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One month after the referendum, are predictions of Brexit blight coming true?

Though the Leave vote hit share values hard, many have recovered. But other sectors of the economy will be counting the cost for years

The overall impact of the historic referendum that saw the UK unexpectedly vote to leave the European Union has so far, in the space of a month, been less severe than some of the more apocalyptic warnings had suggested. But there have been winners and losers across the economy.

The pound

Sterling went on a rollercoaster ride on referendum night, ending up down 8% against the dollar as the results confirmed a victory for the Leave camp. Since then, its decline has continued and the pound is now at levels not seen since 1985, having lost about 12% against the US currency. Compared with the euro, the pound has fallen by 9% since the vote and is at a three-year low making holidays in euroland more expensive.

The decline comes as investors worry about weakness in the UK economy and the prospect of interest rate cuts to boost demand. This month the Bank of England left rates on hold but said most members of its monetary policy committee expected a cut in August if the economy did not improve.

The weak pound is a boon to exporters but will make imported goods more expensive. On Thursday, Unilever the business behind brands including Dove, Flora, Bertolli, Hellmans and Persil became the first major food and consumer goods company to warn that companies were likely to pass on increased costs to customers.

Stock markets

Markets were caught by surprise by the Leave result and a record $2tn was wiped off the value of global shares. But since then, there has been something of a recovery, particularly for the FTSE 100, which has regained all lost ground and more, and is currently at 11-month highs. However, the leading UK index is chock-full of companies with international operations, which are less exposed to any slump in the UK economy, and which earn in dollars, thus gaining from the new lower exchange rate.

The weak pound has also raised the prospect of UK-listed companies being snapped up by foreign rivals because suddenly they look cheap. Just last week chip designer ARM agreed to be taken over by Japans SoftBank for 24bn, while South African retailer Steinhoff has agreed to buy Poundland. Analysts believe more deals will follow.

Markets have also been lifted by bargain hunters who believed valuations had fallen too far, as well as by the quick resolution to the political crisis threatening to engulf the government following Theresa Mays appointment as prime minister.

However, the mid-cap FTSE 250, which is more exposed to the UK economy than the 100 index, has yet to reach the level it was sitting at before the referendum result, despite recovering more than 13% from its lows. It is now down 2% from its pre-Brexit level.

Housing market

There has been a spate of profit warnings from estate agents, and many are making gloomy forecasts for the rest of the year. Agents in some upmarket parts of London have reported a bounce in interest from overseas buyers keen to take advantage of weak sterling, but for the mainstream market there are signs both interest and price growth have cooled.

On Friday, LSL, Britains second-biggest estate agent group owner of Your Move and Marsh & Parsons among others said business had slowed since the vote and warned that its annual profits would be significantly lower than anticipated. London-focused Foxtons issued a similar warning in late June.

Forecasts for the rest of the year are for falling interest from buyers and price drops, particularly in the most expensive parts of the market. French bank Socit Gnrale said last week that a price correction of even 40-50% in the most expensive London boroughs could be possible.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) says its members expect sales to slump over the summer, because buyer inquiries fell significantly in June. Ricss findings were cited by the Bank of England when it announced that it was revising down its forecast for price rises.

Housebuilders

Shares in housebuilders lost around 40% of their value in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, with investors worried that an economic slowdown in the UK would hit their business, despite the country seeing record low interest rates.

There has been some recovery since then, but the companies have failed to regain all their losses. Barratt Developments, Britains biggest housebuilder, is still down around 28%, and it has said that it may build fewer homes because of the current uncertainty.

Even before the vote, upmarket rival Berkeley had warned in June of a 20% drop in reservations of new homes.

Barratt
Barratts share price is down 28%. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Commercial property

The commercial property market was already stalling in the months running up to the referendum as investors put plans on hold to await the result. The UKs decision to leave the EU has not encouraged them back.

Rics said last week that there had been a significant drop in confidence and demand among investors and tenants since the vote. Both rent and capital value expectations are now in negative territory, it reported, adding that office and retail properties have been hardest hit.

Funds invested in commercial property were forced to close their doors for a while, as panicked savers tried to withdraw their cash. Those barring withdrawals included funds run by Standard Life, M&G Investments and Aviva Investors. Last week, they started to reopen for business, but some investors who want to get their money out will take a hit. Aberdeen Asset Management, for example, is adjusting payments downwards by 7%.

Banks

The banking sector has been hard hit by the Brexit fallout, thanks to a combination of low interest rates, worries about future access to European financial markets and the prospect of a general downturn.

With expectations of another rate cut in August, the banks are braced for more strain on their stretched balance sheets, at the same time as the economy is slowing and the risk of bad debts is increasing.

Moreover, so-called passporting arrangements, under which banks can sell financial products throughout Europe even though the UK is not part of the single currency, could come under threat after Brexit.

Banks most exposed to the UK market have been hardest hit, with Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland down 25% and challenger bank Virgin Money falling 35%.

Profit warnings

Estate agents have been the only businesses to issue profit warnings following the Brexit vote. However, British Airways owner International Airlines Group was quick off the mark to say the uncertainty would hit demand, closely following by easyJet. Last week, the budget airline added that the fall in the pound had cost it 40m.

Other travel companies are also suffering as, along with increased concerns about terror attacks, they face the prospect of UK holidaymakers ditching more expensive overseas trips and staying at home.

But executives at Heathrow airport said on Friday that the Leave vote had been good for business, with the falling pound encouraging international visitors to spend more in its shops, as well as making it easier to raise money from foreign investors.

FIRST SIGNS OF ECONOMIC IMPACT

The first real sign that Brexit is having an impact on the economy emerged last Friday, with a Markit survey showing business activity in services and manufacturing shrinking in July at its fastest rate since the global financial crisis in 2009. The data suggested that UK GDP could contract by 0.4% in the third quarter, according to Markit.

Until then, the data had been equivocal. The International Monetary Fund, which before the referendum had warned of possible recession if the Leave campaign won, cut its forecast for UK growth in 2017 by 0.9% points to 1.3% from its April estimate. But that is still similar to its forecasts for Germany and France.

A report from the Bank of Englands regional agents last week showed that a majority of firms were not planning to mothball investment or change their hiring plans.

The latest job figures looked upbeat: showing unemployment at its lowest level for more than a decade, with 31.7 million people in work in the three months to the end of May 176,000 more than for the three months to February 2016.

On the high street, however, the volume of retail sales fell by 0.9% between May and June. This compared to a rise of the same amount in the previous three months, and showed the effect of falling consumer confidence in the run-up to and immediate aftermath of the EU vote.

This was backed up by a survey from the British Retail Consortium and KPMG showing retail sales in the three months before the vote at their weakest for seven years, while market research group GfK recorded the biggest slide in consumer confidence for 21 years in a one-off poll following the referendum.

Inflation is on the rise, with official figures showing that dearer air fares and driving costs helped to push the consumer price index up by 0.5% in the year ending in June, up from 0.3% previously.

With higher prices on the way after the Brexit vote, inflation could breach its 2% target during 2017.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jul/23/brexit-one-month-after-referendum-blight-predictions


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