Contribution to FT’s annual UK economic survey

Phil was one of more than 100 economists and analysts asked to submit their answers to three questions about the outlook for the UK economy in 2023. The questions and (edited) answers were:

(1) Will the UK economy outpace or lag behind other developed economies in 2023 and how will it feel for households?

(A) The British economy will likely lag most of its developed peers in 2023 and will fall into recession. One reason is a continued fall in real household income. Real wage growth in 2022 fell at the fastest rate for some 50 years and, thanks to high inflation and Brexit, will continue to cause severe pain for households next year.

(2) How tough will the Bank of England need to be in 2023 to curb inflation?

(A): The Bank has already been tough and needs to stop raising Bank rate when it gets to 4 per cent — if not before. The danger is now more that it will tighten policy more than is needed and depress economic growth even further than is needed to hit the 2 per cent target than it fails to counter inflationary pressures that are receding.

(3) Will the government need to announce further tax raises in 2023 to maintain sound public finances?

(A) No. It has already enacted steep taxes and heralded cuts in spending that risk a repeat of the damaging austerity programme of 2010. These will depress growth and affect the poorest households the most. The government is probably prevented from allowing borrowing to rise to cater for greater public spending (as it did during Covid-19) because of the echoes of the disastrous economic programme of Liz Truss that undermined the confidence of the financial markets in the current administration.

(4) Will we see green shoots of recovery starting by the end of 2023?

(A): Hardly. The fiscal tightening will exert a large drag on the economy through 2024. Growth may return towards the end of the year but this will etiolated strands of grass rather than a lush meadow.

(5) What is the best historical comparison for the downturn the UK faces in the year ahead?

(A): The 2009-10 recession and anaemic recovery probably give the best road map. The downturn has not been as severe but the recovery will be as lacklustre. This time, rather than from financial sector failures, it will be the after-effects of a hard Brexit that will hang over the economy for years. A likely housing market correction or crash will not help either.

(6) Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

(A): The British economy will likely lag most of its developed peers in 2023 and will fall into recession. One reason is a continued fall in real household income. Real wage growth in 2022 fell at the fastest rate for some 50 years and, thanks to high inflation and Brexit, will continue to cause severe pain for households next year.

The full responses are here


Covering the first in-person IMF in three years

Phil joined the team from GlobalMarkets newspaper to help edit the coverage of the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. These were the first in-person meetings since 2019, as the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic forced them to be held virtually.

There was a strong feeling among organisers, visiting delegates and media and NGOs that the opportunity to meet and interact made the in-person meetings vastly superior to the virtual ones. That was especially important in October 2022 because of the confluence of a set of major crises including the food shortage, the fuel price surge, the wider inflationary spike, the debt problems facing many low- and middle-income countries and the war in Ukraine.

Phil helped edit the three daily papers that were printed live in Washington, DC, and distributed to the meeting venues and the hotels where delegates were staying. He also wrote two features looking ahead to the challenges facing the IMF and the World Bank.

Will Covid-19 cause the next financial crisis?

The Harris Foundation for Lifelong Learning commissioned research into the way that the deadly Covid-19 disease has changed the way millions of office workers do their jobs and live their lives and the impact on the property market in the Uk and Europe.

The article looked at the extent to which firms are looking to cut their real estate footprint, and investment institutions forecast that demand for office space might fall up to 35% exacerbated by rising insolvencies.

It found that the knock-on effects from a crisis in the property-related debt market could prove disastrous – unless the government takes action. It concluded that there has been insufficient discussion of the financial help that will be needed if a health crisis turns into a financial catastrophe for owners, investors, and lenders. Now is the time to start planning for that.

The article is here.

Contribution to Financial Times 2018 survey

We were asked by the Financial Times to contribute our views on a range of issues which have the potential to affect the UK economy during 2018. On overall growth, we said the economy will slow in 2018 as the uncertainty created by the stop-start Brexit negotiations nags at consumer and business confidence and at investment intentions. A drop to 1.5% from 1.8% in 2017 seems likely. The interesting comparison is with the eurozone, which could post growth as high as 2.4 per cent. Those data will be confirmed in spring just as the UK will leave the EU — a timely reminder of the damage that the UK is doing to itself by leaving.

On Brexit we said that it will either be possible to stay within a/the single market and a/the customs union or even that opposition to Brexit itself is starting to grow. Either there are now hopes that the UK will get as bad a deal as feared a year earlier.

On the consumer economy, we said the downward pressure on consumer spending that has so far come from a fall in real wages is likely to continue. Our other concern is the mountain of debt that consumers are building up and whether any of the bubbles in personal loans, credit card debt, and car loans will burst.

A year ago we contributed to the 2017 survey in which we said we predicted that growth would slow sharply, that inflation would rise and the negative impact from Brexit had been postponed rather than cancelled.

LatinFinance’s finance minister of the year

We worked with LatinFinance, the magazine that covers Latin American economies and financial markets, on its Finance Ministry Scorecard. This is an annual assessment of the performance of the finance ministers and their ministries over the latest calendar year.

It recognises outperformance in managing fiscal and external accounts, building sustainable economic growth, and contributing to controlled inflation. It takes into account ministries’ transparency and clarity in communications with markets, independence and financial strength. The final decision is based on a series of in-depth interviews with market participants including ratings agencies analysts, private-sector agencies analysts and independent economists.

Our assessment led LatinFinance to decide that Colombia and finance minister Mauricio Cardenas had performed better than any major economy over that period. The announcement is here. Colombia was the fastest-growing large economy in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2014. It kept its fiscal deficit limited, and attracted strong levels of foreign investment. Further, the country has a low debt ratio, at below 32% of GDP.  WE carried out an interview with Minister Cardenas in which he talked about how he had achieved strong growth in the face of the fall in the oil price and signs of weakness in the eurozone and Chinese economies. The article is here.