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UK economy shrinks more than expected in first quarter

UK economy shrank by slightly more than expected in the first quarter before a subsequent easing of lockdown restrictions, revised official data showed on Wednesday.

Gross domestic product contracted by 1.6 percent in the three months to the end of March, down from the previous figure of 1.5 percent, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement.

“Today’s updated GDP figures show the same picture as our earlier estimate with schools, hospitality and retail all hit by the re-imposition of the lockdown in January and February, with some recovery in March,” said ONS deputy national statistician Jonathan Athow.

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“With many services unavailable, households again saved at record levels.”

The UK government reimposed England’s lockdown in early January, but began lifting restrictions at the start of March with the reopening of schools.

Under a phased reopening, bars and restaurants restarted outdoor dining in April and indoor services in May.

Non-essential retail stores also opened back up in April.

The economy is expected to fully reopen on July 19, after the government delayed the date by four weeks due to surging Delta infections.

The ONS added on Wednesday that economic activity in the first quarter was 8.8 percent below its pre-pandemic level from late 2019.

“The small downward revision to Q1 GDP growth probably won’t stop the economy from rising back to its pre-pandemic peak in the coming months,” noted Capital Economics analyst Paul Dales.

“And the larger rebound in the household saving rate increases the potential for faster rises in GDP further ahead.”

Source: Bangkok Post

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UK Borrowing Falls More Than Expected as Economy Rebounds

UK government borrowing is running well below levels seen at the height of the coronavirus pandemic as the economy emerges from lockdown and people shift from benefits to work.

The budget deficit stood at 24.3 billion pounds ($33.8 billion) in May compared with 43.8 billion pounds in the same month of 2020, the Office for National Statistics said Tuesday. The shortfall was below the 25.5 billion pounds median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

The figure is also below the 28.5 billion pounds predicted by the Office for Budget Responsibility. That points to a potentially faster improvement in the public finances, thanks to surprisingly buoyant economic growth and a strengthening labor market.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, we are continuing to support people and businesses to get back on their feet,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said in a statement. “We are taking to keep debt under control in the years to come.”

The budget deficit ballooned to a peacetime high of 14.3% of GDP in the last fiscal year, largely reflecting the vast cost of supporting workers and businesses through the deepest recession in 300 years. The cumulative cost of wage subsidies alone reached 65 billion pounds in May.

In March, the OBR predicted that borrowing would fall to just over 10% in the current fiscal year. Since then, however, a rapid vaccination program has seen the outlook improve dramatically. On average, economists expect growth this year of around 7%, versus the 4% predicted by the fiscal watchdog.

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The hope is that growth will bring down the deficit without Sunak having to implement the hefty tax rises he has penciled in from 2023 to pay for the pandemic.

Tax revenue rose 15%, and spending fell 12% from a year ago. Debt stood at 99.2% of GDP.

The deficit in the first two months of the fiscal year was 53.4 billion pounds, with the ONS revising down borrowing in April by 2.6 billion pounds. The shortfall was 14.1 billion pounds lower than the OBR forecast.

“More than a third of that reflects differences in the timing of EU divorce bill payments,” the watchdog said in a commentary on the latest figures. “But lower spending and moderately stronger receipts growth mean that two months into 2021-22, the underlying outperformance of borrowing relative to forecast is 8.6 billion pounds.”

By Andrew Atkinson

Source: Bloomberg

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Small business confidence rises but lockdown fears remain

Small businesses in the UK are increasingly confident they can grow and drive economic recovery, though many still harbour fears about the ongoing impact of Covid restrictions.

This is according to new data published by the British Chambers of Commerce in partnership with Funding Circle, the UK’s largest small business loan platform.

The survey of more than 1,000 firms, almost all SMEs, reveals the majority (63%) are emerging from lockdown with either concrete plans or intentions to grow their business over the next 12 months. The manufacturing sector (68%) is particularly optimistic, while nearly six-in-ten (58%) of the hardest hit business-to-consumer (B2C) firms such as hospitality, catering and retail still anticipate growth.

