Vantage Point: Economic Outlook  

What is the outlook for sterling?

What is the outlook for sterling?

It has not been a great year for the pound. Sterling is down by around 13 per cent against the dollar at the time of writing.

As of mid-June it had lost 4 per cent against the euro, although those losses have been recouped.

As with all things in markets there are several drivers behind this poor performance. A struggling economy has had its life made much more difficult by the disruption caused by Brexit, and the Bank of England has seen its thunder stolen by the Federal Reserve and others, which have moved with greater rapidity to tackle inflation. 

Looking ahead to the rest of 2022, it does not seem like there is any immediate improvement on the cards, suggesting the second half of the year will be as tough as the first.

It’s the economy, again

The latest GDP data show that the British economy grew by 0.5 per cent in May, beating the gloomy forecasts made after the 0.2 per cent contraction of April. 

But while this means recession worries have eased a little, they have not gone away entirely. The outlook remains quite difficult, to say the least. 

May’s data showed that output in sectors like pubs and entertainment venues was down 0.1 per cent, and remains almost 5 per cent below the pre-pandemic high.

Overall it seems like the UK is in for a very weak recovery from the pandemic, and it is expected to be around 1 per cent larger in 2023 than it was in 2019 – hardly the kind of vigorous economy that can provide good employment prospects for workers and present the BoE with the foundation to speed up its rate hiking policy. 

Brexit still looms large

It is not particularly controversial to say that the UK’s decision to leave the EU, and the deal negotiated by the British government, have resulted in a major dislocation of the UK economy. 

Per capita income, according to the OECD, is up 3.8 per cent in real terms for the UK, but 8.5 per cent for the remaining 27 EU states. Since Q2 2016, GDP growth for the EU is around 9 per cent, and just 4 per cent for the UK. 

While the pandemic muddied the waters, the gap between the two has become wider since the UK’s official departure in 2020. The changes to regulations and worker access, as well as the prospect of further divergence in a host of areas, has meant that UK business competitiveness has been hard-hit, and wage growth has suffered too (with the picture complicated by the surge in inflation this year). 

One of the effects of the pandemic has been to distort economic cycles. Because the UK exited pandemic restrictions earlier than many European countries, it entered an economic recovery phase sooner, and reached the mature stage of the recovery earlier than the eurozone, which is entering the strongest bit of the cycle now. 

2023 does not appear to offer much in terms of a rebound. The UK’s growth is expected to be the lowest in the G20, leaving aside the impact on Russian GDP from sanctions. In addition, the Office for Budget Responsibility says it still expects a hit to GDP of around 4 per cent from Brexit, with half of that impact yet to come.