UK economy grows at slowest annual rate since 2010 in Q3

The UK economy grew at the slowest annual rate in nearly a decade in the three months to the end of September, as a global slowdown and Brexit worries hit business investment and manufacturing. 

Year-on-year gross domestic product growth slowed to 1% from 1.3% in the second quarter, Britain’s Office for National Statistics said.

This marked the UK’s lowest growth since the first three months of 2010 and just below economists’ forecasts in a Reuters poll of 1.1%. 

The slowdown reflected a smaller-than-expected rebound in quarterly GDP growth after a contraction in the second quarter, when businesses faced an overhang of stocks of raw materials after Brexit was delayed from the end of March. 

“Looking at the picture over the last year, growth slowed to its lowest rate in almost a decade,” an ONS spokesperson said. 

During the third quarter, when Boris Johnson became prime minister, there were increasing concerns among businesses that Britain could have been heading for a no-deal Brexit on October 31. 

In the event, parliament forced Johnson to seek a delay and he has now called an early election for December 12 in an attempt to win a large enough majority for his preferred Brexit deal before a new deadline of January 31. 

UK gross domestic product expanded at a quarterly rate of 0.3% in the third quarter of 2019, below the 0.4% reading expected by the Bank of England, as well as by private-sector economists. 

Britain’s economy has lost momentum since the 2016 Brexit referendum, before which it typically grew more than 2% a year. 

Last week the Bank of England nudged up its growth forecast for 2019 to 1.4% from 1.3% – largely because of its expectation of a bigger pick-up in the third quarter than it forecast before. 

This would be the same growth rate as 2018 and the weakest since the financial crisis, while for 2020 the Bank of England expects a further slowdown to 1.3%. 

On top of Brexit, businesses across Europe have been suffering spill-over from the US-China trade war. 

Euro zone annual GDP growth slowed to 1.1% in the third quarter from 1.2% in the quarter before.

Today’s UK data showed business investment held steady in the third quarter compared to economists’ expectations for a 0.5% fall. 

Household spending, which has been much more than resilient business investment, due to falling unemployment and rising wages, rose by 0.4% on the quarter while government spending increased by 0.3%.

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New rules on motor insurance pricing come into force

New rules to improve transparency on motor insurance pricing are coming into force.

From today, the Central Bank rules will force insurance companies to provide more detail to customers when they are being sent motor insurance renewals.

When a consumer receives their motor insurance renewal, their insurance company is obliged to inform them what the premium was last year.

They must also give an upfront comparison.

Insurance companies will also have to provide the cost of different levels of cover – meaning consumers will receive several quotes.

These will include one for comprehensive, another for third party fire and theft, and one for third party only cover.

Insurance providers will also need to give consumers 20 days notice of the renewal – up from the previous 15 days – giving consumers more time to shop round.

The changes stem mainly from a Government working group on the cost of insurance.

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Sterling slips from 5-month high on Brexit delay jitters

Sterling slips from 5-month high on Brexit delay jitters

Sterling fell over half a percent against the dollar this morning, slipping from five-month highs after the British parliament delayed a crucial vote on a Brexit withdrawal agreement.

The move derailed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan for a decision on his withdrawal deal.

But the pound held the bulk of its recent rally on confidence that a disorderly exit from the European Union would be avoided.

In Asian trade, the pound fell 0.61% to $1.2910, having hit a five-month peak of $1.2990 on Friday and closing the week just below the $1.30 mark.

This marked a 6.5% surge since Johnson struck an EU divorce deal on October 10.

UK politicians on Saturday voted to withhold a decision on Johnson’s deal, a move that forced him to seek from the EU a third postponement of Britain’s departure from the bloc.

Britain’s exit had been envisaged for October 31.

But Johnson added another note saying he was opposed to an extension and British government minister Michael Gove said yesterday that Brexit will happen by October 31 as the government seeks to get the Brexit bill through parliament.

Analysts said market focus will turn to this week’s vote on Johnson’s deal.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC overnight that he was confident enough lawmakers would back the deal this week.

“The weekend’s events, if anything, have further reduced the risk of disorderly exit,” said Adam Cole, chief currency strategist at RBC Capital Markets in London.

“If there is a knee-jerk negative reaction in the pound as we emerge from the weekend with a greater overhang of uncertainty than hoped and some of the long positions are unwound, it should be faded soon,” he added.

The European Union will play for time rather than rush to decide on London’s reluctant request to delay Brexit again, diplomats said yesterday.

While weary of the Brexit process, EU leaders are keen to avoid a disorderly exit and are unlikely to reject the request. They hope the deal can eventually be approved in London.

Goldman Sachs said it had lowered the probability of a no-deal Brexit to 5% from 10% and maintained its baseline view that the UK will leave the EU on October 31.