Although the UK economy is yet to fully reopen, many businesses have demonstrated their resilience and are already carrying out their vital role as engines of economic growth.

More than half (53%) said they had restarted or returned to pre-pandemic levels in April, with a further 27% expecting to reach this milestone by October. By the end of the year, 91% of businesses expect to have fully restarted, with only 1% not expecting to restart for the foreseeable future.

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For many, the biggest barriers to reopening are Covid-related, such as the risk of further lockdowns (cited by 38% of respondents) or social distancing requirements (cited by 37%). Concerns around reduced customer demand (33%), inflation pressure (18%) and recruitment difficulties (14%) are also weighing on UK businesses.

Access to finance will be key in helping SMEs to unlock their full growth potential, with nearly half (44%) believing it will help overcome the remaining barriers they face.

Commenting on the findings, Claire Walker, Co-executive Director of the BCC, said: “The ability of businesses to bounce back from the devastation caused by Covid is a huge testament to their resilience. Although, the financial support put in place by the government to help many through the last 12 months will have played a crucial role.

“The government must now clarify the future of safety measures, such as social distancing, and set out a clear package of support that would be available should further restrictions be imposed on businesses this year, or in the years to come.

“Firms will feel more confident and will be more willing to invest in jobs and in developing their business, if government can give assurances that a safety net of financial support will be provided should there be a need for restrictions which reduce or stop commercial activity in order to protect public health.

“There is cautious optimism growing among firms that as the economy now gradually unlocks, they will be able to push on and return to growth. But the shadow of Covid is very long; many firms still feel uncertain about what the future holds. Having access to finance to help them weather this continuing uncertainty may well prove vital.”

Lisa Jacobs, Europe Managing Director at Funding Circle, added: “While the road to recovery won’t be straightforward, it is great to see SMEs are looking towards the future with such optimism. From our conversations with customers, it’s clear their appetite to invest in their businesses is as high as ever. We’re ready to continue helping them access the finance they need to overcome the remaining hurdles they face and achieve their growth ambitions.”

Source: Punchline

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UK business borrowing forecasts fall by £7bn on recovery hopes

Forecasts for UK business borrowing have been slashed as the economy rebounds from the Covid-19 pandemic more quickly than anticipated.

Banks are set to lend £19bn to British companies this year, up four per cent year on year but down from the £26bn forecast in February.

Growth is set to slow further in 2022 to 1.6 per cent as reliance on emergency funding declines and firms focus on shoring up their balance sheets, according to forecasts by the EY Item club.

The predictions are based on the government’s roadmap for easing Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

Banks lent businesses £35.5bn in net terms last year — an eight per cent year on year increase — mainly to provide support during the pandemic.

Net lending via credit cards and personal loans also turned negative in 2020, falling by almost 10 per cent in the first decline since 2012.

But demand for consumer credit is expected to pick up again this year and return to almost pre-pandemic levels, fuelled by a surge in spending as restrictions are eased.

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By contrast, mortgage lending activity is expected to slow down next year as the end of the stamp duty holiday and higher unemployment weigh on demand.

“Given how difficult the last 15 months have been for millions of families and businesses up and down the country, it’s encouraging that the economic recovery will be quicker and stronger than initially forecast, boosting the fortunes of businesses and sparking a rise in consumer spending. That’s not to say though that there won’t continue to be challenges ahead,” said Anna Anthony, UK financial services managing partner at EY.

“The banks will continue to support businesses and households through the pandemic and beyond, but modest lending growth on some fronts combined with the ongoing very low interest rate environment means the pressures on profitability will remain front of mind for the sector for the foreseeable future.”

Loan losses on consumer and business lending fell last year due to government support offered during the pandemic.

