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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