The first double-dip recession since the 1970s forced Prime Minister David Cameron to defend his spending cuts in Parliament.
By JENNIFER RYAN | BLOOMBERG | APRIL 2012
Gross domestic product fell 0.2 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011, when it declined 0.3 percent, the Office for National Statistics said today in London. The median of 40 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey was for an increase of 0.1 percent. A technical recession is defined as two straight quarters of contraction.
As an anti-austerity backlash gains ground in Europe, Cameron described the data as “disappointing” and pledged to support growth without backtracking on the U.K.’s biggest fiscal squeeze since World War II. The Bank of England is in the final month of its latest round of economic stimulus and the drop in output comes as prospects dim in the euro region, Britain’s biggest export market.
“This isn’t supportive of the fiscal consolidation program, so the government is likely to be concerned about that,” said Philip Rush, an economist at Nomura International in London. “The data were bad, and that supports the view that the Bank of England will do a final 25 billion pounds of quantitative easing in May.”
Bank of England policy maker David Miles had signaled yesterday that today’s result was possible, saying in an interview with Bloomberg News that a negative number “wouldn’t be a great surprise.”
U.K. 10-year gilts advanced immediately after the data were published before easing again. The yield rose 3 basis points to 2.123 percent as of 1:12 p.m. in London. The pound fell as much as 0.4 percent, then pared its decline to $1.6116.
From a year earlier, the economy was unchanged in the first quarter. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of 31 economists was for 0.3 percent growth from a year earlier.
The quarterly drop in GDP was due to a 3 percent slump in construction, the most since the first quarter of 2009, and a 0.4 decline in industrial production. Manufacturing contracted 0.1 percent and services, the largest part of the economy, expanded by 0.1 percent, boosted by transport, storage and communication.
The data contrasts with a report today showing confidence among manufacturers rose to the highest level in two years this month. The Confederation of British Industry’s quarterly gauge of factory optimism surged to 22 from minus 25 in January.
Separate surveys this month showed that growth in services, manufacturing and construction accelerated in March. The British Chambers of Commerce said the GDP data is likely to be revised higher by the statistics office.
Surveys “have shown a more positive picture, and we believe these give a more accurate indication of the underlying trends,” Chief Economist David Kern said in a statement today. “We think it is likely that the preliminary estimate will be revised upwards when more information is available.”
The FTSE 100 index rose 0.1 percent today. Still, its 2.6 percent advance this year trails the 4.9 percent increase by Europe’s Stoxx 600 Index.
Rising energy prices, government spending cuts and anemic wage growth are squeezing U.K. consumers, creating a drag on the recovery. Pay growth slowed to 1.1 percent in the three months through February, less than a third of the inflation rate. An extra public holiday in June to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne may also depress economic output in the second quarter.