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Banks to take steps to support bereaved customers

Banks to take steps to support bereaved customers

The five main banks in Ireland are to set up dedicated phone lines to help bereaved customers, in an effort to improve the care of those who have lost loved ones.

Access will also be given by the financial institutions to any available funds of the deceased to assist with covering the cost of the funeral.

The measures are a number included in a common commitment agreed by AIB, Bank of Ireland, KBC Bank Ireland, Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank through the Irish Banking Culture Board (IBCB).

“Losing a loved one is a traumatic event in anyone’s life, and banks should work to ensure they help those who are grieving as much as possible,” said Mr Justice John Hedigan, Chair of the IBCB.

Marketing materials addressed to the deceased will also be stopped as quickly as possible by banks under the plan.

The institutions have also committed to using straightforward and understandable language in order to make information on services that are available to bereaved customers easily accessible.

Reviews of the processes for dealing with bereaved customers will also be carried out on an ongoing basis as part of the measures.

The banks are also pledging to support bereaved customers throughout the process, treating them with empathy at all times.

Information to help those who have lost a loved one will be made available through the websites of the banks and the IBCB.

The development marks the first collaborative announcement by the IBCB, which was established earlier this year to improve culture across the banking sector following the financial crisis.

Its research revealed that dealing with banks after the loss of a loved one was a major source of stress and anxiety for many people.

According to the IBCB, between them the five signatory banks help around 50,000 bereaved customers each year.

However, feedback to the IBCB has found that there is a low level of awareness of the support services available from the banks for people who find themselves in this situation.

The initiative has been welcomed by the Irish Hospice Foundation.

“Empathy and prompt, sensitive communication are key and this systematic approach will help staff to better support bereaved customers all over Ireland,” said Sharon Foley, Irish Hospice Foundation’s chief executive.

The IBCB said that through its work on this matter it has found that there is a wider societal issue about the importance of people proactively preparing their financial affairs, such as through making a will for example.

It said it would now help address the problem through financial education and collaboration with other organisations and the industry.

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Ireland sees 12% increase in brand value – survey

Ireland sees 12% increase in brand value – survey

Ireland has recorded a 12% increase in brand value over the past year to bring its total to $604 billion.

This is according to the latest report by Brand Finance, which ranks the 100 most valuable and strongest nation brands every year.

Brand Finance said that Ireland was the fastest-growing nation brand in Western Europe this year with all the other players in the region recording a slight rise or even a decline.

Although ranked 26th globally for absolute brand value, Ireland is second on the ranking for brand value per capita, coming behind only Luxembourg.

During the year, the UK’s nation brand value and the combined brand value of the other EU member states have only grown 19% and 32% respectively.

“Currently the outlook for growth in the Irish economy looks positive, bolstered by the strength of our home-grown brands, and the very significant influx of inward investment in recent years,” commented Simon Haigh, Managing Director of Brand Finance Ireland.

“However, a potential no-deal Brexit is likely to cause challenges for the Irish economy moving forward,” he cautioned.

Overall, the US is the world’s most valuable brand at $27.7 trillion, while China continues to grow at a strong rate – recording a 40% increase in brand value to $19.5 trillion – to reach second position.

Behind the US, China, and third-placed Germany, Japan’s brand value has increased 26% to $4.5 trillion, pushing the UK into 5th rank with a value of $3.85 trillion.

Although there were no new entrants to the top ten, India made the largest jump within moving from 9th to 7th position.

Other movers in the top 10 include Canada, dropping from 7th to 8th, Italy falling from 8th to 10th and South Korea, which has inched up one place from 10th to 9th.

Today’s report also shows that globally, the average year-on-year nation brand value growth among the developing economies stands at 13.9%, compared to as little as 0.4% for the developed economies

This means that, on average, the nation brands of developing economies have been growing at a pace 31.3 times faster than the developed ones.

“With the Western world seeing a real crisis of leadership on both sides of the Atlantic, the developing world is catching up. Bolder, more agile, increasingly innovative African, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Latin American nation brands are racing ahead at breakneck speed, poised for further growth in the years to come,” Mr Haigh said.

Although catching up, the combined nation brand value of the 65 developing economies in the study – $37.8 trillion – remains far behind that of the 35 developed economies, which sits at $60.3 trillion.

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Fear of ‘difficult’ tenants driving landlords out of market – RTB

Fear of ‘difficult’ tenants driving landlords out of market – RTB

The chairman designate of the Residential Tenancies Board has said the fear of difficult tenants is one of the reasons why “accidental” landlords are getting out of the market.

Speaking to the Oireachtas Housing Committee, Tom Dunne said some landlords are “vulnerable” and he said they need support.

He said many are “accidental” landlords who might not be aware of the risks associated with being a landlord.

