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    Friday, January 12, 2024

    UK Economy Grew in November but Still Risks Recession

    Britain's economy grew slightly more strongly than expected in November but remains at high risk of slipping into a recession, a potential blow for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak before an election expected in 2024.

    Britain's gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 0.3% in November after a fall of 0.3% the month before, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed on Friday, slightly beating economists' forecasts for 0.2% growth in a Reuters poll.

    But output shrank by 0.2% in the three months to the end of November, more than the 0.1% decline expected by the poll.

    A contraction or potentially even flat output in December could lead to a second consecutive quarter of falling output, the ONS said. This would place the economy in a technical recession, albeit a mild one.

    "The lacklustre performance of the economy in November suggests the UK may well have slipped into a recession during the second half of 2023," said Ben Jones, an economist at the Confederation of British Industry.

    Sterling weakened slightly against the U.S. dollar after the data.

    Britain's economy struggled to gain momentum in 2023, as households were squeezed by rapid inflation and the highest Bank of England (BoE) interest rates in 15 years.

    Friday's data showed economic output in November was 0.2% higher than a year earlier and has grown just 2.5% since 2019.

    "The longer-term picture remains one of an economy that has shown little growth over the last year," ONS chief economist Grant Fitzner said.

    "GDP bounced back in the month of November, however, led by services with retail, car leasing and computer games companies all having a buoyant month."


    In November the government's Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecast growth of 0.6% for 2023 and 0.7% for 2024 - a weak backdrop for the national election that Sunak has suggested he will hold in the second half of this year.

    Some economists see more scope for a pick-up in growth this year than the OBR or the even gloomier BoE do. Inflation dropped below 4% in November and mortgage rates have fallen as lenders expect the central bank to cut borrowing costs later this year.

    "The economy should shake off its torpor in 2024," said Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, adding that solid wage growth and lower inflation and interest rates should boost households' real disposable income by 2%.

    Finance minister Jeremy Hunt, responding to the data, said inflation was still weighing on growth but that the tax cuts for businesses and workers he announced in November would boost Britain's longer-term prospects.

    Rachel Reeves, the opposition Labour Party's would-be finance minister, said the weak growth meant Britain's overall tax burden as a share of GDP was the highest in 70 years, even after the latest tax cuts. -Reuters

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