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UK economy falters as Omicron wave hits service sector

The UK economy faltered in January, a closely-watched survey showed on Monday, after the rapid spread of Omicron weighed heavily on the service sector.

The flash IHS Markit/CIPS UK Composite Output Index fell to an 11 month-low of 53.4, compared to December’s final reading of 53.6. Most analysts had expected a rise, with consensus at 54.0.

Within that, the flash manufacturing output index strengthened to a five-month high of 53.8 from 53.6 in December. But the manufacturing PMI eased to 56.9 from 57.9, while the services business activity index was 53.3, an 11 month-low compared to December’s 53.6.

IHS Markit noted: “With hospitality, leisure and travel all struggling due to Omicron restrictions, this offset resilient growth in business and financial services.”

Manufacturers fared better during the month as material shortages started to ease. But staff absences affected all sectors, while input cost inflation remained “stubbornly high”, largely reflecting stronger cost pressures in the service sector.

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Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, said: “A resilient rate of economic growth in the UK during January masks wide variations across different sectors. Consumer0facing businesses have been hit hard by Omicron, and manufacturers have reported a further worrying weakening of order book growth. But other business sectors have remained encouragingly robust.

“Looking ahead, while the Omicron wave meant the hospitality sector has sunk into a third steep downturn, these restrictions are now easing, meaning this downturn should be brief.”

Duncan Brock, group director at Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, said: “Though professional and financial services in particular saw a resurgence in activity, hospitality and travel firms took another body blow as the market place stagnated.

“In the gloomiest month of the year, what is also disappointing for the UK economy is price inflation returning with a vengeance, with the second-highest jump in business expenses since 1998.

“The private sector may be experiencing a sense of two steps forward and one step back with price and supply challenges, but with the strongest level of optimism since August 2021, we may be looking forward to a more favourable trading environment in the months ahead.”

Pantheon Macroeconomics noted: “The further drop in Markit’s composite PMI in January suggests that the Omicron variant continued to weight on activity in the first half of the month.

“As things we stand, we think that GDP dropped by a further 0.2% month-to-month in January, after dropping by about 10.0% in December.

“The drop in the composite PMI, however, likely won’t dissuade the [Bank of England’s] Monetary Policy Committee from increases the Bank Rate at next week’s meeting. For a start, some of the survey’s forward-looking indicators improved: the new orders index of the services survey rose from 56.5, and businesses were the most upbeat about the outlook for in demand since August.

“In addition, near-real-time data show that activity has started to recover as January has progressed, indicating that month-to-month growth in GDP in February likely will be positive.”

The survey was sent to panels of around 650 manufacturers and 650 service provides, with responses collected between 12 and 20 January.

By Abigail Townsend

Source: Sharecast News

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Rising costs seep into every sector of UK economy

Every sector of the UK economy is suffering from swelling costs in a sign that inflation will trend much higher in the coming months, reveals a fresh study published today.

Higher wages, compounded by soaring energy and raw material costs, are severely eroding firms margins, according to research carried out by high street lender Lloyds.

The fresh figures reinforce official data published by the Office for National Statistics yesterday showing British businesses’ input costs have soared 13.5 per cent over the last year.

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Jeavon Lolay, head of economics and market insight at Lloyds, said firms’ cost backdrop remains “acute as higher energy prices and wage bills pushed up firms’ expenses”.

Widespare cost increases have ensnared British businesses since the UK emerged from Covid-19 restrictions last spring, mainly triggered by a global supply chain crisis and an energy crunch on the Continent.

The spread between British firms’ costs and prices is the joint highest of any country tracked by Lloyds, raising the prospect of inflationary pressures worsening if businesses hike prices in an effort to shield their margins.

A looming 1.25 percentage point NI hike this April will add to firms’ costs.

By JACK BARNETT

Source: City AM

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Second charge mortgage market set for a bumper 2022

It’s been a very positive year for the second charge market with new business levels almost back to pre-Covid numbers.

Data from the Finance and Leasing Association (FLA) revealed that completions in October reached £109m which is the highest total for 2021 and the third consecutive month of growth. Agreements have increased annually by 26 per cent to 24,626 and the value of new business rose by 24 per cent to over £1bn.

To put it into context there were 28,016 second charge completions totalling almost £1.3bn in 2019 pre-pandemic. So, we could end 2021 on a similar level to 2019.

This new found momentum is expected to continue into 2022 and it is anticipated that we could see the highest second charge lending figures in the post financial crisis era.

