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UK economy’s growth points to exit from recession

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Britain’s tepid economy is on course to exit a shallow recession after output grew for a second month in a row in February, and January’s reading was revised higher, official data showed last week.

Gross domestic product expanded by 0.1 per cent in monthly terms in February, as expected in a Reuters poll of economists.

January’s reading was revised to show growth of 0.3 per cent, up from 0.2 per cent earlier, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The data confirm Britain’s economy started 2024 on a stronger footing, with the three-month average growth rate rising to 0.2 per cent in February from zero in January – the highest such reading since August.

The figures are also likely to reinforce the Bank of England’s cautious tone around the prospect for interest rate cuts, with the economy on track to slightly exceed the central bank’s expectation for a 0.1 per cent expansion in the first quarter.

Britain fell into recession in the second half of last year, leaving Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with a challenge to reassure voters that the economy is safe with him before an election expected later this year.

“These figures are a welcome sign that the economy is turning a corner,” finance minister Jeremy Hunt said in response to Friday’s data.

The opposition Labour Party, far ahead in opinion polls, said Britain was worse off with low growth after 14 years of Conservative government.

Business surveys suggest growth continued in March.

The ONS said Britain could now escape recession even if GDP contracts sharply in March by around 1 per cent – assuming there are no revisions to prior months’ data.

Despite the tentative recovery, GDP remains below its level of June 2023, before the latest downturn took place, and has stayed broadly flat since early 2022.

“While recession concerns are disappearing into the rear-view mirror, the longer-term outlook is still difficult, with the lagged impact of earlier interest rate hikes and chronic supply side constraints likely to continue limiting the UK’s growth potential,” Suren Thiru, economics director at ICAEW, an accountancy industry body, said.

Economic output was 0.2 per cent lower than its level in February 2023 – a little better than the 0.4 per cent gap predicted by economists.

The services sector which dominates the economy grew by 0.1 per cent in monthly terms in February, as expected. But manufacturing output exceeded forecasts, rising 1.2 per cent on the month. Construction sank 1.9 per cent, the biggest drop in just over a year.

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