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Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Employee demand falling at a record pace

A report published today by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and KPMG showed a sizable weakening in the labour market and the demand for employees.

According to the press release that accompanied the report...

...For the third consecutive month, recruitment consultants reported declines in permanent and temporary staff pay during December. Anecdotal evidence suggested that rapidly rising levels of staff availability had diluted candidates’ bargaining power.

Reflective of recent redundancies and fewer job opportunities, the availability of staff to fill vacancies continued to rise substantially in December. The latest improvements in permanent and temporary staff availability were the strongest since the inception of the survey in October 1997.

Kevin Green, Chief Executive of the REC, said:“These figures are deeply worrying and show that the contraction in the labour market is now rapidly accelerating. The decline in both permanent and temporary appointments in December is the sharpest recorded since the survey began in 1997.

“At a time when the Government is proposing job creation measures, the REC will be seeking urgent meetings with the Government about its proposed removal of the VAT concession in April. This change could help retain 150,000 temporary jobs at a time when we should all be working together to create employment opportunities, not taxing them out of existence."

Mike Stevens, Partner and Head of Business Services at KPMG, added: “These latest figures only serve to confirm the most pessimistic projections for the UK jobs market. They are also a lead indicator for a rapidly declining employment situation which is not yet reflected in the government's current employment statistics. One reason for this is that employment legislation – enacted since the last recession – tends to defer the incidence of job losses pending completion of consultation periods."

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Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Some stability but a long long road ahead

It seems that the rescue packages that have been implemented across the globe have started to have an impact upon bringing back a little stability to the financial markets. However, this is only the beginning of the problems for the real economy.

Economies throughout the developed world contracted in the third quarter of 2008 and this contraction is likely to continue and deepen as the imbalances in their economies unravel and the debt fuelled expansion is brought to a halt.

As a result many of these economies will be in recession by the end of the year and are likely to continue to shrink in 2009. Next year is going to be tough.

It is highly likely that unemployment in nearly all developed countries will rise sharply next year. For example it has been forecast that over one million more people in the UK could be unemployed by the end of 2009.

There are however some positives. Inflation looks like it has now peaked across the globe giving central banks the freedom to cut interest rates and stimulate the economy. Falling prices, particularly of fuel and food, will help to boost consumer confidence as real wage rates rise.

Finally it looks likely that Obama will win the US presidential election today. If this is the case, a new president the popular and political support should be able to act decisively and extensively to stimulate the economic recovery in the US.

For now I suggest getting ready for a very long 2009.

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Saturday, 6 September 2008

Credit crunch continued but now with an end in sight

The credit crunch is now over a year old but to many it must feel like it is a lot longer. Those working in banking, housing or retail have felt the direct impact of failing financial markets, rising borrowing costs and higher food and energy bills. These problems are not going to sort themselves out soon.

Financial markets still have a long way before they will be back to normal. According to the Nationwide today, they do not expect an end to the current problems until 2010. It seems likely that the banking industry will have to go through a long period of painful adjustment.

Without a return to normal banking conditions we will not see an end to higher and retricted borrowing. Therefore it will remain difficult for consumers and businesses to get debt for a mortgage or to expand their business without it being exceedingly costly. As a result housing prices will continue to fall in the UK and businesses will find it very hard to expand.

As the problems continue more and more businesses will be forced to cut headcounts and unemployment will continue to rise. This will have a further negative impact upon the economy as those without work will be forced to stop spending and those still in work will reduce spending in preparation of potential unemployment.

But there are now a few signs of what should help to bring the current downturn to a halt and start the economic recovery. It seems that some parts of the economy are now beginning to work as expected. With the economy slowing demand for goods such as food and oil are declining, and therefore, following the simple rules of supply and demand, prices have fallen. Oil is now $40 below its peak and food prices across the board are down. Wheat is currently slightly cheaper than it was a year ago.

Falling prices will aid economic recovery in two ways. The most obvious is that consumers will have more money to spend on other things. Given that many of the commodities that have risen so sharply in price over the last year were imported, the rising cost has had a net negative impact on the economy, having a greater negative impact on consumers and businesses than the benefit given to domestic producers of these commodities.

The second and more significant impact of falling prices is the impact it has on inflation. Across the globe rising prices have pushed up inflation. This has limited many central banks, such as the ECB and the Bank of England, in their ability to cut interest rates. The fall in commodity prices will aid the ability of the ECB and the Bank of England to cut interest rates, helping to cut borrowing costs and aid economic growth.

One further upside of potentially lower interest rates is that it will cut the valuw of the pound and the euro. This should help to stimulate exports as they become relatively cheaper. Its not good for those of us about to travel abroad, but it should have a net positive impact upon the British and European economies. Given that some of the earlier oil prices were also stimulated by a weak dollar, a weakening euro may even help to push oil prices down further.

So there is a potential end in sight for the credit crunch and its associated economic problems. This end is over a year away, the US, UK and eurozone economies will probably see recessions but with an end in sight it is easier to prepare for the year ahead and put yourself in the best position to weather the storm and take advantage where possible.

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Thursday, 6 March 2008

Decisions decisions – the outlook for interest rates

Today saw the Bank of England keep interest rates on hold at 5.25 per cent, following a cut in February. Many people had been expecting this decision given that all the signs are pointing towards a period of higher inflation with both input and output prices rising, and commodity prices hitting record highs.

The economy also seems to be weather the storm for now, reducing the imperative for the Bank to cut rates immediately. Recent January retail sales figures as well as improvements in both the manufacturing and services purchase managers’ index indicated that the economy was still expanded, and was not in a period of universal suffering. Most significantly, the labour market has continued to perform well. Although wage growth has been squeezed in both the public and private sector, the number of jobs in the economy continues to grow, whilst the numbers of those claiming unemployment benefits continue to fall.