Factors driving second charge growth

There are several contributory facts to the growth in second charge and 2022 will be heavily influenced by the high number of mortgage products expiring. These are worth billions of pounds with almost £40bn due to expire in January.

No doubt this will fuel record product transfer levels which will support further growth in the second charge market. Second charge can serve borrowers with additional borrowing needs who are likely to have proceeded with a product transfer on a like-for-like basis, particularly where this has been completed as an execution-only transaction.

On 16 December the Bank of England increased the base rate for the first time in three years from 0.1 per cent to 0.25 per cent in response to inflationary pressures. But even prior to this we had started to see an increase in mortgage rates in the first charge space as swap rates continue to rise.

Longer-term fixed rates, especially five-year fixes, are becoming increasingly popular for borrowers looking for payment stability against a backdrop of rising interest rates, which often carry substantial early repayment charges. A second mortgage offers flexibility where borrowers need to capital raise during the fixed-rate term.

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Change in circumstances

Many borrowers’ credit profiles may have been adversely affected by the pandemic. This means there will be a significant number of borrowers who could benefit by staying with their existing mortgage provider to ensure they can continue to access high street mortgage rates.

If they are benefiting from a low first charge mortgage rate, remortgaging away from their existing deal to raise capital may not be the best option for borrowers in this situation.

This is where a second charge would allow borrowers to raise further funds without disturbing their existing mortgage arrangements.

Housing stock shortages

The stamp duty holiday was introduced to keep the housing market active and it succeeded in its aim, some would say it over-succeeded.

Demand for house buying has resulted in prices rising annually by ten per cent in November, according to Nationwide. Since March 2020 when the first lockdown began house prices have increased by 15 per cent, which equates to a rise of more than £33,000.

The uplift in house prices coupled with a shortage of homes for sale has led to more homeowners opting to improve or extend their existing property. We have been seeing more of this particularly on larger and more expensive properties.

I expect this will continue in 2022 and second charges can provide flexibility both in terms of speed and loan size supporting home improvements in higher value property projects.

Reasons to be cheerful

Whilst the spectre of the new omicron variant may give cause for concern for a further lockdown, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the outlook for 2022 for the mortgage industry as a whole.

Borrowers will undoubtedly rely on professional mortgage advice more than ever. Lenders offer a wide range of financial solutions and this will ensure that as an industry we can strive to deliver the best possible outcomes for consumers with additional borrowing needs.

By Marie Grundy

Source: Mortgage Solutions

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UK economy above pre-Covid levels in November

The UK economy surpassed pre-Covid levels for the first time in November after recording stronger-than-expected growth.

The Office for National Statistics said gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 0.9% between October and November.

That was higher than economists’ expectations and meant the economy was 0.7% larger than in February 2020.

But there is concern growth slowed again after the spread of Omicron and the introduction of Plan B measures.

“The economy grew strongly in the month before Omicron struck, with architects, retailers, couriers and accountants having a bumper month,” said ONS chief economist Grant Fitzner.

“Construction also recovered from several weak months as many raw materials became easier to get hold of.”

Analysts at Capital Economics said the economy was boosted by 3.5% growth in the construction sector, adding “the unusually dry weather probably helped”.

It also said manufacturing output also improved and the professional sector also picked up, “apparently due to architectural and engineering activities being brought forward from December”.

What is GDP?

GDP or Gross Domestic Product is one of the most important ways of showing how well, or badly, an economy is doing.

It’s a measure – or an attempt to measure – all the activity of companies, governments and individuals in an economy.

GDP allows businesses to judge when to expand and hire more people, and for government to work out how much to tax and spend.

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Rising GDP means more jobs are likely to be created, and workers are more likely to get better pay rises.

If GDP is falling, then the economy is shrinking – bad news for businesses and workers.

The Covid pandemic caused the most severe recession seen in over 300 years, hurting business and employment, and forcing government to borrow hundreds of billions of pounds to support the economy.

Economists had been expecting GDP to expand by 0.4% in November.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the stronger growth was “a testament to the grit and determination of the British people”.

But Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: “GDP almost certainly dropped in December, as households hunkered down in response to the Omicron variant.”

The Omicron variant emerged at the end of November and Plan B measures were introduced on 8 December.

Mr Tombs said data such as restaurant diner numbers, transport usage and cinema revenues “point to a pullback in consumer services expenditure” last month, while “Omicron also depressed labour supply”.

