A modest rise in unemployment means the housing market should avoid a serious correction
Positively, the EY ITEM Club expects the recession to have a relatively limited impact on unemployment when compared to previous downturns. A tight jobs market and evidence of worker shortages in some sectors suggests some employers may opt to hold onto workers and reduce vacancies instead. Unemployment is forecast to peak just below 5% this year.
The relatively modest rise in unemployment should help in limiting the forecast fall in house prices. The EY ITEM Club expects house prices to fall by 2.4% this year, with another fall of around 3% in 2024, thanks to the impact of significantly higher mortgage rates and the wider economic downturn.
Martin Beck, chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club, says: “We’re forecasting a relatively modest rise in job losses by the standards of past recessions, which should help limit some of the knock-on effects of the downturn. Importantly, the combination of more people holding onto their jobs and greater forbearance by lenders, such as switching mortgage holders to interest-only deals, should reduce the risk of forced home sales. Overall, we think that average property prices will fall by around 10%, from peak to trough, over the next 12-18 months.”
A fall in consumer spending
Elsewhere, the Winter Forecast says that consumer spending is likely to fall 1.4% this year, with growth of 2.3% expected in 2024. This is a revision from the EY ITEM Club’s Autumn Forecast, which predicted a 0.7% contraction for 2023 and growth of 2.9% in 2024.
Martin Beck says: “In theory, households drawing on the savings accumulated during the pandemic period could help mitigate the impact on consumer spending from high inflation, real wage reduction, and job losses. However, the latest data signals some reluctance among consumers to do so, suggesting that, for now, consumers are more concerned about their own financial prospects. But as the economic outlook brightens later this year, we think consumers will show a greater appetite to save less and borrow more.
“The housing market is a significant risk in this forecast and a larger, more abrupt price correction than predicted would have significant ramifications for the wider economy. Other key risks to the forecast include the prospect of further instability in the energy market and inflation proving more stubborn, or falling faster, than expected.”
Business investment will likely remain a relative weak spot
After business investment grew a projected 5.2% in 2022 – leaving it 7% below pre-pandemic levels – the EY ITEM Club now expects a fall of 0.8% this year. Weaker business investment is one of the factors likely to slow the recovery from recession. Business investment growth of 3.7% is forecast for 2024.
The EY ITEM Club report says it’s likely that investment growth in 2022 received a boost from the temporary ‘super-deduction’ tax incentive, with some investment brought forward to benefit from the tax break. However, this is expected to be countered by some payback following the super-deduction’s end in April, which the EY ITEM Club says was probably only partially offset by the temporary £1m level of the Annual Investment Allowance becoming permanent.
Beyond tax effects, the EY ITEM Club says the environment for business investment is poor. Recessions typically see business investment fall by more than GDP as businesses faced with weak demand often tend to delay or cancel projects.
Hywel Ball comments: “Businesses are facing an unprecedented ‘trilemma’ of supply chain pressures, rising inflation and high energy prices creating challenging trading conditions and making it increasingly difficult to balance competing priorities. When faced with this environment, it’s crucial that business leaders capitalise on the opportunities and manage their risks effectively through scenario planning and stress testing. Higher energy prices could, for example, be an opportunity for more investment in energy efficiency or green energy, while a weaker pound could encourage exporters to take advantage of their more competitive international position.”