Five key questions for the UK economy

5 August 2020

By Tim Pemberton

The UK government faces tough decisions as it tries to control coronavirus at the same time as reopening society and reigniting economic growth. We look at five key questions that could help determine their tactics – and the country’s economic outlook.

How prevalent is the virus?

Infection rates have fallen dramatically since the early weeks of the UK’s outbreak. On 30 July, the number of confirmed new cases was 763, compared with a peak of 5,487 on 24 April. Daily COVID-19 deaths have also plummeted.

As a result, the UK ‘R-rate’ – the average number of people that each infected person passes the virus to – was believed to be 0.7 to 0.9. At that level, case numbers will continue to fall. However, there are concerns over local and regional outbreaks, and experience in Europe suggests infection rates could rise again.

What is the economic hit so far?

The economic hit from COVID-19 can be divided into two phases: lost output as a consequence of enforced closures between March and May; and then – more importantly – lost output as a result of the financial consequences of those closures for businesses and households from June onwards.

The UK economy contracted by 2.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, and then a record-breaking 20 per cent in April. A disappointingly small recovery in May and June means there are downside risks to our second-quarter GDP growth forecast of minus 16 per cent.

In the second phase of the crisis, we have already started to see a bounce in activity, reflecting the reopening of businesses across the country from mid-June onwards. But again, the headline numbers belie underlying consumer caution. As long as consumers fear returning to ‘normal’, the economy will continue to suffer.

57 per cent of firms surveyed by the Office for National Statistics reported lower turnover

How have consumers and businesses coped?

Despite the drop in COVID-19 case numbers since the April peak, surveys show that people remain cautious. A majority remain uncomfortable with the idea of using public transport, and only half of respondents felt comfortable to return to their normal place of work. Indeed, the percentage of people who are working from home exclusively has fallen only slightly, from 33 per cent in mid-May to 27 per cent in mid-July – well up from about 5 per cent in 2019.

In the corporate sector, 57 per cent of firms surveyed by the Office for National Statistics reported lower turnover, though a perhaps surprisingly high 26 per cent reported turnover was unaffected by the crisis. Of all surveyed businesses – those trading and those still on pause – 79 per cent were using the Job Retention Scheme, with 39 per cent answering that they were providing top-ups to the wages covered by the scheme.

Have the rescue measures worked?

The Bank of England’s 65 basis points of rate cuts and GBP300 billion of quantitative easing since the pandemic began appear to have had the desired effect: bond and money market rates have been remarkably stable and according to the latest money and credit data, effective rates on new lending and deposit rates have fallen too. Corporate borrowing has ramped up, though many small firms have been reluctant to increase their indebtedness.

The Jobs Retention Scheme has been extremely popular, but Chancellor Rishi Sunak reiterated on 8 July that it could not continue ad infinitum. Indeed, it is both an expensive policy and one which prevents people from returning to work and restarting the economy. Still, its expiry represents a huge source of uncertainty for the UK economy: how many of the 9.5 million people registered on the scheme will still have their jobs when employers have to start paying their wages in part and then in full? How many will have them three months down the line, or six months?

What will be the impact of Brexit?

The UK has formally rejected the option to extend the post-Brexit transition period, and the deadline under which it would have been able to do so has now passed. While it is still possible, in our view, that the EU would agree to an extension later in the year, that is not the UK’s policy and as such, the UK will in all likelihood move to a new trading relationship with the EU from 1 January 2021.

If a deal is struck, it may include tariff-free and quota-free goods trade, but no regulatory alignment and few provisions for services. Because of the non-tariff barriers, this would still be a disruptive event. Indeed, the difference between such a deal and no deal at all is not particularly large.

Modelling the impact of this ‘bare bones’ deal is not easy. We expect UK GDP to rise by 6.2 per cent in 2021, and indeed, it would be very hard for it not to record positive growth, given the 7.8 per cent fall we envisage in 2020.

Disclosure and disclaimer

Analyst Certification

The following analyst(s), economist(s), or strategist(s) who is(are) primarily responsible for this report, including any analyst(s) whose name(s) appear(s) as author of an individual section or sections of the report and any analyst(s) named as the covering analyst(s) of a subsidiary company in a sum-of-the-parts valuation certifies(y) that the opinion(s) on the subject security(ies) or issuer(s), any views or forecasts expressed in the section(s) of which such individual(s) is(are) named as author(s), and any other views or forecasts expressed herein, including any views expressed on the back page of the research report, accurately reflect their personal view(s) and that no part of their compensation was, is or will be directly or indirectly related to the specific recommendation(s) or views contained in this research report: Elizabeth Martins

Important disclosures

This document has been prepared and is being distributed by the Research Department of HSBC and is not for publication to other persons, whether through the press or by other means.

