26 Jan 2010

Britain squeaks out of recession but is this the double-dip?

Again the economic experts are confounded by the sheer durability of Britain’s economic malaise.

By the narrowest possible margin* Britain has squeaked out of recession. It’s entirely possible we could actually still be in recession, once further revisions are made in the coming weeks.

An appalling number, saved by some growth in public sector and the motor retail trade. The breakdown of the GDP figure shows the recovery in construction has collapsed.

This is totally consistent with the dreaded double-dip, except of course that presupposes that there has been some sort of peak from which the economy dips again. There really hasn’t been.

This may just be a taste of things to come for the UK – a prolonged period of rotten stagnant growth, as predicted by Richard Koo last year.

But double-edged for politics. Brown and Darling haven’t pulled off an amazing rescue act, yes. But this undercuts the argument for savage, immediate spending cuts – the Conservative argument.

The areas that dragged the economy even to this minute growth were areas supported by stimulus spending.

And there are some total mysteries. How on earth is unemployment stabilising? Why are house prices having a mini-surge?

This is an incredibly important and significant economic number that could change the political debate.

*Only one economist predicted 0.1 per cent, take a bow Danny Gabay of Fathom Consulting, who uses and abuses the Bank of England’s own mathematical model.