While banks are likely to face a rise in losses in the coming months as some businesses and consumers struggle to meet loan repayments, the increase is expected to be relatively small and far lower than the write-offs experienced after the financial crisis in 2008.

“Over a year on, the banks continue to face squeezed interest margins which will certainly affect profitability, but the level of loan defaults which initially appeared a possibility do not seem to be materialising,” said Dan Cooper, UK head of banking at EY.

“Results have been better than expected, with amendments to provisions being made accordingly. In addition, the savings built up during the lockdowns over the past year should help fuel a rise in consumer spending as the economy opens up.”

By James Warrington

Source: City AM

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Britain’s economy is full steam ahead, declares Bank of England

UK economy is recovering from the coronavirus recession faster than expected as the vaccine rollout continues, the Bank of England will declare this week.

The central bank, led by Governor Andrew Bailey, looks set to raise its growth forecasts for the UK when it publishes its latest monetary policy report on Thursday.

In its last update in February the Bank pencilled in a 5 per cent rise in output this year following the 9.8 per cent slump in 2020. Unemployment was also slated to rise to 7.8 per cent.

But with the outlook improving, this looks too pessimistic.

Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to forecasting group the EY Item Club, said: ‘The economy looks to have started the second quarter very much on the front foot, benefiting from easing of restrictions and the continued vaccine rollout.

‘The further near-term support to the economy provided in March’s Budget also seems to have lifted confidence.

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‘Significantly, the labour market is showing resilience and survey evidence points to more confident businesses being prepared to take on workers.’ Goldman Sachs last week said it expected the UK economy to grow by ‘a striking’ 7.8 per cent this year – the fastest post-war rate of growth. It would see Britain leave the US and the eurozone in its wake.

In another sign of the UK’s recovery, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) believes no ’emergency measures’ are needed to help pay off the £2trillion national debt pile.

In a report published today, the respected think-tank said tax hikes would be ‘futile’, and instead advised Treasury officials to focus on controlling spending and introducing measures to boost growth.

After analysing other periods when the national debt shot up – during the two World Wars and the Revolutionary Napoleonic Wars of the 18th-19th centuries – the IEA said: ‘Large-scale debt is far from unknown. And it would be misguided and futile to jump to tax-raising measures.

‘The debt can be coped with and the best way of doing that is to encourage economic growth… by removing unnecessary regulation and simplifying taxes.’

Though the Bank is unlikely to hike interest rates just yet, it is expected to slow the pace of QE at this week’s Monetary Policy Committee meeting.

Source: This is Money

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UK remains steady as economy slowly starts to reopen

UK remains steady as economy slowly starts to reopen – European stocks started the week in a subdued fashion, with the FTSE100 only just managing to close above the 7,000 level, while the DAX also slipped back from its record highs of last week.

US markets also finished the day on the back foot, weighed down largely by weakness in tech stocks, which may well have been prompted by a large fall in Bitcoin over the weekend.

Despite yesterday’s modest weakness, sentiment by and large still remains positive, with most discussion/outrage on social media more about the European Super League, than the big falls seen in bitcoin and Ethereum, pointed out Michael Hewson, chief Market Analyst at CMC Markets UK, this morning.

“It is perhaps not surprising that after the gains seen last week, that we might see some modest profit taking as we gear up for further big earnings announcements this week, as well as the latest ECB rate meeting on Thursday,” Hewson told City A.M. this morning.

Markets in Asia have continued the softer theme with the Nikkei 225 falling sharply, although this weakness doesn’t look like it will translate too heavily into today’s European open in a couple of hours’ time, he added.

The US dollar also had a disappointing day, which given the weakness in stocks was a little surprising, losing the most ground against the pound, blowing a rather large hole in the notion that sterling was being weighed down by uncertainty ahead of next month’s Scottish elections, as it pushes back above the 1.4000 level for the first time in over a month.

UK unemployment figures
On the data front its eyes down for the latest unemployment numbers from the UK today.

