The U.K. economy barely grew in July, suggesting the recovery from the coronavirus recession is rapidly levelling off.
Gross domestic product expanded just 0.1% — a tenth of the pace posted in June, the Office for National Statistics said Friday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had expected a 0.5% expansion.
The figures left output 2.1% below the level in February 2020, before the pandemic struck. The slowdown heralds a return to more normal growth rates after pent-up demand following the lifting of restrictions in the spring saw the economy surge by almost 5% during the second quarter.
Services and manufacturing stagnated and construction output declined in the weakest month for the economy since January, when a third lockdown caused output to slump. Oil and has provided the strongest boost as oil fields recovered from summer maintenance. The pound was little changed, trading at $1.3847 as of 7:21 a.m London time.
The loss of momentum in July, when the economy completed its reopening, may partly reflect concerns about the spread of the delta variant and a requirement for hundreds of thousands of people to stay at home after being pinged by a National Health Service contact-tracing app.
Moreover, many businesses are struggling with pandemic-induced supply-chain disruptions and labor shortages, which are expected to weigh on growth for some time.
“It now looks like the wait for the U.K. to regain the ground lost since the start of the pandemic will last well into next year,” said Ed Monk, associate director at Fidelity International. “What’s concerning is that these numbers may not yet be showing the full effect of sustained supply-chain bottlenecks.’
Output in consumer-facing services fell by 0.3% in July, largely due a 2.5% fall in retail sales. ONS Deputy National Statistician Jonathan Athow said IT, financial services and outdoor events –- which could operate more fully in July -– offset large falls in retail and law firms. Rising costs and shortages of raw materials “pegged back” the construction sector.
More difficulties lie ahead, with several support programs put in place to help people through the crisis due to come to an end this month. They include the government’s flagship furlough plan, which was still supporting around 1.6 million people last month, and a temporary uplift to welfare benefits.
Meanwhile, workers and businesses face higher payroll taxes from April under an annual 12 billion-pound ($17 billion) plan announced this week to boost funding for the National Health Service and social care.
(Updates with details, pound, reaction)
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