Mr Dunne said many do not have the money to carry out repairs and he said many landlords were “vulnerable”.

He told the committee that the State needs to look at housing in a broad way and look at how the system interacts with other systems like social welfare and planning.

He said if person rents from a professional landlord such as a REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) they have a stronger security of tenure than if they rent from a private landlord.

Mr Dunne said a REIT could not recover possession on the basis that it wants a family member to occupy the accommodation.

He said the property investment companies were usually in it for the long term and were not going to sell the property.

He said commercial landlords will be a feature for the future and he said this was happening around the world.

Sinn Féin’s Housing Spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin disagreed, and said he would caution any optimistic views of Real Estate Investment Trusts.

He said there was growing evidence that when REITs purchase properties with tenants living in them, there was greater insecurity because they want to get new tenants into the property to increase the rent price.

He said REITs were in receipt of tax benefits internationally and he said there is growing evidence that their involvement in the rental market can lead to affordability issues.

Concern over Land Development Agency

Experts in the housing sector have raised concerns about the new Land Development Agency, saying it could result in the privatisation of public assets.

The Land Development Agency was set up last September and the Government announced it would build 150,000 homes over 20 years, using State land and private sites.

Up to 60% of the houses built could be for the private market with 30% affordable housing and 10% for social housing.

The Housing Committee is today discussing the Land Development Agency Bill 2019.

Speaking to the committee, Rob Kitchin, Professor at Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute, said legislation underpinning the agency is based on supporting the use of public lands in conjunction with private actors for profit.

Orla Hegarty, an assistant professor in the UCD School of Architecture, said the proposed powers of the LDA are very wide-ranging and removed from direct government controls.

She told the committee that speculative development is potentially the “Achilles heel” of the LDA proposition.

The CEO of the Irish Council for Social Housing, Donal McManus, said the current 10% social housing mandated on Land Development Agency sites is too low.

John O’Connor, Chief Executive Officer, Housing Agency said they would be transferring three sites initially to the LDA in Skerries, Ballbriggan and Naas.

He said that these lands should be retained under public control in the long term.

Mr O’Connor said one of the main objectives is for the LDA to deliver housing on scale to address the housing crisis.

He said this housing needed to be affordable and there needed to be a mixture of housing in the developments.

He told the committee that the developments must be sustainable and the climate change issues taken into account.

Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin asked the Housing Agency if limiting the LDA to 40% social and affordable housing was correct or if it should be bigger.

In response, John O’Connor said it would be the Agency’s preference that there would be higher levels of social and affordable housing.

He said it should be one-third social housing, one-third affordable rental housing and one-third affordable purchase.

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Consumer sentiment falls to 6 year low on Brexit fears

Consumer sentiment falls to 6 year low on Brexit fears

Consumer sentiment here fell to a six-year low last month, the third month in a row in which it has fallen.

According to the KBC Bank Ireland Consumer Sentiment Index, Brexit uncertainty continues to drive people’s confidence in the economy and their personal finances lower.

“While the drop in confidence in September was notably smaller than in either of the two previous months, it was still sufficient to push the sentiment reading to its lowest level in nearly six years,” said KBC Ireland’s chief economist Austin Hughes.

“The last time the KBC sentiment index was lower than at present was in November 2013 when the index stood at 71,” he added.

September was also the first time since February 2017 that the survey of a representative sample of 1,000 adults found more consumers felt their household financial circumstances had worsened rather than improved over the last year.

The fall in confidence here contrasts with small improvements seen elsewhere in the globe, including the US, the Euro area as a whole and in the UK, with the differences attributable to two factors according to Mr Hughes.

“First of all, in terms of the factors influencing confidence among Irish consumers at present, it seems that Brexit concerns are not the main issue, they are the only issue,” he said.

“In the same vein, unlike their counterparts in other countries where the mood of consumers is being buffeted by uncertainty, Irish consumers appear now to be almost exclusively on downside risks.”

Consumer thinking here may also reflect scarring from the painful experience of the previous downturn, he added.

The data comes a day before the announcement of Budget 2020, where people traditionally expect some sort of measures to be unveiled that will give their finances a lift.

Three out of four of those questioned in the survey said any change to tax and welfare in the Budget would be important to their personal financial circumstances.

Nearly half of people looking to buy a home said their purchase prospects would worsen if the ‘help to buy’ scheme was ended.

One third of those suggested they would be prevented from buying in such a scenario.

There is a growing expectation that the Government will announce an extension to the scheme in tomorrow’s budget.

Mr Hughes said consumers will likely look for signs from the Budget that the economy and the public finances will not be devastated in the way they were eleven years ago.

He also suggested that consumer sentiment here, along with the economy, could be approaching a pivot point as Brexit negotiations approach decision time.

