UK revs up manufacturing and retail to sidestep triple dip

A surprisingly strong February for manufacturers may help the UK avert the dreaded triple-dip recession, but the trade gap yawns even wider...

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

So we’ve managed to stay away from the cliff edge for another month, thanks to manufacturing output up 0.8% and wider industrial output up 1% in February. The figures are a big improvement on the previous month, when manufacturing fell 1.5%, and industrial output 1.2%.

But even though they’ve kept us on an even keel, the figures still do not mean an entirely healthy economy. The goods trade deficit, which is the difference between the amount of stuff we export and import, widened in February to £9.4bn. 

In January it was as low as £8.2bn, but in February the UK’s export figure was dragged down by a 4.7% fall in shipping of goods to non-EU countries. It’s obviously not just bank-buggered Europe that’s feeling the pinch.

The chief economist at Markit, Chris Williamson, said: ‘Industrial production rebounded in February after having suffered a shock fall in January, greatly reducing the likelihood of the UK sliding back into its third recession since the financial crisis struck.’ 

But he added that ‘any upturn in the first quarter is still likely to have been modest at best: the trade deficit was larger than expected, rising to one of the highest on record, highlighting how weak overseas demand is continuing to hold back economic growth in the UK, and survey data suggest the trend could weaken again in March.’

Luckily that barometer of the domestic economy, the high street, also breathed a sigh of relief as like-for-like sales were up 1.9% in March from a year earlier, but this was a slight slowdown from the 2.7% rise it enjoyed in February. So no shockers, but still no boom either.

On a side note, retailers of powdered baby milk in the UK are rationing the product because of a huge surge in demand in China. Following news last year that some children’s milk there contained the fire-retardant chemical melamine, understandably Chinese parents have been looking for less poisonous alternatives. 

So, to sum up, the UK is still just about keeping its head above water. Avoiding that triple-dip is encouraging, but at the moment it seems to be by the skin of our teeth…

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