UK economic outlook Q1 2023

Rishi Sunak recently completed 100 days in office as prime minister, a tangible sign that the political upheaval that led to several sudden leadership changes in the second half of last year has now settled to an extent.

The economic outlook for the UK is challenging this year, but there is growing consensus that the downturn will not be as long as previously expected.

Economic growth

Economic downturn underway, but recession may be avoided

Better than expected GDP data for the end of 2022 means that there has been discussion around if, not when, the UK will go into recession – which is defined as two consecutive quarters of falling GDP output.

In its latest forecasts, released alongside the Spring Budget, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is predicting that while there is set to be an economic downturn, the economy will narrowly avoid a recession, although there will be several quarters of minimal growth. This is a significant uplift from the OBR’s previous prediction that the economy would contract by 1.4% in 2022. This revision of the UK’s economic picture is largely due to falling inflation, and an associated lowering of expectations on how high the base rare will rise, as well as real wage growth. The OBR said that underlying momentum in the economy remained ‘weak’. 

Inflation

Inflation has likely peaked and set to fall this year, but will end 2023 materially higher than pre-pandemic levels.  


The annual rate of inflation has started to fall from a 40-year peak of 11.1% in October. Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, said “a corner has been turned”. Inflation is tipped to slide back to 5% by the end of the year, although this remains elevated compared to the 1.5% rate when the country entered the first Covid lockdown in 2020.

The UK is reflecting the international picture, with global inflation, which spiralled across the world as a result of supply side shocks due to the pandemic and spikes in energy prices exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, also forecast to fall this year. The IMF said that global inflation will slow from 8.8% to 6.6% in 2023.

The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) will be studying this data, and all its components, closely as it assesses whether, and how much further, to raise rates to move the base rate to achieve its target of 2% inflation in two years’ time.

After a rate rise of 0.5% in early February, the question is how much further interest rates will rise during the year, as this will have an impact on the cost of borrowing. Markets are now pricing in peak in base rate at 4.5%.


Looking at money market rates which also determine the cost of borrowing, the shock from the ill-fated mini-budget in late September has largely subsided, and markets responded favourably to the Bank of England’s assessment that the recession may be shallower than expected, taking the 10-year gilt yield to below 3% for the first time in five months. Even so, gilt yields are likely to settle at a new, higher, level compared to early last year and pre-Covid times.  Businesses and individuals will have higher borrowing costs for the foreseeable future and, barring any future shocks to the financial or economic system, the era of ultra-low borrowing rates is at an end.

Employment

Unemployment still low but set to rise.

Unemployment remains at historically low levels at 3.7%, and employment levels have been steady recently at around 76%. The question for policymakers is the stubbornly higher rates of economic inactivity, with around half a million workers exiting the labour market during the pandemic. This led to Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, recently calling on 50 and 60-something retirees to re-enter the workforce.


The number of job vacancies in the market remains high, although it has started to fall from its peak  late last year as some firms slow down their hiring. Likewise, economists are predicting a rise in unemployment, up to around 4.5% by the end of 2023, which will in turn affect GDP output.

Banks and lending

Availability of lending for commercial and residential real estate tightened sharply in Q4, but may be set to improve.

Lenders reported a fall in credit availability for both homebuyers and commercial real estate buyers and owners in Q4 2022, according to the Bank of England’s latest Credit Conditions Survey. Declining commercial property prices, market pressures and falling demand led to the decline, and credit availability is expected to dip again in Q1 this year.


Meanwhile a gloomier economic outlook, dampened demand and the cloudier picture for house prices meant that the availability of mortgages for borrowers continued to sink in Q4. However, there was an uptick in the net balance measure for Q1 signalling that conditions may start to improve – and there is separate evidence that activity in the mortgage market is already picking up, with more mortgages available and greater competition between lenders through January.

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Gráinne Gilmore

Director of research and insights

T +44 (0) 20 7647 7142
Gráinne Gilmore, director of research & insights, Cluttons


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Research

Autumn budget 2018

The Chancellor unveiled the 2018 Autumn Budget on 29 October, the last before Britain officially leaves the EU in March next year. In our response document, we present our view on some of the key announcements.
London residential market bulletin summer 2018
Research

London residential market bulletin summer 2018

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Neil Duffy

Partner, residential valuations

T +44 (0) 20 7647 7265
Neil Duffy
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Gráinne Gilmore

Director of research and insights

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Gráinne Gilmore, director of research & insights, Cluttons
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James Hyman

Partner, head of residential agency

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James Hyman, head of residential agency, Cluttons
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Jonathan Rhodes

Partner, commercial valuations

T +44 (0) 20 7647 7246
Headshot of Jonathan Rhodes, national head of valuations, Cluttons
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Einar Roberts

Partner, residential consultancy

T +44 (0) 20 7647 7128
Einar Roberts