Source: Office for National Statistics (ONS)
Thus “real” wages (which measure wage growth relative to inflation) are positive, helping underpin consumer spending. Retail sales, in the three months to May, rose by 1.6% versus the previous three months in terms of amount spent and volume bought.
It is not certain how the UK inflation outlook will unfold, so vigilance is always needed. UK inflation could creep higher. A tighter labour market could force wages, costs and inflation higher. Future trend growth could be low, triggering cost and inflation pressures even if the economy continues to grow at its current pace. Yet intense competitive pressures, reinforced by globalisation and technology, have keep inflation subdued in recent years. This may continue.
UK has also experienced decline in bond yields
Globally, bond yields have fallen significantly. The UK has shared in this. The yield on 10-year gilts is currently 0.87%. This compares with recent peaks of 1.35% in mid-January and 1.73% last October. Over the last five years, 10-year UK yields have averaged 1.46%.
The latest decline in global bond yields reflects a number of features, notably the combination of the low worldwide inflation environment, the deceleration in global growth and the shift in monetary policy. Also, one wonders whether the lessons of Japan from recent decades (low growth, inflation, rates and yields) and the long duration of this US economic cycle is starting to weigh more on market thinking.
In this context the deceleration in bond yields is understandable, and it is no surprise the UK has shared in this, too. But there may be conflicting pressures ahead.
The combination of low rates and yields should be supportive for global growth. While in the UK the uncertainties are not just about Brexit, but also the future economic and inflation mix. In the UK domestic demand is soft. If an orderly Brexit occurs then demand may receive a boost, but so too would supply, and investment plans may rebound also.
Financial markets also need to consider whether there will be any shift in the direction of domestic policy, too.
A need for more lending?
In the last fortnight the Bank of England noted – in their response to a report on the new financial economy – that there is a need to close a £23 billion funding gap to boost lending to small and medium sized firms. More particularly, one could ask whether the capital constraints on banks need to be eased to encourage more lending to the private sector. For instance, an easing in the counter cyclical capital buffer, currently at 1%, may be needed. That is a decision for the Bank’s Financial Policy Committee.
Meanwhile, the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee looks set to keep interest rate and QE policy on hold. But if the softness (noted above) that was seen in Q2 continues into Q3 then it may wish to have a bias to ease rates. Certainly, if there was heightened Brexit uncertainty linked to a no deal then it would need to ease, to minimise downside economic risks.
Just as the UK gilt market has shared in the decline in global bond yields, UK equities have not been immune to the global stock rebound. Idiosyncratic features, however, may now start to become the focus for UK stocks, given politics and Brexit.
As we highlighted before, it is the combination between the fundamentals, policy and confidence that is key. There are near-term challenges but many longer-term positives, too.
Please remember that when investing your capital is at risk.