The good news: GDP up 0.5%, the bad news: it won't last

When is growth actually a contraction? When GDP's up 0.5%. Allow us to explain...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Well calloo, callay - at long last, a bit of good news. Well, on the surface of it, anyway: the Office for National Statistics has released figures showing that the UK economy grew by (a whopping, all things considered) 0.5% between July and September, compared with a meagre 0.1% during the previous quarter. Of course, just when we were about to crack out the champagne, the nay-sayers came out in force. Still: makes a nice change from whining about the antics of Merkel and Sarkozy, doesn't it?

According to the ONS, growth in the third quarter was largely driven by the production sector, which saw its output rise by 0.5% - from a fall of 1.2% during the previous quarter. The service sector, too, was up from 0.2% during the spring to 0.7%. The only blot on the GDP landscape was the construction sector, which fell by 0.6%, next to a 1.1% rise previously.

Generally, though, it's all surprisingly positive. But as the old adage goes, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Thus, the ONS was keen to point out that lacklustre growth during the previous quarter was probably caused by a combination of the royal wedding and supply problems after the Japanese earthquake/tsunami. So far, so straightforward.

But here's the crunch: the pointy-heads at the ONS reckon all of that knocked as much as 0.5% off growth. But if you don't take into account those extenuating circumstances, then the economy grew by 0.6% last quarter. So this quarter's growth actually represents a fall in output. Which, to be fair, is definitely bad news. As James Knightley, from ING Financial Markets, told the BBC: 'We should have seen a big rebound. [These results] suggest the underlying picture remains weak.'

Still, there is one bit of good news that not even the gloomiest of doom-mongers could find fault with: apparently, the riots in August didn't have a 'noticeable' effect on GDP. We think we'll leave it with that.

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