However, he added: “Omicron looks set to fade almost as quickly as it arrived, thanks partly to the rapid rollout of booster jabs. As a result, we expect the government to allow Plan B rules to automatically expire on 26 January and for GDP to bounce back in February.”

These figures show that the reopening and recovery of the UK economy was motoring just before Omicron struck.

The economy had for the first time regained, on a monthly basis, all the very heavy losses during the pandemic lockdowns. Business had been returning to something approaching normality after the government’s decision to axe restrictions since the summer.

Monthly figures are quite volatile though and usually not provided by other countries. It is possible that the Omicron-linked hit to the economy in December could undo the impressive growth in November on the key fourth quarter figure. Using this more usual and internationally comparable quarterly basis, it is still not certain if the UK economy has recovered these losses.

The bigger question is about the impact of Omicron. With hopes that the rapidly-spreading variant has peaked, economists are now confident it will have far less of a hit than previous Covid waves. Retailers’ results over the festive period have been very encouraging.

But the response of the public and its attitude to going out and spending is the big economic unknown. And while Omicron concern fades, the hits to disposable income from rising prices are very real.

So while the chancellor called today’s GDP milestone “amazing” it’s probably not the moment for celebration.

The ONS said that, on a quarterly basis, in the final three months of 2021 the UK economy will reach or surpass pre-Covid levels seen in the last quarter of 2019 if GDP grows by at least 0.2% in December and there are no downward revisions to figures for October and November.

However, several economists pointed to a bumpy road for growth in the first months of this year.

“We expect growth to slow in 2022 as it will no longer be able to simply rely on the [Covid] rebound effect to propel it,” said Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG UK.

“In addition, rising taxes and borrowing costs, as well as elevated inflation, will squeeze households’ purchasing power, while the lingering effects of supply chain bottlenecks together with a persistent shortage of labour could constrain production this year.”

Inflation is expected to hit 6% by spring, according to the Bank of England which raised its key interest rate in December and is forecast to lift borrowing costs again this year.

The government will raise the National Living Wage by 6.6% for over 23 year-olds in April but that is the same month when energy regulator Ofgem will implement the new price cap on household gas and electricity bills.

Ofgem is widely expected to lift the price cap following a sharp rise in wholesale gas prices last year which forced around 20 smaller energy companies out of business.

Also from April, employers, workers and the self-employed will all pay 1.25p more in the pound for National Insurance.

By Dearbail Jordan

Source: BBC News

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Businesses using second charge mortgages to raise capital

Business owners turned to second charge mortgages to raise capital as Omicron continues to disrupt UK industry, according to Knowledge Bank.

The criteria tracker found brokers looking for ‘capital raising for business purposes’ in December was the fourth most searched term, some of which the firm attributes to the Covid-19 variant.

It says: “While some of these searches may be connected to the disruption caused by staff having to isolate, there will be others using second charge mortgages for positive reasons, such as to make improvements or renovations to offices.

“With the shift to working from home prevalent across industries, some businesses are reassessing their office needs and re-organising spaces to maximise efficiency.”

The tracker adds that the third most searched second charge mortgage term last month was ‘capital raising for debt consolidation’, which “provides further evidence that some individuals have struggled financially due to the disruption caused by the pandemic”.

The tracker says that while age-related searches are common for residential products, maximum age is rarely searched a factor in the buy-to-let market.

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But adds that December marked the first ever month in which ‘maximum age at end of term’ featured as the fifth most-searched term in the buy-to-let market.

It says: “With the stock market still relatively volatile and house prices continuing to rise, some older investors may be looking to the buy-to-let market as an integral part of their retirement planning.”

In the residential sector, broker search activity remained relatively stable from November.

The tracker says that with house prices rising, the terms ‘maximum age at end of term’ and ‘income multiple used for affordability assessment’ were the first and second most searched terms in the residential market, respectively.

The firm says there was interest in equity release products.

It says: “This perhaps was sparked by the second reading of the Leasehold Reform (ground rent) Bill in the House of Commons which took place on 29 November last year. The bill is set to put an end to ground rents for new and qualifying long residential leasehold properties.”

Brokers looking for ‘leasehold remaining at end of mortgage’ and ‘leasehold remaining at beginning of term’ were the second and third most search equity release terms last month, respectively.

The tracker adds that some of the borrowers looking to use equity release may be looking to use the funds to undertake fire safety measures, such as removal of cladding and expensive waking watch, fire safety systems.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove said leaseholders in buildings higher than 11 metres will no longer have to contribute to replacing dangerous cladding.

