty much every other economy around the world we’re facing severe impact from the coronavirus. You’re seeing that in the numbers. That’s why we’ve taken the unprecedented action that we have to support people’s jobs, their incomes and livelihoods at this time, and support businesses, so we can get through this period of severe disruption and emerge stronger on the other side.”

However, Tej Parikh, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, fears that Britain will not “emerge stronger” from the lockdown as he believes that UK firms will remain under pressure:

While countless companies have made adjustments with admirable speed, many will find it difficult to operate at anything like normal capacity under social distancing rules. The furlough scheme has undoubtedly staved off redundancies, and the new flexibility provides businesses a better chance of rebooting.

The Treasury will need to continue innovating to kickstart any recovery. The Government’s loan scheme provided ready cash, but now leaves many firms saddled with debt. Unless this is managed well, it will drag on business investment for long after the lockdown ends.

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