6 minute read 27 Apr 2020
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UK economy headed for record contraction as coronavirus has heavy near-term impact

By

Mark Gregory

EY UK Chief Economist

Committed to using economics to drive informed decision-making in the public and private sectors. Helping rebalance the UK economy. LinkedIn Top Voice. Sports mad. Loyal supporter of Stoke City FC.

6 minute read 27 Apr 2020
Related topics COVID-19 Growth Workforce

The EY ITEM Club Spring Forecast 2020 has substantially downgraded its near-term outlook for the UK economy, with predictions of a deep, short recession this year due to the impact of COVID-19.

U

K GDP is now expected to contract by 6.8% in 2020, before returning to positive growth of 4.5% in 2021. The forecast is based on the assumption that some lockdown restrictions will start to be eased in May, with even more in June. EY ITEM Club says that the substantial fiscal and monetary stimulus that has been enacted by the Treasury and the Bank of England should provide serious support to activity once the coronavirus impact starts to wane but, even with these measures, the UK economy is not expected to return to its Q4 2019 size until 2023.

Download the report for the full EY ITEM Club Spring Forecast – April 2020. 

Foreword

By Mark Gregory, EY UK Chief Economist

Be careful what you wish for 

Into the unknown …

One of the challenges in commenting on the UK economy over the last few years has been finding something new to say as Brexit dominated the agenda, and the underlying performance of the economy changed relatively little. Suddenly, the levels of uncertainty we had been complaining about look attractive compared to the situation we find ourselves in — we are struggling to look days ahead never mind develop sensible forecasts for any extended period.

Continue reading below ...

WEBCAST:

Howard Archer, Chief Economic Advisor to the EY ITEM Club, gives a detailed overview of the spring forecast: 
WEBCAST:

EY economists, Mark Gregory and Peter Arnold, and Mona Bitar, EY’s UK&I COVID-19 Response Leader, discuss the recovery path for the UK economy:
PODCAST:

Mark Gregory shares his thoughts on the forecast and how companies can respond to the shock to the economy under different scenarios: 
… with unprecedented levels of change …

It is no surprise given the shock that the economy has received that the EY ITEM Club projects a record downgrading of our near-term outlook for the UK economy in its Spring Forecast 2020. This reflects the substantial hit to activity from coronavirus (COVID-19), with the Government imposing a lockdown on 23 March. UK GDP is now forecast by EY ITEM Club to contract by 6.8% in 2020 compared to the growth of 1.2% that they had projected in their Winter Forecast 2020 which was released at the end of January. Hard to imagine now, but in late January, coronavirus was not even mentioned as a factor seriously threatening the global economy, and it was not included in the list of downside risks to the UK economy.

Even more striking is the forecast reduction of 13% in GDP in the second quarter. EY ITEM Club is at the lower end of estimates, with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) having outlined a scenario that suggests a 35% reduction in the quarter might be possible. The range of forecasts demonstrates exactly how uncertain the immediate outlook is as we are still assembling data to allow us to assess the scale of the shock to the economy.

UK GDP is now expected to contract by

6.8%

in 2020, before returning to positive growth of 4.5% in 2021.

… and no defined path forward …

Not only is the current state of the economy difficult to discern but the path forward is even harder to forecast. As the EY ITEM Club identifies, 44% of consumer spending — the major engine of UK growth over the last couple of decades — is at risk of either being delayed or lost completely. Until we have clarity on the pace and level of the removal of the lockdown restrictions, forecasting the scale of the shock and the pace of recovery will remain very difficult.

The discussion around the future path of the economy has centred around defining scenarios with V, U and L the most common stylised versions, describing different lengths of slowdown and alternative paces of recovery. The initial consensus was that a V-shaped recovery was most likely but without either a vaccine or any definitive view on the possibility of using drugs developed for other purposes to mitigate symptoms, a rapid recovery looks increasingly unlikely and a U-shaped, slower recovery with possible shifts back into lockdown is now the scenario I am seeing used most widely.

“Until we have clarity on the pace and level of the removal of the lockdown restrictions, forecasting the scale of the shock and the pace of recovery will remain very difficult.”

… mean new thinking is required, now …

In this highly uncertain environment, businesses need to think differently about how they plan. Scenario analysis is the best technique to allow companies to test the resilience of their operations and finances against a range of plausible shocks. This analysis should be designed to reflect the scale of each shock, with the reboot reflecting the approach taken to the relaxation of the lockdown, and the likely future state and how close to historic trend growth the economy recovers to, and in what time frame.

The UK government has responded to the crisis at scale providing support for business, employees, the self-employed and charities in a series of initiatives designed to protect the economy and preserve capability for the upturn. Rightly, constraints that have been imposed on public spending and borrowing have been relaxed. However, this may only be the start. The longer and deeper the hit to the economy is, the greater the role the Government will need to play in future. In my view, it is inevitable that the economic support measures will need to be expanded beyond the initial few months currently proposed and that this will have to be followed by stimulus programmes to restore economic growth to pre-crisis levels. We will have to get used to higher levels of public spending and debt for a sustained period.

… and into the future

I appreciate how difficult it is to look beyond the immediate challenges, but it seems very likely to me that coronavirus will amplify the megatrends we have already seen emerging in recent times. The moves towards deglobalisation, more rapid introduction of technology and the need to address the challenges of ageing populations are likely to become more significant issues for business and governments alike. Perhaps the most significant developments may be in policies to address the climate emergency. On one hand, the fall in oil prices and the challenging economic circumstances could combine to slow momentum towards reshaping the economy to protect the climate. On the other hand, the experience of home working and reduced travelling and the clear impact it has had on the environment might accelerate moves to decarbonise the economy, especially if governments perceive that policy could be used to provide stimulus to activity.

These are unprecedented times. Businesses need to prepare themselves to manage across multiple scenarios and for continuing change for several years into the future. And there is still the small matter of adjusting to life after Brexit.

Summary

  • EY ITEM Club forecasts record UK GDP contraction of 6.8% in 2020
  • Consumer spending forecast to contract by 7.5% in 2020, before rebounding to grow 4.9% in 2021
  • Business investment expected to fall 13.6% in 2020 and then grow 1.2% in 2021 and 6.5% in 2022 as the economy and confidence recover

About this article

By

Mark Gregory

EY UK Chief Economist

Committed to using economics to drive informed decision-making in the public and private sectors. Helping rebalance the UK economy. LinkedIn Top Voice. Sports mad. Loyal supporter of Stoke City FC.

Related topics COVID-19 Growth Workforce