UK borrowing surges to record $162 billion in first 3 months - GulfToday

UK borrowing surges to record $162 billion in first 3 months


Rishi Sunak leaves Downing Street to participate in a cabinet meeting on Tuesday. Agence France-Presse

British government borrowing surged to a record 128 billion pounds ($162 billion) in the first three months of the 2020-21 financial year, when COVID-19 lockdown measures were tightest, more than double the entire previous year’s borrowing.

Last week, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) Rishi Sunak set out up to 30 billion pounds of new measures, partly to encourage businesses to take workers back when he ends a furlough scheme supporting more than 9 million jobs in October.

Public sector debt, excluding state-owned banks, stayed a fraction below the milestone of 100% of gross domestic product it appeared to pass in May, after an upward revision to GDP, and now stands at 1.984 trillion pounds or 99.6% of GDP.

This is still the highest debt burden since the 1960s, the statistics office said.

“Over the medium-term, we must, and we will, put our public finances back on a sustainable footing,” Sunak said on Tuesday.

Most economists think British government borrowing this year will be its largest since World War Two relative to the size of the economy.

Borrowing in June, excluding state-owned banks, was 35.5 billion pounds, the government statistics office said. That was five times more than a year earlier though below economists’ average forecast of 41.5 billion pounds in a Reuters poll, following a big downward revision for May.

April, May and June made up the three highest months of borrowing in Britain’s history, even though spending on job support was lower than first estimated, and tax revenues higher, the Office for National Statistics said.

“Borrowing is still rising at an exceptional rate and we suspect that a slowdown in the recovery and further rise in unemployment later this year will prompt the government to announce additional fiscal spending at the next Budget,” said Thomas Pugh, UK economist at Capital Economics.

Bond markets have been happy to finance this borrowing, however. Last week Britain sold a three-year bond with a record-low negative yield - meaning investors will receive back less than they lent - and longer-term borrowing costs are also near a record low.

Britain’s government has announced extra spending and tax cuts worth around 192 billion pounds for this financial year, and last week its Office for Budget Responsibility estimated borrowing would hit 322 billion pounds or just over 16% of GDP.

This figure is based on a scenario where the economy shrinks by 12.4% over 2020, and the unemployment rate rises to its highest since 1984 at 11.9% by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, grocery sales in Britain rose 10% year-on-year in the four weeks to July 11, slowing from previous weeks as COVID-19 restrictions were eased to allow hospitality and leisure outlets to reopen in England, industry data showed on Tuesday.

Market researcher Nielsen said the growth was down from 14% in last month’s report. The government allowed pubs, cafes and restaurants in England to reopen on July 4, giving people an alternative to eating at home.

Nielsen said online grocery purchases leapt 115% year-on-year, accounting for a record 14% of all grocery spending in the United Kingdom.

Morrisons was the best performer of Britain’s so-called “big four” supermarket groups in the 12 weeks to July 11, with sales growth of 15.7%, followed by market leader Tesco with growth of 12% and No. 2 Sainsbury’s with growth of 10.2%. Walmart owned Asda was again the laggard with growth of 8.7%.

The big four’s growth was dwarfed by Iceland, whose sales surged 30.4% as shoppers bought more frozen food.

German-owned discounters Aldi and Lidl saw a marginal loss of market share, partly reflecting their lack of a major online offer.

Looking at the full 16 week UK lockdown period, Nielsen said shoppers spent a total of 49 billion pounds ($62 billion) on groceries and general merchandise - an extra 3.2 billion pounds compared with the same period last year.

Shopping habits also changed, with the number of visits down but the amount spent on each visit up. Also of the incremental spend, 47% of it was made at convenience stores, Nielsen found.

Separately, the pound briefly rose above $1.27 for the first time in six weeks on Tuesday as optimism over a coronavirus vaccine and an EU agreement on a crucial recovery fund enabled it to extend the previous day’s rally.

The currency had enjoyed its best day in three-weeks on Monday, lifted by the generally buoyant market mood which allowed investors to overlook poor British economic data and lack of concrete progress on Brexit trade talks.


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