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Trading Performance 2017-2018

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In the UK, real GDP expanded 0.6% qoq (1.5% yoy) in 3Q18, an acceleration from the 0.4% qoq growth in 2Q18 and 0.1% qoq in the first quarter of 2018. It’s the fastest rate of growth since fourth-quarter of 2016, but it’s very likely to prove temporary, as we explain below. We expect growth to ease to 0.3% qoq in fourth quarter of 2018, with the risks now skewed to the downside.

On the output side, growth in the third quarter of 2018 was broad-based. Services expanded 0.4% qoq (contributing 0.3pp. to GDP growth), industrial production rose 0.8% qoq (contributing 0.1pp. to GDP growth), and construction was up 2.1% qoq (contributing 0.1pp. to GDP growth). Here some temporary factors were clearly at work. The large rise in construction output in the third quarter of 2018 was likely due to catch-up from the very weak weather-hit first quarter of the year when output fell 1.6% qoq. The Bank of England’s regional agents confirmed this was a large factor behind the rise. The increase in industrial production was driven in part by volatility in the manufacturing sector, which expanded 0.6% qoq in the third quarter of 2018 after a fall of 0.7% qoq in the second quarter of 2018. And while the growth in services output slowed to 0.4% qoq in the third quarter of 2018 from the relatively strong 0.6% qoq growth in 2Q18, it was still buoyed by decent growth in the retail sector thanks to the warm weather and the World Cup effect, which also should prove temporary and will weigh on growth in the final quarter.

On the expenditure side, household consumption expanded 0.5% qoq (contributing 0.3pp. to GDP growth), government consumption was up 0.6% qoq (contributing 0.1pp. to GDP growth), gross fixed capital formation rose 0.8% qoq (contributing 0.1pp. to GDP growth), exports rose 2.7% qoq (contributing 0.8pp. to GDP growth) and imports were flat. Within gross fixed capital formation, the rise was driven by increases in government and private dwelling investment, largely offset by a sharp fall in business investment, down 1.2% qoq (-1.9% yoy), the third consecutive quarterly fall, which confirms the survey evidence that Brexit-related uncertainty is weighing more heavily on firms’ investment decisions.

Looking ahead, growth is likely to slow to 0.3% qoq in the fourth quarter of 2018, which would result in annual average GDP growth of 1.3% in 2018. The risks are skewed to the downside. In addition to the unwinding of the temporary factors that boosted growth in the third quarter of 2018, there is concern as to how households will react to Brexit-related uncertainty as the date when the UK leaves the EU (29 March 2019) draws nearer. So far households have largely looked through that uncertainty, in contrast to firms, but that could change. Meanwhile, firms will continue to delay their investment decisions until there is clarity on the Brexit transition, which we do not expect until the first quarter 2019. And net exports are likely to drag on growth in the fourth quarter of 2018, partly because of some payback from the strong third quarter of 2018, partly because global trade has slowed, partly because there's likely to be some stockpiling of imports ahead of a potential Brexit cliff-edge, and partly because the fillip for UK exports coming from the past depreciation of sterling has faded.

The U.S. Federal Reserve held interest rates steady on Thursday but remained on track to keep gradually tightening borrowing costs, as it pointed to a healthy economy that was marred only by a dip in the growth of business investment.

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