This morning we got the most up-to-date snapshot of economic activity in the UK. And in terms of the economy at least, the news was good. The monthly PMI (purchasing manager index) surveys from IHS Markit take the temperature of private sector businesses in both the manufacturing and services industries. The company does this for most major countries, and markets view the surveys as pretty reliable early indicators of how official economic data will pan out.
This batch was particularly eagerly awaited as it’s the first available economic data to give us a decent idea of just how much of a difference the lifting of the uncertainty of the election has made to businesses across the UK. And the answer is that it’s definitely helped.
In January, activity in both the manufacturing and services sectors is healthier than markets had expected. Activity in manufacturing – in common with the rest of the world – is still peaky, and shrinking slightly (although new orders are growing again). But activity in services picked up strongly.
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The outlook improved too. As Paul Dales at Capital Economics points out, demand has perked up so markedly that some companies are even talking about having “greater scope to pass on higher operating costs”. That’s inflationary talk of a nature that we haven’t seen in a long time (indeed, since well before the 2016 vote to leave the EU).
So what does it mean for investors? It does make it a lot harder – though not impossible – for the Bank of England to justify a cut in interest rates next Thursday when the Monetary Policy Committee announces its latest decision. Markets tend to like rate cuts.
However at this point, they’ll probably be happier that we aren’t facing imminent recession. Also, clearly more activity is good for corporate profits, which should be good for share prices, all else being equal. Meanwhile, it also implies a healthier outlook for the pound than would otherwise have been the case.
John is the executive editor of MoneyWeek and writes our daily investment email, Money Morning. John graduated from Strathclyde University with a degree in psychology in 1996 and has always been fascinated by the gap between the way the market works in theory and the way it works in practice, and by how our deep-rooted instincts work against our best interests as investors.
He started out in journalism by writing articles about the specific business challenges facing family firms. In 2003, he took a job on the finance desk of Teletext, where he spent two years covering the markets and breaking financial news. John joined MoneyWeek in 2005.
His work has been published in Families in Business, Shares magazine, Spear's Magazine, The Sunday Times, and The Spectator among others. He has also appeared as an expert commentator on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BBC Radio Scotland, Newsnight, Daily Politics and Bloomberg. His first book, on contrarian investing, The Sceptical Investor, was released in March 2019. You can follow John on Twitter at @john_stepek.
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