Consumer and jobs outlook showing modest signs of improvement
In line with expectations for inflation and energy bills to fall faster this year, the EY ITEM Club now forecasts consumer spending to fall just 0.3% in 2023, up from the 1.4% contraction predicted in January – although this would still be a significant decrease from 2022’s 5.6% growth. A rise of 1.8% is forecast in 2024, with a further increase of 2.4% expected in 2025.
Despite the upwards revision in the EY ITEM Club Winter Forecast, relatively high inflation by the standards of recent decades, the freeze in income tax thresholds, and the impact of rising debt servicing costs on mortgages, credit cards and other borrowing underpin the continued expectation that consumer spending will fall this year
With job creation remaining solid, the EY ITEM Club’s Spring Forecast projects only a modest rise in unemployment and expects the rate to peak at just over 4% (down from January’s forecast peak of almost 5%). This is mainly due to the improved GDP outlook, while continued recruitment difficulties in some sectors add to the likelihood that businesses will choose reduced hours or moves to part-time working ahead of cuts in staff numbers. The measures to boost participation in the workforce announced in the Budget may also keep the jobless rate down at the margin.
Peter Arnold, EY UK Chief Economist, adds: “The key domestic uncertainties around the economy relate to how far households will use the savings built up over the pandemic to support spending amid falling real wages, and whether rates of economic inactivity will return to their pre-pandemic levels.
“So far, there have been only limited signs of consumers opting to cushion the impact of inflation on their incomes by borrowing more or using their savings – and there are reasons for caution to continue. Falling house prices will reduce homeowners’ wealth, while those with mortgages face a significant rise in monthly outgoings when their current fixed-rate deals start coming to an end. But better economic news should be a boost to consumer confidence, while the return of real wage growth later this year will also help.”
House price falls to continue – but economic impact limited
The EY ITEM Club Spring Forecast continues to predict a sustained fall in house prices, with a peak-to-trough decline of 10% expected over the next two years. While the projected fall in prices will likely weigh on construction activity, particularly housebuilding, as well as affecting the sales of household goods, the changing influence of the property market on consumer spending means it is unlikely this fall in values will have a major adverse impact on the economy.
Business investment outlook improving
Despite business investment’s poor performance in recent years, the EY ITEM Club Spring Forecast presents some reasons for optimism. These include a better outlook for GDP this year, greater clarity in the trading relationship between the EU and UK, and, most importantly, the effect of the temporary full-expensing capital allowances announced in the Budget. This will enable businesses to reduce their taxable profits by 100% of the cost of their investments in plant and machinery for three years from April 2023.
The EY ITEM Club now forecasts that business investment will fall 0.3% this year, a little less than the 0.8% fall previously predicted, before increasing 2.3% in 2024 as the effect of the investment incentives kicks in.
Hywel Ball comments: “Business investment has underperformed the wider economy in recent times, with inflationary pressures and supply chain issues among a range of unprecedented headwinds weighing on capital spending. However, the economy’s resilience against a challenging backdrop, as well as recent policy announcements, should support businesses and investment going forward. It’s vital that businesses plan for different scenarios so that they have the confidence to follow through on investment plans amid changing circumstances.”