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Euro zone inflation slows in September on cheaper energy

Euro zone inflation slows in September on cheaper energy

Euro zone inflation slowed further year-on-year in September because of cheaper energy, new figures showed today.

But the core measure excluding such volatile components rose, the first estimate from the European Union’s statistics office Eurostat showed.

The numbers underline the difference of opinion over the state of the euro zone economy among the governors of the European Central Ban.

The ECB wants to keep inflation below, but close to 2% over the medium term but has so far failed to boost price growth despite years of unconventional steps.

Eurostat said consumer prices in the 19 countries sharing the euro rose 0.2% month-on-month in September for a 0.9% year-on-year gain, slowing from 1% in August.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a flat reading at 1% year-on-year.

The lower than expected September number was mainly due to a 1.8% year-on-year fall in energy prices.

Without energy and the equally volatile unprocessed food, or what the European Central Bank calls core inflation and watches in monetary policy decisions, price growth accelerated to 1.2% in September from 1.1% in August.

Also the even more restrictive core inflation measure, looked at by many market economists that in addition excludes alcohol and tobacco, accelerated to 1% from 0.9% year-on-year.

At its September 12 monetary policy meeting, the ECB decided to resume asset purchases designed to loosen monetary policy.

This decision was opposed by a third of the policymakers, including Germany’s Sabine Lautenschlaeger, whose decision to resign before the end of her term was announced last week.

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Oil prices fall due to weak economic data, Saudi output recovery

Oil prices fall due to weak economic data, Saudi output recovery

Oil prices fell today after weak manufacturing data from Europe and Japan focused market attention on a gloomy outlook for demand.

The drops also came as Saudi Arabia said it could restore oil output faster than anticipated following attacks last week.

Brent crude futures dropped 95 cents to $63.82 a barrel today, while US West Texas Intermediate futures were at $57.91, down 73 cents.

Reuters said yesterday that Saudi Arabia had restored more than 75% of crude output lost after attacks on its oil installations and would return to full volumes by early next week.

But the Wall Street Journal said repairs at the plants could take months longer than anticipated.

“An increasing number of reports pointing to Saudi Aramco purchasing external products and potentially also crude to meet its term commitments do not give the impression that an imminent return to full capacity is in sight,” consultancy JBC Energy said.

State-run oil company Aramco has stepped up purchases of products such as naphtha, gasoline and diesel from Europe and elsewhere.

Still, oil prices remain at comparatively elevated levels for the year in the wake of the September 14 attack on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil-processing facility that halved output in the world’s top oil exporter.

An increase in US oil exports to Asia to replace Saudi crude and a reduction in US imports from Iraq meant crude inventories in the US could be lower than expected, said Mike Tran, commodity strategist at RBC Capital Markets.

European powers – Britain, Germany and France – backed the US in blaming Iran for the Saudi attack, urging Tehran to agree to new talks with world powers on its nuclear and missile programmes and regional security.

Meanwhile, a preliminary Reuters poll this week found that US crude oil and distillate stockpiles were expected to have dropped last week.

Seven analysts estimated, on average, that crude inventories fell by 800,000 barrels in the week to September 20.

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IFAC urges Budget caution over Brexit, global risks

IFAC urges Budget caution over Brexit, global risks

The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has urged the Government not to rely on surges in corporation tax to cover spending overruns.

In its pre-Budget statement, the economic watchdog has said the Government should be cautious because of the risks associated with Brexit and a “worsening outlook” in the rest of the world.

IFAC said Ireland’s underlying budgetary position has deteriorated since 2015.

It argued that the benefit of record corporation tax receipts and lower interest rates have been undermined by increased spending, particularly unplanned spending in areas such as health.

The council said using bumper corporation taxes to balance the books “carries significant risks”, as they are likely to prove temporary and the spending measures likely to last longer.

It said there was a case for the Government to more cautious as the risks around Brexit increase and the outlook in the rest of the world gets worse.

The council also said the Government needed to deliver on a more credible medium term plan for the public finances.

One of its ideas is to develop a so-called prudence account to save excess corporation tax receipts.

The IFAC is an independent body set up under statute to assess and comment on government fiscal policy.

IFAC Chairperson Seamus Coffey, speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, said that budgetary planning on the basis of a hard Brexit is the “most appropriate course of action”.

He said that a no-deal scenario does appear the most likely and planning for this scenario makes the most sense.

Brexit, Mr Coffey said, should not have an impact on the overall package that the Government chooses to deliver.

He explained the Government has set out a plan for budgetary measures totalling €2.8bn and the IFAC believes the Government must stick to and deliver this plan.

He added that the Government’s existing commitments total around €2.2bn, leaving €600m for discretionary measures.

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