He gave building firms until March to agree on how to fund this work, and warned legislation compelling them to do so may follow if a plan was not worked out.

By Roger Baird

Source: Mortgage Finance Gazette

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UK inflation to remain more than double BoE’s target for entire year

UK inflation will run at more than double the Bank of England’s two per cent target for a whole year, reveals fresh forecasts published today.

The rate of price increases will peak at 6.7 per cent this April, lifted higher by the energy bill cap being hoisted around 50 per cent, according to investment bank BNP Paribas.

October’s 2021 official inflation rate hit 4.2 per cent. BNP Paribas predict the rate will not fall below four per cent until November this year, meaning the cost of living will remain at least double the Bank’s target for an entire year.

Inflation does not fall back to the Bank’s target until April next year under the investment bank’s forecasts.

Soaring wholesale gas prices triggered by an energy crunch in Europe, compounded by supply chain breakdowns and a tight labour squeeze has propelled inflation in the UK to historically high levels.

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The cost of living is already running at its hottest rate in over a decade, hitting 5.1 per cent in November, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Households are set to be squeezed by inflation eroding real incomes and the Bank hiking rates rapidly in response to the rapid cost of living increase.

Consultancy Capital Economics is pricing in four rate hikes in 2022, taking borrowing costs 1.25 per cent, the highest level since February 2009.

The predictions come as the International Monetary Fund warned yesterday emerging market economies need to prepare for potential currency fluctuations and financial market volatility triggered by the world’s top central banks tightening policy sharply this year.

The Bank will announce its next decision on interest rates on February 3. Last month, the central bank raised rates for the first time in over three years, lifting them 15 basis points from a record low 0.1 per cent.

By JACK BARNETT

Source: City AM

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Second charge for debt consolidation rises

Second-charge products, by both volume and value, are more likely to be required by debt consolidation borrowers, rather than prime borrowers, according to the Evolution Money quarterly data tracker.

Looking at its total lending data for the last three months, up until the end of November 2021, the product split by volume of mortgages is 77% debt consolidation/23% prime, and by value 67% debt consolidation/33% prime.

During the previous two quarters covered by the tracker, lending by volume to prime borrowers had been around 10% higher than this quarter, and there was a more even split between debt consolidation and prime.

For those borrowers specifically using a second-charge mortgage for debt consolidation purposes, the average loan amount has increased just slightly to £21,448, with an average term of 123 months, and average loan-to-value (LTV) also increasing to 73.9%.

Borrowers, on average, continued to consolidate five specific debts, however the average value of the debts consolidated increased to £15,358.

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For prime borrowers, the average loan amount has also increased up to £35,215, with an average term of 153 months, and an average LTV also increasing to 72% from 69%.

Prime borrowers are typically taking out these second-charge mortgages again for debt consolidation (55%), home improvement and some consolidation (23%) and home improvement (18%).

Borrowers were also utilising second-charge loans to pay for vehicles and to fund existing business ventures. The average number of specific debts being consolidated by prime borrowers has remained at five, and the average value of the debt has increased again to £23,160.

Steve Brilus, chief executive of Evolution Money, said: “Second-charge products have always been used by homeowners for debt consolidation purposes, however in previous iterations of the tracker we were starting to see a growing number of prime borrowers using seconds for purposes which were not purely to pay off debts.

“This time around however, it’s clear there has been a shift back in favour of debt consolidation and this is likely to be fuelled by the data coming from a period when government support was being removed, particularly with regards to furlough, and the fact that many people who had accumulated debts during the pandemic were looking for solutions to pay those more expensive debts off.

“This may be why we’ve seen an increase in both loan amount and the average value of debts consolidated by both debt consolidation and prime borrowers, and why LTVs have moved upwards.

“We should not underestimate the benefits that debt consolidation can provide and with second-charge rates likely to be much lower than many other forms of debt, it makes perfect sense for some homeowners to take out a second-charge and pay off their more expensive debts first.

“It’s likely that as we move into 2022 debt consolidation will continue to remain the number one reason for taking out a second-charge mortgage, however we should not rule out more prime borrowers requiring these products especially if they were able to secure an ultra-competitive first-charge rate over the last 12 months, but still find themselves with a requirement to access further equity.

“2021 was a very strong year for the seconds market, and we certainly believe 2022 will be the same. This is a growing sector of the market which advisers should be active in to help those clients with these specific requirements.”

