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Inflation continues to pose a problem

July 2017

UK consumer price inflation remained well above its 2% target, although it eased slightly in June. Although the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since 1975, wage growth continued to lag inflation, storing up a headache for companies that rely on consumers’ disposable income. The UK economy grew by 0.3% during the second quarter.

  • UK equity markets rose in July, although mid-caps outstripped blue chips
  • The pound rallied to its highest level against the US dollar since September 2016
  • The IMF downgraded its economic growth forecast for the UK in 2017 to 1.7%

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UK equity markets rose over July as a whole, although the overall performance of large companies was eclipsed by that of mid-caps. While the blue-chip FTSE 100 Index rose by 0.8%, the FTSE 250 Index rebounded from a poor June to end July 2.3% higher.

“The rate of unemployment in the UK fell to its lowest level since 1975”

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) reached an agreement with the US Federal Housing Finance Agency over the mis-selling in the US of high-risk mortgage products before the financial crisis. RBS will pay US$4.75 billion to settle the case. Elsewhere, payment processor and fellow FTSE 100 constituent Worldpay confirmed that it was to be taken over by US payment processor Vantiv .

The UK economy posted quarterly growth of 0.3% for the second quarter of the year, compared with first-quarter growth of 0.2%. Growth in the services sector was boosted by a strong contribution from the UK retailing and film industries. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgraded its forecast for UK economic growth in 2017 from 2% to 1.7%, citing “weaker-than-expected activity” in the first quarter.

Having fallen by 1.2% in May , retail sales volumes rebounded in June, rising at a monthly rate of 0.6%. Sports retailer Sports Direct revealed a drop of almost 59% in full-year profits, which were weighed down by a period of bad publicity and the effects of the pound’s weakness. Sterling rallied to its highest level against the US dollar since September 2016 during July.

Supermarket retailers Sainsbury’s reported a stronger-than-expected sales increase during its first quarter, but sounded a warning note over the impact of mounting inflationary pressures. The UK’s annualised rate of consumer price inflation eased unexpectedly in June, falling from 2.9% in May – its highest level since June 2013 – to 2.6%, and posting its first drop since October 2016. The decline was primarily caused by a fall in motor fuel prices, and the news went some way towards alleviating pressure on the Bank of England (BoE) to consider tightening monetary policy.

The rate of unemployment in the UK fell to its lowest level since 1975 in the three months to May, declining to 4.5%. However, wage growth continued to lag inflation: average earnings (excluding bonuses) rose at an annualised rate of 2%. Moreover, once inflation was stripped out, real weekly wages fell at an annualised rate of 0.5%, stoking concerns about the possible impact on economic growth.


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