POSITION: Consistently negative bias this year and recently covered our short via the EWU
The pain is rising in the UK from a macroeconomic standpoint, with new data out today and Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling's downward forecast on GDP. Britain will likely not see modest growth until well into 2010.
We've had a consistently negative view on the UK; just yesterday we covered our short position via EWU for a modest gain. The budget deficit is set to hit an estimated 11% of GDP this year and the trade gap in the fiscal year through March tripled to 90 Billion Pounds ($117 Billion). Also, jobless claims rose 73,700 in March to 1.46 million, the most since 1997. The FTSE is down -9.1% YTD. This is miserable absolute performance, never mind awful relative to countries socializing like the USA and Japan.
Today in his budget speech Darling said the economy will shrink 3.5% this year, far from the 1.25% contraction he forecasted in November of last year. While the downward revision did not come as a surprise to us, the announcement helps to confirm our negative bias towards the UK's leadership and its ability to right the economy. The UK's statistic office, HM Treasury, which collects a selection of forecasters, helps to confirm Darling's number, albeit their average GDP came in at -3.7% for this year. According to the same estimates, the UK won't see positive growth until 2010, yet at a modest rate of +0.3%.
As a measure of inflation, CPI rose 2.9% Y/Y from 3.2% in February Y/Y, confirming its downward momentum on a month-over-month basis. It's likely we can expect CPI to fall below the Bank of England's 2% target in Q2. While deflation is being felt throughout the EU, we believe that the UK's rate of decline will outpace its European peers. Deflationary pressure tends to reverberate throughout an economy, including depressing earnings growth, consumption, home prices, and investments, while pushing up unemployment, savings rates, and bond yields to name a few.
One positive data point worth mentioning is housing. According to Hometrack national average prices, (see chart below) UK housing prices are improving. The rate of change on a year-over-year basis is declining and month-over-month there was a clear upturn in October of last year. Despite the positive rate of change, we're of the firm opinion that the uptick in prices will take a considerable duration to hit Main Street, yet on the margin the data is positive.
While the question isn't if the UK will recover, but when and at what rate... until we see a more positive trajectory in that recovery, we'll continue to hold our bearish view.