“With the UK economy slowly embarking on an unlocking process and business optimism showing significant signs of bullishness, hopes are rising that any further increases in unemployment will be limited in nature, and then start falling back. Against that expectation today’s latest ILO unemployment numbers are probably a bit of a distraction, given that we all know that they are very much a lagging indicator,” Hewson said.

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In January the ILO unemployment number fell back to 5 per cent, and it isn’t expected to deviate from that when the February numbers are released this morning.

“Though there is a worry we could see the number nudge back up, given the sharp jump higher in the jobless claims number a month ago,” he noted.

Nonetheless, various forecasters, including the Bank of England, do appear more optimistic about the outlook for unemployment this year revising their forecasts lower once the government starts to withdraw the furlough support that has been in place over the last 12 months.

The monthly jobless claims number showed a big increase in February, rising from 7.2 per cent to 7.5 per cent, and the highest level since August last year.

End of lockdown
With the UK economy slowly starting its reopening process this month, the hope is that this claims number will exhibit a similar fall this time around as businesses restart and take back furloughed employees and start to drift back down towards 7 per cent again, Hewson explained.

“The rise in the claims number was undoubtedly due to the reimposition of lockdown in January, however there was some evidence of a pickup in hiring in some other areas of the economy,” he said.

That still can’t disguise the reality that there are 700k fewer jobs in the UK economy since this time last year, with most of those job losses in the hospitality sector, and in the under 25 age cohort, Hewson continued.

In retail the picture is equally as bleak, as according to the BRC 67,000 jobs have been lost between December 2019 and December 2020.

The outlook does appear to be starting to look a little brighter if the latest economic projections from the OBR are any guide.

They upgraded their economic projections for unemployment down from a peak of 7.5 per cent to 6.5 per cent last month, as the Chancellor set out his various measures to extend the furlough as well as some reductions to key tax and business rates.

“This raises the prospect that companies that are struggling will delay cutting staff, until the reopening path is clearer, while companies that are growing will recruit more quickly, to take advantage of new investment opportunities,” Hewson concluded.

By Michiel Willems

Source: City AM

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UK Economy Picks Up Steam as Hiring Restarts

The UK Economy is building momentum, with real-time indicators suggesting consumers have started to splurge some of the cash they’ve saved now that the government has loosened lockdown rules.

Restaurant bookings and job postings surged to the highest since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, while road traffic and the number of people traveling to workplaces grew in recent weeks, data from Bloomberg Economics and government statistics show. Shops and bars were allowed to reopen on April 12, and most restrictions are set to lapse by June 21.

With more almost two thirds of adults in the U.K. immunized against the coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is starting to relax advice on contaning the virus. Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey anticipates a strong recovery as households unleash some of the 150 billion pounds ($207 billion) of savings accumulated over the past year.

Here are first indicators showing how last week’s unlocking is playing out:

Job Postings

The number of online job advertisements in the U.K. returned to levels seen before the pandemic for the first time, according to data through April 9 from the Adzuna jobs website published by the Office for National Statistics. That’s a positive sign after a year that saw Britain lag many of its global peers with business lacking the confidence take on new staff. There was a notable jump in catering and hospitality roles.

Postings on jobs website Indeed have recovered to about 16% below those seen at the start of February 2020. They have jumped by a fifth since the U.K. set out a roadmap to easing restrictions. Top gainers include sectors that are reopening such as sports, beauty and food services.

The proportion of furloughed workers that actually return to the labor market will be key to the consumer recovery, according to Fabrice Montagne, chief U.K. economist at Barclays Bank Plc. He’s cautious about predictions for the kind of “rip-roaring recovery” suggested by the BOE’s outgoing Chief Economist Andy Haldane.

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“The third lockdown has actually been much less disruptive than we’d thought,’ Montagne said. “Hence the bounce will be automatically smaller. Sentiment is strong. The recovery will still happen, but in a more civilized way than pictured by Andy ‘Mr. Boom’ Haldane.”

