Albion Financial Advice > News > The Flatlining UK Economy: A Rollercoaster with No Thrills

Ah, the UK economy, often the stuff of economic fairy tales, filled with promises of growth and prosperity. But, as the latest figures reveal, April was not a month for any such happy endings. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was as flat as a pancake in April, showing no growth after a modest rise of 0.4% in March. This lackluster performance spells trouble for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Conservative government, who have pinned much of their General Election campaign on economic improvement.

A Month of Stagnation

The numbers are stark. The GDP remained stagnant in April, failing to follow up on March’s 0.4% growth. This flatlining is a significant blow, especially considering the economy managed to claw its way out of a minor recession at the end of last year, with a growth of 0.6% in the first quarter of 2024. On a quarterly basis, real GDP did see a rise of 0.7% in the three months to April compared to the three months to January 2024. But a single month of zero growth can cast a long shadow over these figures.

Economists had predicted this stagnation, attributing it to weaker-than-usual retail sales and the downpour of rain over the Easter period. It’s a classic British problem—blaming the weather. But in this case, the heavy rains truly seem to have washed away any hopes of economic momentum.

Sectoral Shifts: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When we dig into the sectoral data, the picture becomes even more nuanced. Services output, which accounts for a significant chunk of the UK economy, grew by a modest 0.2% in April, marking its fourth consecutive month of growth. This sector has been the sturdy engine keeping the economic train moving, albeit slowly.

In contrast, production output fell by 0.9% in April, reversing the 0.2% growth seen in March. This decline underscores the volatility and challenges facing the manufacturing and industrial sectors. Construction output took an even bigger hit, falling by 1.4% in April, marking its third consecutive monthly decline. Over the three months to April, construction output was down by 2.2%, driven by significant drops in private housing new work and maintenance.

This decline in construction is particularly worrisome given the political promises flying around about building new houses. With private housing new work down by 4.4% and repair and maintenance down by 2.5%, one can’t help but question how any new housing pledges will be fulfilled.

The Political Quagmire

For Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, these figures are a nightmare. His administration’s narrative of economic recovery is now on shaky ground. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves didn’t miss the opportunity to highlight this, stating, “Rishi Sunak claims we have turned a corner, but the economy has stalled and there is no growth. These figures expose the damage done after 14 years of Conservative chaos.”

The flatlining economy adds fuel to the fire for critics who argue that the Conservative government has failed to deliver on its economic promises. The timing couldn’t be worse, with every economic data release being scrutinized under the election campaign’s glaring spotlight.

The Bank of England’s Dilemma

As if the political ramifications weren’t enough, the Bank of England now faces a tough decision. With the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting next week to decide on interest rates, this latest GDP data will undoubtedly weigh heavily on their minds. Experts have already suggested that a rate cut in June is unlikely without more progress on inflation and a cooling labor market.

Suren Thiru, economics director at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, noted, “Despite these disappointing GDP figures, a June interest rate cut looks improbable, with the Bank of England likely to be a little wary of shifting policy in the middle of a General Election campaign.”

The market’s low expectations for the UK economy in April were met, and while this might not change the overall narrative, it certainly adds a layer of complexity to the MPC’s decision-making process. A flatlining economy might argue for a rate cut to stimulate growth, but the surrounding economic conditions and election timing make it a tricky call.

Expert Opinions: A Mixed Bag

Luke Bartholomew, deputy chief economist at abrdn, pointed out the volatility of monthly GDP data, emphasizing the importance of looking at broader trends. He noted that over several months, a picture of solid recovery from last year’s recession does emerge. He added, “This should continue as the year progresses as households benefit from strong real income growth amid falling inflation.”

Nicholas Hyett, an investment manager at Wealth Club, was more blunt in his assessment: “The market had low expectations for the UK economy in April, and it duly delivered. In an election month, where every data release will be watched closely, there’s little here to change the narrative.”

Construction Woes and Housing Promises

One of the most troubling aspects of the April GDP data is the decline in construction output. With all political parties promising to build new houses, the reality on the ground paints a grim picture. The steep declines in private housing new work and maintenance highlight a significant challenge in delivering on these promises.

As one expert quipped, “If the Prime Minister thinks this data shows his mythical ‘plan’ is working, then it is hard to believe anything else he says in the run-up to election day. A flatlining economy leaves the Government with the faintest of pulses, whilst the fall in construction begs the question as to whether they would ever get close to their new house building pledge when they have consistently failed to hit the old one.”

The construction sector’s struggles are not just an economic issue but also a political one. With the promise of thousands of new properties from most parties in this General Election, the decline in housing construction is a glaring contradiction that voters are unlikely to overlook.

The Silver Lining?

Oddly enough, some experts see a silver lining in this otherwise dreary economic landscape. The flat GDP data might give the Bank of England more confidence to start cutting interest rates, which could stimulate the economy. This potential for rate cuts could be good news for mortgage holders and those looking to invest in the housing market.

One analyst optimistically stated, “No growth sums up the legacy of the current administration whose leader’s greatest hardship was growing up without Sky. However, this could be good news with a Bank of England base rate meeting on the horizon. June still could see the first rate cut since 2020.”

But it’s not just about cutting rates. The MPC needs to consider these figures and act swiftly to stimulate the market and support struggling industries. The disappointing GDP figures reveal a downward trend in key sectors, underscoring the urgent need for a base rate reduction. Despite punchy wage growth figures, economic uncertainty and higher mortgage rates are slowing down house construction as demand wanes.

A Call for Long-term Strategy

Amidst the short-term reactions and immediate political fallout, there is a growing call for a more proactive and long-term economic strategy. One critic aptly summarized, “We’ve heard a lot about ‘sticking to the plan’ lately, but the reality is that the plan is all very short-term and reactionary. Until those in power take a proactive approach and set a long-term strategy for investment and infrastructure spend, the economy will continue to underperform.”

The latest GDP data for April is a wake-up call. It highlights the fragility of the UK’s economic recovery and the need for a robust, long-term strategy that goes beyond reactionary measures. As the political and economic worlds collide in the run-up to the General Election, the stakes have never been higher. The UK economy may have flatlined in April, but the real challenge lies in resuscitating it with meaningful, long-term policies that foster sustainable growth and stability.


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