Thursday, June 11, 2009

The National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) has released its latest estimates of monthly GDP for the UK. These suggest that GDP has grown in each of the last two months, and that the trough of the recession was in March of this year.

NIESR has a good track record, and its estimates deserve to be taken seriously. This being the case, the news is very encouraging. Indeed, it would mean that the recession has been unusually short, in spite of the severity of the downturn in the last quarter of 2008 and first quarter of 2009.

My expectation has been that we would start to see a recovery in the last quarter of this year or the first quarter of next. It would be nice to be proved wrong if it were to mean that recovery comes sooner than I expected. But there is still room for caution. Recessions do usually last longer than three or four quarters. And in any event, the recovery in output growth typically leads recovery in the labour market by up to two years. So, unfortunately, unemployment is still set to rise for a while to come.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Barry Eichengreen and Kevin O'Rourke have recently provided comparisons of the current state of the global economy and that which prevailed in 1929. Their early comparisons generated some alarm in that the pattern of the Great Depression seemed to be replicated in the current data. The most recent update suggests that there is now room for cautious optimism. Over the last couple of months, the decline in world economic output has slowed, suggesting the possibility that we may be near a turning point. Stock markets have also recovered somewhat over that period.

There is further reason for this optimism. The policy response has been much more aggressive this time around. Using a 7 country average, Eichengreen and O'Rourke show that interest rates are now close to zero, while in the 1929 crisis they remained at around 4 per cent.

While the overall outlook is starting to improve, there are some countries where the immediate prospects still look very bleak. Output is still falling rapidly in Italy and France, for example. It is still some weeks before we shall see the official UK data for the second quarter of 2009 - we shall all await those with interest.