What Our Economists Say…

“We expect the recovery to gain steam as restrictions ease further. There’s pent-up demand to come from many households who have involuntarily built up cash savings given the fewer opportunities to spend. We forecast the UK economy will expand by 5.5% in 2Q and 3% in 3Q after contracting by 2.2% in 1Q. That will leave output on course to reach its pre-virus level by Q1 2022.”

Niraj Shah, Bloomberg Economics

Restaurant Bookings

Last week’s opening of restaurants with a place to serve outdoors prompted a spike in bookings on the OpenTable reservations website. It expects a bigger jump when customers are allowed inside from May 17.

The restrictions on hospitality have been hard on the U.K.’s consumer-driven economy. The service sector is still 8.8% smaller than before the pandemic. More than half of the 693,000 drop in employees on payrolls was due to fewer jobs in food services since February 2020.

Road Traffic

Road traffic is recovering slowly, according to a congestion index for London produced by location technology company TomTom. Morning rush-hours are yet to emerge, suggesting many who would normally commute remain working from home.

ONS data suggest people are becoming increasingly confident about returning to the workplace and mixing with others. In the week to April 11, 53% of working adults reported leaving home to go to a job. Almost six in 10 adults met up with someone outside their household, up from less than half a week earlier.

Power Demand

Demand for electricity is also picking up. It’s another sign that economic activity is gaining traction, putting behind the collapse that came with the first lockdown last year. Subsequent tightening of the rules had far smaller declines, since the manufacturing and construction sectors were able to adapt and remain open.

“You’ve got a more resilient economy under this lockdown, forward-looking indicators that are looking good, the relaxation of social restrictions, excess savings exceeding 120 billion pounds, and a successful, so far, vaccination effort,” said Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec Bank Plc. “So far, so good.”

By Lucy Meakin and Zoe Schneeweiss

Source: Bloomberg News

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UK economy improved in February despite lockdown measures

The UK economy rebounded slightly in February amid the third lockdown but was still almost 8% lower than before the pandemic, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 0.4%, representing an improvement from a 2.2% decline in January, which itself had been revised upwards from a previously predicted 2.9% fall.

Nevertheless, the February reading was slightly below the forecasts of some analysts, with experts at Investec predicting a 0.7% improvement for the month.

The construction sector saw activity jump by 1.6% for the month amid a lift in new work and maintenance.

Production and manufacturing activity also improved, with the two sectors revealing 1% and 1.3% improvements respectively.

Meanwhile, the service sector remained particularly constrained, reporting just 0.2% growth, as hospitality and retail remained constrained by pandemic restrictions.

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The figures also revealed that exports to the EU increased by £3.7 billion – or 46.6% – following a record slump of £5.7 billion in January.

The ONS said the export increases were driven by machinery, transport equipment and chemicals.

It added that the import of goods from the EU also rebounded, increasing by £1.2 billion – or 7.3% – in February.

An ONS spokeswoman said: “The economy showed some improvement in February after the large falls seen at the start of the year but remains around 8% below its pre-pandemic level.

“Wholesalers and retailers both saw sales pick up a little, while manufacturing improved with car producers experiencing a partial recovery from a poor January.

“Construction grew strongly after revised figures showed they had struggled in the last couple of months.

“Exports to the EU recovered significantly from their January fall, though still remain below 2020 levels.

“However, imports from the EU are yet to significantly rebound, with a number of issues hampering trade.”

Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chamber of Commerce, said: “The latest data confirms a modest return to growth in February.

“However, coming after a contraction in January, it does little to alter the prospect of a downbeat first quarter for the UK economy.

“The pick-up in output in February reflected a broad-based improvement in activity with all the main sectors recording an increase in growth.

“The clarity provided by February’s announcement of a road map for reopening also helped support output in the month.”

