The pound was lifted after the release of Markit's preliminary Purchasing Managers' Indexes for May which bounced from April's figures. However, the data is far from positive for many economists as Britain’s economy continued to shrink, suffering its worst contraction for the month of May. According to CBI chief economist Alpesh Paleja, May has been a “pretty awful” month for businesses.

Thursday’s release of data from IHS Markit’s PMI surveys, shows that both the manufacturing and service sectors have been shrinking as the lockdown continues, with signs that the pace of the decline is slowly easing.

The UK Composite Output Index for May was 28.9, up from 13.8 in April, the UK flash manufacturing PMI (May) 40.6, up from 32.9 and the UK services flash PMI (May) 27.8, up from 12.3. While the contraction is slower, still the readings are below 50, which indicates a slow in activity.

Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, explained today’s numbers:

“The UK economy remains firmly locked in an unprecedented downturn, with business activity and employment continuing to slump at alarming rates in May. Although the pace of decline has eased since April’s record collapse, May saw the second largest monthly falls in output and jobs seen over the survey’s 22-year history, the rates of decline continuing to far exceed anything seen previously. Travel and tourism firms, hotels, restaurants and producers of consumer goods such as clothing were again the hardest hit, reflecting virus containment measures, but this remains a shockingly broad-based downturn with very few companies left unscathed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Businesses have suffered

With businesses shut during the lockdown, activity has been low, with cancellations of orders and a drop in demand. New employment to UK firms was also low, resembling the record lows of April.

The slowdown shows the stark reality of the coronavirus impact on the economy, which is slightly different than economists’ optimism and expectations of a quick bounce back.

For Neil Birrell, Chief Investment Officer at Premier Miton, the recovery will happen, but is still far away: “The PMI data in from the UK and Europe suggests that the outlook is improving. That is to be expected, as the surveys are taken mid-month and economies were more open than they were in mid-April. But with UK Composite PMI at 28.9, albeit up from 13.8 in April, and the Eurozone Composite PMI reading at 30.5 the outlook is still grim. Markets may well take this as a sign that the nadir has been reached, although recovery is some time off.”

Similarly, Duncan Brock, Group Director at CIPS, believes that a second wave of Covid-19 infections could slowdown recovery. He said that the easing of the lockdown does not signal a clear way towards improvement in the manufacturing and services sectors. He added: “This month saw another steep fall in overall business activity, surpassing for the third time the rates of decline seen during the global financial crisis in 2009. No new orders, premises shut down and furloughed staff unable to return to work were at the heart of the desolation as business struggled to continue with two hands tied behind their back.” Additionally, if job cuts continue and “purse strings will be drawn tightly shut and spending severely curtailed, putting further pressure on the UK economy and ensuring any recovery is many years into the future.”

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