This document is for information purposes only and it should not be regarded as an offer to sell or as a solicitation of an offer to buy the securities or other investment products mentioned in it and/or to participate in any trading strategy. Advice in this document is general and should not be construed as personal advice, given it has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular investor. Accordingly, investors should, before acting on the advice, consider the appropriateness of the advice, having regard to their objectives, financial situation and needs. If necessary, seek professional investment and tax advice.

Certain investment products mentioned in this document may not be eligible for sale in some states or countries, and they may not be suitable for all types of investors. Investors should consult with their HSBC representative regarding the suitability of the investment products mentioned in this document and take into account their specific investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs before making a commitment to purchase investment products.

The value of and the income produced by the investment products mentioned in this document may fluctuate, so that an investor may get back less than originally invested. Certain high-volatility investments can be subject to sudden and large falls in value that could equal or exceed the amount invested. Value and income from investment products may be adversely affected by exchange rates, interest rates, or other factors. Past performance of a particular investment product is not indicative of future results.

HSBC and its affiliates will from time to time sell to and buy from customers the securities/instruments, both equity and debt (including derivatives) of companies covered in HSBC Research on a principal or agency basis or act as a market maker or liquidity provider in the securities/instruments mentioned in this report.

Analysts, economists, and strategists are paid in part by reference to the profitability of HSBC which includes investment banking, sales & trading, and principal trading revenues.

Whether, or in what time frame, an update of this analysis will be published is not determined in advance.

For disclosures in respect of any company mentioned in this report, please see the most recently published report on that company available at www.hsbcnet.com/research . HSBC Private Banking clients should contact their Relationship Manager for queries regarding other research reports. In order to find out more about the proprietary models used to produce this report, please contact the authoring analyst.

Additional disclosures

Legal entities as at 22 June 2020

‘UAE’ HSBC Bank Middle East Limited, Dubai; ‘HK’ The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, Hong Kong; ‘TW’ HSBC Securities (Taiwan) Corporation Limited; ‘CA’ HSBC Securities (Canada) Inc.; HSBC France, S.A., Madrid, Milan, Stockholm; ‘DE’ HSBC Trinkaus & Burkhardt AG, Düsseldorf; 000 HSBC Bank (RR), Moscow; ‘IN’ HSBC Securities and Capital Markets (India) Private Limited, Mumbai; ‘JP’ HSBC Securities (Japan) Limited, Tokyo; ‘EG’ HSBC Securities Egypt SAE, Cairo; ‘CN’ HSBC Investment Bank Asia Limited, Beijing Representative Office; The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, Singapore Branch; The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, Seoul Securities Branch; The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, Seoul Branch; HSBC Securities (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, Johannesburg; HSBC Bank plc, London, Tel Aviv; ‘US’ HSBC Securities (USA) Inc, New York; HSBC Yatirim Menkul Degerler AS, Istanbul; HSBC México, SA, Institución de Banca Múltiple, Grupo Financiero HSBC; HSBC Bank Australia Limited; HSBC Bank Argentina SA; HSBC Saudi Arabia Limited; The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, New Zealand Branch incorporated in Hong Kong SAR; The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, Bangkok Branch; PT Bank HSBC Indonesia; HSBC Qianhai Securities Limited; Banco HSBC S.A.

Issuer of report

HSBC Bank plc 8 Canada Square, London E14 5HQ, United Kingdom Telephone: +44 20 7991 8888 Fax: +44 20 7992 4880 Website: www.research.hsbc.com

This document is issued and approved in the United Kingdom by HSBC Bank plc for the information of its Clients (as defined in the Rules of FCA) and those of its affiliates only. If this research is received by a customer of an affiliate of HSBC, its provision to the recipient is subject to the terms of business in place between the recipient and such affiliate. In Australia, this publication has been distributed by The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (ABN 65 117 925 970, AFSL 301737) for the general information of its “wholesale” customers (as defined in the Corporations Act 2001). Where distributed to retail customers, this research is distributed by HSBC Bank Australia Limited (ABN 48 006 434 162, AFSL No. 232595). These respective entities make no representations that the products or services mentioned in this document are available to persons in Australia or are necessarily suitable for any particular person or appropriate in accordance with local law. No consideration has been given to the particular investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any recipient.

