May’s Inflation Report made glum reading in the UK. Each of the Bank of England’s main forecasts moved in the wrong direction this quarter. The Bank revised down its forecast for UK economic growth in 2012 to 0.8% from 1.2%. It also revised up its forecast for inflation as the Governor admitted that inflation would remain above its 2% target for longer than he had thought. That will tighten the screws on the UK economy, particularly on households. Wages are growing, but with inflation outpacing them, real wages have been falling for nearly two years. ‘Sticky’ inflation means that’s likely to continue.
UK unemployment fell to 8.2% in March and earnings growth stayed low. There was a second consecutive, and unexpected, fall in unemployment in March. This is great news, but it probably won’t give the economy that much of a boost because it was almost entirely due to more part-time workers. Part-timers now account for 27% of workers, up from 25% in Q1 2006. But some job is better than no job, and this is helping to keep a lid on pay growth. Average weekly earnings grew by just 0.6% year on year in the three months to March. The rate of total pay growth has now slowed in every month since August 2011, kept down in particular by lower bonuses.
More good news on UK trade: The UK's trade deficit narrowed a bit in March due to growing surplus on services exports. Weak demand from the Eurozone is a drag and the Governor’s warning that the fallout from the Eurozone problems is ‘the single biggest threat’ to the UK’s recovery isn’t good news for UK exporters either. But a 12.1% month on month rise in goods exports to non-EU countries was great news, particularly as it easily outpaced a 4% rise in imports. Better trade with these countries will provide some welcome cushioning against problems in the Eurozone.
The Eurozone avoids recession – for now: A solid performance from the German economy kept the Eurozone out of recession in Q1. GDP growth was flat, but better than the 0.2% quarter on quarter fall that had been expected. This is good news, but don’t hold your breath. Eight out of the 17 Eurozone economies are in recession and a broad based weakness in industrial production, backed up by weak Purchasing Managers’ survey data, suggests that the industrial sector will still drag on the recovery.
Eurozone inflation slowed in April. There was a small, but welcome, fall in Eurozone consumer inflation (CPI) in April, to 2.6% from 2.7% in March. Budget cuts across most of the Euro area, rising unemployment, and an intensification of the sovereign debt crisis all pushed prices down. But the European Central Bank expects the inflation rate to remain above its 2% target this year, due to high energy prices and indirect taxes.
US retail sales grow in April – just: Retail sales rose for an eleventh consecutive month in April. But the 0.1% month on month increase was the weakest in that growth streak, which helped pull the year on year rate down to 6.4%. The slowdown probably reflects the unseasonably warm weather and the weaker pace of job creation in March and April.
US inflation steady in April, but a third round of Quantitative Easing looks more likely. A sharp fall in gasoline prices was offset by rises in other items, notably food, which kept the inflation rate at 2.3% year on year in April. But core inflation, which strips out volatile items increased by 0.2% month on month to 2.3% year on year. Inflation is above the desired 2.0% rate, but the Fed’s dual mandate is to secure stable prices and high employment, which means that there is no prospect of tighter monetary policy. Indeed the Fed is edging closer to a third round of quantitative easing, according to the minutes of its April meeting. "Several members indicated that additional monetary accommodation measures could be necessary," if the economy slows or downside risks become too great - i.e. if the euro area deteriorates markedly. In March, only two members voted that way.