Osborne’s makers aren’t marching

Britain's manufacturing industry continues to disappoint despite the chancellor's efforts to get the makers moving.


Britain's manufacturing sector is stalling

The latest industrial production and manufacturing figures were "unambiguously rubbish", as Michael Hewson of CMC Markets put it. Industrial production (manufacturing, mining and energy supply) fell by 0.7% in November, the worst monthly fall in two years. Unusually warm weather dented electricity and gas output. Manufacturing output fared little better, declining by 0.4%. It has been treading water for a year. Industrial production is still 9.1% below the 2008 peak; factory output, 6.1%. Sterling sank to a five-year low under $1.44 against the dollar.

What the commentators said

Factors such as a strong pound over the last few years, a slowdown in China and emerging markets, the euro crisis and general market volatility aren't the chancellor's fault. But "it's the Tories" who are fuelling uncertainty and deterring investment through the EU referendum, and they have yet to tackle permanent obstacles for the sector, including skill shortages, restricted access to finance and comparatively high electricity costs.

The factory data, along with recent releases signalling slower growth, has fuelled the belief that interest rates will now stay lower for even longer, said Peter Spence in The Daily Telegraph. JP Morgan, one of the last banks to believe that the Bank of England would hike in the first half of the year, has now pushed its forecast for the first rise back to November.

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This is the key reason sterling has weakened, but hardly the only one. The latest slump in the oil price implies that inflation, currently hovering around zero, is not likely to take off anytime soon, another reason to think the bank is in no hurry to tighten.

"Britain's hefty current-account deficit makes it one of the most vulnerable major currencies when market sentiment sours," added Jemima Kelly on Reuters.com, while the Brexit referendum is also moving centre stage. The uncertainty looks set to deter investment flows into the UK, leaving sterling exposed, Morgan Stanley's Ian Stannard told Bloomberg.com. Deutsche Bank thinks sterling could fall by another 15% against the greenback by the end of 2016.

Andrew Van Sickle

Andrew is the editor of MoneyWeek magazine. He grew up in Vienna and studied at the University of St Andrews, where he gained a first-class MA in geography & international relations.

After graduating he began to contribute to the foreign page of The Week and soon afterwards joined MoneyWeek at its inception in October 2000. He helped Merryn Somerset Webb establish it as Britain’s best-selling financial magazine, contributing to every section of the publication and specialising in macroeconomics and stockmarkets, before going part-time.

His freelance projects have included a 2009 relaunch of The Pharma Letter, where he covered corporate news and political developments in the German pharmaceuticals market for two years, and a multiyear stint as deputy editor of the Barclays account at Redwood, a marketing agency.

Andrew has been editing MoneyWeek since 2018, and continues to specialise in investment and news in German-speaking countries owing to his fluent command of the language.