Source: Irvine Times

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UK economy ended 2020 better than previously expected

The pandemic-hit UK economy grew quicker than earlier expected in the final three months of 2020, but still shrank by the most in more than three centuries that year, according to official data, which revealed the biggest pile of household savings on record last year. The Bank of England thinks this will fuel a recovery when consumers are freed from lockdown.

Gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 1.3 per cent between October and December from the previous three-month period, UK media reported citing the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In 2020, GDP fell by 9.8 per cent from 2019, only slightly less sharp than an initial estimate of a 9.9 per cent slump.

The UK economy suffered the biggest drop of all countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) except for Argentina and Spain last year, OECD data has shown.

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It remained 7.3 per cent smaller than before the pandemic, in inflation-adjusted terms, the second biggest drop among eight major economies listed by the ONS.

Although this partly reflects the way different countries produce the data, some of the weakness shown by Britain’s economy, particularly in household spending, was real.

After a rollercoaster 2020, when GDP careened 19.5 per cent lower in the second quarter, during the first lockdown, and grew by almost 17 per cent in the third, the Bank of England expects growth of 5 per cent in 2021 as a whole, helped by Europe’s fastest vaccination programme.

The savings ratio rose to 16.1 per cent from 14.3 per cent in the third quarter and for 2020 as a whole it hit a record high of 16.3 per cent, compared with 6.8 per cent in 2019, the ONS said.

Source: Fibre2Fashion

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2020 worst year on record for UK economy

The UK economy suffered a steeper contraction during the first coronavirus lockdown but bounced back more strongly than previously thought at the end of 2020, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said gross domestic product (GDP) – a measure of the size of the economy – shrank by even more than first forecast between April and June last year – plummeting by 19.5% against the 19% initial estimate.

However, in a raft of revisions to previous figures, the ONS said the UK economy rebounded by 16.9% and 1.3% in the third and fourth quarters of 2020 respectively.

This marked steep increases on the 16.1% and 1% previous estimates.

The widespread revisions left GDP plummeting by 9.8% overall in 2020, against the 9.9% first pencilled in, but still the worst annual performance for more than 300 years.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician at the ONS, said: “Our revised quarterly figures show the economy shrank a little more than previously estimated in the initial stages of the pandemic, before recovering slightly more strongly in the second half of last year.

“However, these new estimates paint the same overall picture as before, with historically large falls in GDP in the spring, followed by a recovery in the summer and autumn.”

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Due to the upward revision to figures for the final three months of 2020, the level of GDP was 7.3% below that of a year earlier, against a previous estimate of 7.8%, according to the ONS.

The 9.8% annual drop marks the steepest since official records began, while historical figures from the Bank of England suggest it is the biggest contraction since the Great Frost of 1709.

But the ONS stressed that its GDP estimates are “subject to more uncertainty than usual” and likely to have larger-than-normal revisions due to the challenges of collecting data in the pandemic.

The UK economy suffered among the largest contractions of all the countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), with only Spain and Argentina seeing steeper falls.

Recent monthly figures from the ONS also show that the third English lockdown sent GDP plunging 2.9% in January, though this was better than feared by experts.

Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to the EY Item Club, said he is now pencilling in a hit of just over 1% overall in the first quarter of 2021, compared with 3.4% previously forecast as the economy proves more resilient to lockdown disruption.

He added that data in the latest ONS release showing a rise in the household savings ratio to 16.1% between October and December and a record 16.3% over 2020 “suggests consumers overall are in a good position to spend as restrictions ease through the second quarter”.

In separate figures also released on Wednesday, the ONS said the UK current account deficit – the difference between the value of the goods and services the UK imports and the goods and services it exports – widened to £26.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020.

This is equivalent to 4.8% of Britain’s GDP and is almost twice the level seen in the previous three months as firms stockpiled imports ahead of the December 31 Brexit deadline.

Source: Irvine Times

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