Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Bank of England's inflation report contains (on p.38) a GDP forecast that confirms the general view that recovery is now under way. From the end of this year, the Bank expects growth of around 2.5% per year. This is welcome news.

Also welcome is the Bank's stated intention 'not to raise Bank Rate from its current level of 0.5% at least until the ... unemployemnt rate has fallen to a threshold of 7%' (subject to certain conditions on inflation and financial stability, p.7). This should provide sufficient certainty to ensure that market rates of interest are anchored, allowing, for example, lenders to offer longer term loans at fixed, low interest rates, and thus boosting the economy.

Under such conditions of stable and low interest rates, the Bank expects unemployment to fall gradually from its current level of 7.8%, reaching 7% around the middle of 2015. It should be noted, however, that 7% remains a couple of percentage points above the Bank's own estimate of the long run equilibrium (p.29). There remains a lot of slack in the economy.

A variety of recent statistical releases suggest that the economy is, at last, recovering. The latest run of my neural network forecasting model, based on industrial production data up to June of this year, is reported below.

This indicates a marked recovery, indeed so marked that it will quickly be followed by a downturn. This prediction should be treated with a great deal of caution (and even scepticism). The sharpness of the recovery is probably exaggerated, and so too, therefore is the likelihood of a quick reversal. I suspect that this - and the considerably less sanguine predictions that I reported on 17 July - reflect some inaccuracies in the published data for May. At that stage, the industrial production index had remained static for four months; the June figure, alongside various other indicators, renders the figure for May suspect.

Other positive statistics released recently include the second quarter estimate for GDP growth (0.6% over the quarter) and a rapid growth of retail sales noted by the British Retail Consortium.

Added note: If the industrial production figure for May is indeed downwardly biased, then that has implications for the forecast reported here. Supposing the value of the industrial production index in May should have been 95.5 (rather than 95.3), the forecaster would still lead us to expect recovery over the coming year, but it is much more modest and short lived. This serves to reinforce the point that, while several indicators give grounds for optimism, caution is still needed in interpreting the data.