Scottish business output rises for the first time in 17 months

Economy stabilises but in a lower gear than it was pre-referendum, while rising inflation and falling business optimism means a bumpy road ahead in 2017 for Scotland 

Business output in Scotland and the rest of the UK has risen for the first time after 17 months of decline, according to the latest Business Trends Report by accountants and business advisers BDO LLP.
BDO’s Output Index, which indicates how businesses expect to perform in the coming three months ahead, has risen from 96.7 to 97.1 in November, suggesting that, for now, the UK economy has stabilised in a lower gear than it had been running at pre-referendum.
According to the IMF, the UK economy is forecast to grow 1.1% in 2017, and this first rise in over a year in BDO’s Output Index reflects the beginning of this new slower rate of growth.
However, despite the positive indications of steady growth, BDO’s Inflation Index – which reflects the costs of goods – and BDO’s Optimism Index – which indicates how firms expect their order books to develop in the coming six months – provide warnings of a bumpy road ahead in 2017 for British businesses and the economy.
The Inflation Index, which now sits at 103.6 and is above the long-run trend of inflation, suggests that inflation will rise further as firms start to feel the effect of higher input costs. In addition, consumers are still yet to experience the full effect on the costs of goods following the sharp fall in the value of sterling. Rising inflation could markedly dent consumer spending in 2017, an essential component of our economy’s growth.
Business optimism continues to fall and now sits at 98.0, down from 98.5 in October. The optimism sub-index for the services industry continues to slump and now sits at 98.7 from 99.8. Manufacturers, on the other hand, which make up a significantly smaller proportion of UK businesses, have more reasons to celebrate as the cheaper pound contributes to their products being more attractive for overseas buyers. Its optimism sub-index has increased from 92.0 to 94.1.
Martin Gill, head of BDO LLP in Scotland, said: “This uptick in business output is a welcome boost during a turbulent time for Scottish businesses and the whole economy. However, businesses remain nervous during this period of Brexit limbo and this nervousness is a significant contributor to the slower rate of growth we are seeing.
“The UK and Scottish governments can help with this. But the Autumn Statement, with its promises of only tiny increases in infrastructure spending was a disappointment. The output from Thursday’s Scottish Budget announcement remains to be seen but is likely to be cautious.
“This is a real contrast to the impact of Donald Trump on the US investment scene. There, fears of inflationary spending mean that US Treasuries have ceased to be a one-way bet, exactly what is needed to stimulate productive investment in these unusual times. A big tent approach to Brexit strategy, involving UK business in decision making, will also help.”
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