Despite a selection of “good news” stories, the outlook remains grim, and underlying problems are starting to show themselves. As a result, the primary reason why the Bank of England didn’t cut interest rates was because the short term outlook for inflation has increased, stifling the Banks ability to pre-empt the slow down in the UK economy. Inflationary pressures have been growing as a result of rising energy and food prices. These are clearly outside of the control of the Bank, which can now only hope for a good harvest, increased output from OPEC and a more stable international commodity market.

Higher prices not only reduce the ability of the Bank of England to cut interest rates, they also squeeze the consumer. With consumers seeing food prices rise by around 6 per cent over the past 12 months they have been forced to reduce their spending on other items. The crisis in the banking sector has seen lenders increase their margins which has resulted in mortgage repayment rates remaining high, despite the cuts in the base rate, resulting in mortgage interest repayments rising by over 16 per cent in the past 12 months. Household budgets have become increasingly stretched, and with few savings the consumer is likely to cut spending on non-essential goods over the rest of the year.

The housing market also continues to slow. According to both the Halifax and Nationwide house price indices prices have fallen in each of the past four months. Although this will not directly impact upon those who are not moving house, those that do move may face negative equity. The housing market has also allowed many to re-mortgage and release equity in their houses over the past two years which has helped to fund increases in spending. With falling house prices and less capital to lend, the ability to release equity is becoming increasingly difficult.

Another worrying sign is the revival of the spread between Libor and base rates. Libor indicates the interest rate that banks are willing to lend to one another. When there is a lack of credit or banks are worried about the risk of lending in the financial market, they will withdraw their credit, making it increasingly expensive to borrow money – increasing the Libor rate. The Libor spread had fallen steadily since the start of the year, but with expectations of further losses in the banking sector, it is once again increasing. This suggests that the worst is not yet over in the banking market, and it is far from getting back to a normal lending environment. As a result banks will continue to charge higher interest rates to both businesses and consumers.

So why hasn’t the Bank cut rates as rapidly as the Federal Reserve? There are two reasons for this. On the one hand the economy in the UK is not as bad as the US. The US economy has seen much larger losses in both the housing market and the financial sector. The economy appears to be shrinking and jobs are being lost. The other reason is that the Bank is far more tied to the inflation target of 2 per cent than the Federal Reserve which has a broader remit to maintain economic and inflationary stability.

Nevertheless the Bank will cut interest rates this year and next. Inflationary pressures are likely to limit interest rates in the next eight months. I would expect there to be just two 25bp cuts between now and September. However, as the economy slows and prices fall, and the rapid rise in prices at the end of last year fall out of the annual growth rate equation, the Bank will have the scope to cut interest rates more rapidly. I would expect further interest cuts at the end of the year, with perhaps even a 50bp cut before the start of 2009.

I remain positive that the UK won’t enter a recession in 2008, however, it will be a very tough year for many people and things will get worse before they get better. I would not be surprised to see unemployment start to rise in the next few months and the claimant count could well rise past one million, up from about 850,000 at the moment. With higher unemployment, wage growth is likely to remain low, and bonuses are unlikely to look particularly healthy. Expect plenty of disappointment in 2008, with fewer jobs about, lower wages and more stress its not going to be the nicest place to have a job – but it’ll be far better than having no job at all.

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Thursday, 6 December 2007

Interest rate cuts

With the Bank of England cutting interest rates today it seems like some of my predictions for 2008 seem to be coming true - not that they were that hard to see. Hopefully the Bank has acted quick enough to stem some of the worst outcomes for the year.

The housing market will slow but if rates continue to fall then those people who have been holding off buying may start to come back into the market and look for bargains. This could help to keep prices from falling too far.

The banking crisis will continue to be a problem for both the banking sector and the wider economy. However, this positive move by the bank could help to reduce the cost of commercial borrowing and start to reduce the risk premium banks have currently placed upon borrowing. As a result businesses will struggle to find capital to expand but by the middle of the year liquidity problems could start to lessen.

The consumer is set to be squeezed in 2008. The previous interest rate cuts will hit home owners, especially with many coming off their fixed rates in 2008. However, some of the major building societies have already taken the positive steps of reducing their mortgage costs as a result of today's cut.

There continue to be many downsides facing the economy in 2008, however I think we must avoid talking ourselves into a recession. There are upsides and downsides. A period of slower growth will probably be good for the economy in the long run as it will make us reconsider some of the poorer decisions made over the boom years. However a sharp slide into recession will leave scars that will take a long time to heal.

As I always mention, whatever happens, people will be losing their jobs in 2008 and as such competition at interview will become more intense. Take advantage of this site and many others to try and stay ahead of the game.

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Sunday, 11 November 2007

Things not looking up for next year

Some of the third quarter figures from the United Kingdom and the United States looked fairly positive. In particular the employment and the GDP growth figures looked pretty good without any real sign of the current credit crisis having a wider impact on the wider economy. However, don't be fooled the downturn is coming in both the UK and the US and very likely in the EU.

Early data from Q4 suggest that activity in both manufacturing and services has been slowing down in recent months. The view on the high street is that the consumer is losing confidence and are more than likely to put the breaks on spending - particularly as they have few savings to cover them over the slowdown.

The financial sector is far from over the worst of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, with a number of big banks still to declare just how much exposure they have had. This sector should expect more bad news, job losses and a much reduced pool for the Christmas bonus period.

The housing market is unlikely to see significant price falls at a national level but certain locations will see prices drop.

Therefore get prepared for next year, people will be losing jobs, wage growth will come under pressure and nothing will feel as secure. Make sure you shine and work and that your boss understands that to lose you to save money in a downturn is a bad move over the longer term. Things should get back to normal come the end of 2008, don't get stung in the meantime.

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