Deficit finally large enough for a bit of stability and growth?
By Scott Hamilton and Jennifer Ryan
October 25 (Bloomberg) — Britain exited a double-dip recession in the third quarter with the strongest growth in five years as Olympic ticket sales and a surge in services helped boost the rebound.
Gross domestic product rose 1 percent from the three months through June, the fastest growth since 2007, the Office for National Statistics said in London today. That exceeded the highest estimate in a Bloomberg News survey for growth of 0.8 percent. The median forecast of 33 economists was 0.6 percent. The pound rose after the data were published.
The growth surge reflects a boost from the Olympics and a rebound from the second quarter, when GDP was affected by an extra public holiday. While the data may give some short-term relief to Prime Minister David Cameron’s struggling government, Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said this week that the recovery is “slow and uncertain.” That suggests the figures mask underlying weakness that could warrant further stimulus from the central bank.
“We’re still concerned the U.K. economy is going to be pretty much flat throughout next year,” James Shugg, an economist at Westpac Banking Corp. (WBC) in London, said on Bloomberg Television’s “The Pulse” with Maryam Nemazee. “It all depends how rigidly determined the government is to stick to its deficit reduction plan.”
Services, which make up about three quarters of GDP, surged 1.3 percent in the third quarter from the previous three months, the most in five years, the ONS said. Olympic ticket sales are estimated to have added 0.2 percentage points to GDP. Production rose 1.1 percent, the most in more than two years, while manufacturing increased 1 percent. Construction output fell 2.5 percent, a third straight quarterly decline.
The pound extended its gain against the dollar after the report and was trading at $1.6134 as of 10:52 a.m. in London, up 0.6 percent on the day. Bonds declined, pushing the yield on the 10-year government bond up 8 basis points to 1.93 percent.
From a year earlier, GDP was unchanged in the third quarter, the ONS said. That compared with a decline of 0.5 percent forecast by economists in a separate Bloomberg survey.
While today’s data confirm Britain exited its first double- dip recession since 1975, GDP is still 3.1 percent below its peak in the first quarter of 2008. The report also showed that the economy has grown 0.6 percent since the third quarter of 2010, just after Cameron’s coalition government came to power.
Cameron urged caution on the GDP data, saying there is “still much to do.” The opposition Labour Party has accused his government of exacerbating the economic slump by sticking to its fiscal squeeze. Ed Balls, Labour’s finance spokesman, said today the economy “remains weak” and “is only just back to the size it was a year ago.”
“There are always one-off figures in all of these announcements but they do show an underlying picture of good and positive growth,” Cameron said. “We’ve got to stick with the program.”
The data today are an initial estimate and the figures are subject to revision when the ONS gets more information. In the second quarter, the decline in GDP was revised up to 0.4 percent from an initially reported 0.7 percent.
Britain is the first of the Group of Seven nations to report GDP data for the third quarter. U.S. growth probably accelerated to a 1.9 percent annual rate after expanding at a 1.3 percent pace the prior quarter, according to a Bloomberg survey before a Commerce Department report tomorrow. It would be the first back-to-back readings lower than 2 percent since the U.S. was emerging from the recession in 2009.
The U.K. data come two weeks before the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee must decide whether to end its stimulus program or extend it beyond 375 billion pounds ($605 billion). Governor Mervyn King said this week that a “zig-zag” pattern of recovery is likely to persist.
Debenhams Plc (DEB), Britain’s second-largest department-store chain, said today that the U.K. experienced “challenging trading conditions during 2012.” Whitbread Plc (WTB) Chief Executive Officer Andy Harrison said the consumer market is “pretty flat” and generating any growth is “jolly difficult.”
Stripping out one-time distortions, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research said on Oct. 9 that third- quarter growth was closer to between 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent.
Still, recent data have shown pressure on consumers easing. Inflation cooled to the slowest in almost three years in September, while retail sales increased more than forecast. Payrolls rose to a record in the quarter through August, pushing the unemployment rate down to 7.9 percent from 8.1 percent.
“At this stage, it is difficult to know whether some of the recent more positive signs will persist,” King said on Oct. 23. “The MPC will think long and hard before it decides whether or not to make further asset purchases. But should those signs fade, the MPC does stand ready.”
Elsewhere in Europe, Sweden’s Riksbank kept benchmark interest rates unchanged at their lowest level since early 2011 and said further easing has become more probable as growth slows in the largest Nordic economy.