British consumer mood darkens
LONDON, May 30 (Reuters) – Britain’s economic outlook darkened further on Friday as three separate surveys pointed to tumbling consumer confidence, sliding house prices and falling disposable income.
All of this bodes ill for the sagging political fortunes of Prime Minister Gordon Brown at a time when rising inflation means further interest rate cuts from the Bank of England are unlikely.
The GfK NOP consumer confidence barometer fell 5 points to -29 this month, its weakest rate since 1990, as people grew gloomier about the state of the economy and their own personal finances.
Britons are now more reluctant to make major purchases over the next year than at any other time since the series began in 1983.
And well they might. A separate survey from pay specialist IDS showed the typical wage increase has fallen to 3.2 percent, a full percentage point below retail price inflation. And while household bills and food prices are rising, house prices continue to fall.
Figures from the Land Registry showed property prices in England and Wales fell for an eighth month in a row in April, corroborating evidence from lenders that the market is buckling as credit is squeezed.
“The basic message – of plunging confidence, falling purchasing intentions but rising inflation worries – is the same. But even with repetition, the prospects for the UK economy look grim,” said Michael Saunders at Citigroup.
NO HELP FROM BOE
The Bank of England meets to set interest rates next week but with consumer price inflation already running a full percentage point above target, few expect any further monetary easing.
Indeed, futures prices show investors are so nervous about inflation they expect the next move in interest rates to be up not down.
The Bank has cut interest rates three times since December, bringing them down to 5 percent. Markets have now almost fully priced in a rise to 5.25 percent by the end of the year.
“Our view is that markets are misjudging the interest rate outlook,” said Philip Shaw at Investec.
“While interest rates are unlikely to come down soon, the economy is too fragile for the Monetary Policy Committee to raise rates.”
Bank policymakers have long maintained that some slowdown in the housing market was needed after years of double-digit inflation. Nevertheless, they would undoubtedly prefer a gentle easing rather than a dramatic downturn that could take the broader economy with it.
Figures from the Nationwide building society this week showed house prices fell 2.5 percent this month, the fastest monthly decline since records began in 1991. The annual rate of decline, at 4.4 percent, was the sharpest rate since 1992.
Friday’s data from the Land Registry painted a less dramatic picture. It showed prices fell by 0.2 percent on the month in April — its eight consecutive monthly drop — but remained higher than they were a year ago.