By Jake Carter

Source: Mortgage Introducer

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Labour squeeze and soaring costs compound to hit UK businesses

The ongoing labour squeeze, soaring costs and uncertainty over the economic landscape since the emergence of Omicron are compounding to hit British businesses, reveals a new survey published today.

Growth among UK private sector firms slowed to 21 per cent in the three months to December, down sharply from 32 per cent in the last quarter, according to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

That is the slowest rate of growth since April when the UK economy was still in the teeth of tight Covid-19 restrictions.

Alpesh Paleja, lead economist at the CBI, said: “Substantial challenges remain for businesses heading into Christmas: labour and materials shortages, rising costs and new Covid measures are restricting business’ ability to trade during this crucial period.”

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“With uncertainty rising – associated with the sharp rise in Omicron cases – it’s no surprise that the near-term growth outlook has dampened,” he added.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week ruled out imposing tighter measures on economic activity to curb the spread of Omicron before Christmas.

However, he has warned the UK government is ready to launch tougher curbs after Christmas if data on the new strain does not improve.

Yesterday, the UK reported more than 100,000 Covid-19 cases for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.

By JACK BARNETT

Source: City AM

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Second charge market ‘returns to more normal levels’: FLA

The value of new second charge business came to £109m across 2,543 new agreements in October, which following September’s positive figures, has been cheered as a “return to more normal monthly levels.”

So says the Finance and Leasing Association (FLA) director of consumer finance Fiona Hoyle regarding the association’s latest figures, which describe the value of new business in October growing 55% on the year.

In the 12 months to October, the value of new business came to to £1.04bn, the report adds – a 24% annual increase.

And the total of new agreements in the 12 months to October now stands at 24,626 – an annual rise of 26%.

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Hoyle continues: “We expect new business volumes to continue to grow despite heightened economic uncertainty over the coming months.”

Paul McGerrigan agrees. He says: “Comparing the FLA figures out today with our own October and November performance, we calculate that the UK’s annual secured lending will comfortably exceed 2018’s total of almost £1.07bn – though this year’s final numbers may come in slightly behind the peak (post 2008 crash) of £1.3bn achieved in 2019.”

He adds: “Looking to the future – second charge lending typically reduces over December as families concentrate on Christmas, with a reawakening in January.

“Judging by this year’s growth in lending and house prices, we believe that – if the economy remains stable and unemployment under control – next year will experience growth beyond 2019’s figures.”

By Gary Adams

Source: Mortgage Strategy

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UK economy to return to anaemic growth as cost of living crisis spikes Brits

A triple threat of a worsening cost of living crisis, higher interest rates and a pulling of government Covid-19 support will throw the UK economy back into an anaemic state, according to new research published today.

Swelling energy bills and rising costs for basic necessities will cause households on tight budgets to rein in spending, according to predictions made by accountancy firm PwC.

Weaker spending from low income households will clamp down on the UK’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

The forecast underlines the impact soaring inflation is having on the economy’s capacity for growth.

The UK economy is heavily reliant on consumer spending to generate output, meaning a reduction in spending from low income households would constrain growth.

Brits living on tight budgets “will feel the pinch from a combination of rising inflation, higher interest rates, and fiscal changes” and a looming 1.25 percentage point national insurance hike, cautioned Hoa Duong, economist at PwC.

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PwC’s experts said richer households would be able to shake off the impact of rising prices due to them having greater bandwidth to absorb a higher cost of living.

A surge in spending “will likely be concentrated on higher income households” as a result, the firm said.

Inflation in the UK has taken off in recent months, triggered by a combination of global supply chains breaking down, soaring wholesale energy costs and rising commodity prices.

The Office for National Statistics estimates prices are 4.2 per cent higher than they were a year ago, the highest rate of inflation in nearly a decade.

Yet, PwC expects the rate to scale even further and hit its highest level in three decades next spring.

“The rise in the energy price cap and the reversal of the VAT cuts for hospitality and tourism create a perfect storm that is set to push headline inflation rates to around five per cent and six per cent,” the firm said.

The downbeat projections will be a cause for concern for the Bank of England, which has a mandate to keep inflation at two per cent.

The Old Lady has come under intense scrutiny for keeping interest rates at a record low 0.1 per cent despite expecting inflation to rise to more than double its target.

Officials on Threadneedle Street will announce their next decision on rates on December 16. Earlier this month, they stunned markets when they left rates unchanged.

By JACK BARNETT

Source: City AM

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