The document is distributed in Hong Kong by The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited and in Japan by HSBC Securities (Japan) Limited. Each of the companies listed above (the “Participating Companies”) is a member of the HSBC Group of Companies, any member of which may trade for its own account as Principal, may have underwritten an issue within the last 36 months or, together with its Directors, officers and employees, may have a long or short position in securities or instruments or in any related instrument mentioned in the document. Brokerage or fees may be earned by the Participating Companies or persons associated with them in respect of any business transacted by them in all or any of the securities or instruments referred to in this document. In Korea, this publication is distributed by either The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, Seoul Securities Branch (“HBAP SLS”) or The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, Seoul Branch (“HBAP SEL”) for the general information of professional investors specified in Article 9 of the Financial Investment Services and Capital Markets Act (“FSCMA”). This publication is not a prospectus as defined in the FSCMA. It may not be further distributed in whole or in part for any purpose. Both HBAP SLS and HBAP SEL are regulated by the Financial Services Commission and the Financial Supervisory Service of Korea. This publication is distributed in New Zealand by The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, New Zealand Branch incorporated in Hong Kong SAR.

The information in this document is derived from sources the Participating Companies believe to be reliable but which have not been independently verified. The Participating Companies make no guarantee of its accuracy and completeness and are not responsible for errors of transmission of factual or analytical data, nor shall the Participating Companies be liable for damages arising out of any person’s reliance upon this information. All charts and graphs are from publicly available sources or proprietary data. The opinions in this document constitute the present judgement of the Participating Companies, which is subject to change without notice. From time to time research analysts conduct site visits of covered issuers. HSBC policies prohibit research analysts from accepting payment or reimbursement for travel expenses from the issuer for such visits.

This document is neither an offer to sell, purchase or subscribe for any investment nor a solicitation of such an offer. HSBC Securities (USA) Inc. accepts responsibility for the content of this research report prepared by its non-US foreign affiliate. All US persons receiving and/or accessing this report and intending to effect transactions in any security discussed herein should do so with HSBC Securities (USA) Inc. in the United States and not with its non-US foreign affiliate, the issuer of this report. In Singapore, this publication is distributed by The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, Singapore Branch for the general information of institutional investors or other persons specified in Sections 274 and 304 of the Securities and Futures Act (Chapter 289) (“SFA”) and accredited investors and other persons in accordance with the conditions specified in Sections 275 and 305 of the SFA. Only Economics or Currencies reports are intended for distribution to a person who is not an Accredited Investor, Expert Investor or Institutional Investor as defined in SFA. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, Singapore Branch accepts legal responsibility for the contents of reports pursuant to Regulation 32C(1)(d) of the Financial Advisers Regulations. This publication is not a prospectus as defined in the SFA. This publication is not a prospectus as defined in the SFA. It may not be further distributed in whole or in part for any purpose. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited Singapore Branch is regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Recipients in Singapore should contact a “Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, Singapore Branch” representative in respect of any matters arising from, or in connection with this report. Please refer to The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited Singapore Branch’s website at www.business.hsbc.com.sg for contact details. HSBC México, S.A., Institución de Banca Múltiple, Grupo Financiero HSBC is authorized and regulated by Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público and Comisión Nacional Bancaria y de Valores (CNBV).

The document is intended to be distributed in its entirety. Unless governing law permits otherwise, you must contact a HSBC Group member in your home jurisdiction if you wish to use HSBC Group services in effecting a transaction in any investment mentioned in this document. HSBC Bank plc is registered in England No 14259, is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority and is a member of the London Stock Exchange. (070905)

In Canada, this document has been distributed by HSBC Securities (Canada) Inc. (member IIROC), and/or its affiliates. The information contained herein is under no circumstances to be construed as investment advice in any province or territory of Canada and is not tailored to the needs of the recipient. No securities commission or similar regulatory authority in Canada has reviewed or in any way passed judgment upon these materials, the information contained herein or the merits of the securities described herein, and any representation to the contrary is an offense. In Brazil, this document has been distributed by Banco HSBC S.A. (“HSBC Brazil”), and/or its affiliates. As required by Instruction No. 598/18 of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Brazil (Comissão de Valores Mobiliários), potential conflicts of interest concerning (i) HSBC Brazil and/or its affiliates; and (ii) the analyst(s) responsible for authoring this report are stated on the chart above labelled “HSBC & Analyst Disclosures”.

If you are an HSBC Private Banking (“PB”) customer with approval for receipt of relevant research publications by an applicable HSBC legal entity, you are eligible to receive this publication. To be eligible to receive such publications, you must have agreed to the applicable HSBC entity’s terms and conditions (“KRC Terms”) for access to the KRC, and the terms and conditions of any other internet banking service offered by that HSBC entity through which you will access research publications using the KRC. Distribution of this publication is the sole responsibility of the HSBC entity with whom you have agreed the KRC Terms.

If you do not meet the aforementioned eligibility requirements please disregard this publication and, if you are a customer of PB, please notify your Relationship Manager. Receipt of research publications is strictly subject to the KRC Terms, which can be found at https://research.privatebank.hsbc.com/ – we draw your attention also to the provisions contained in the Important Notes section therein.

© Copyright 2020, HSBC Bank plc, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, on any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of HSBC Bank plc. MCI (P) 077/12/2019, MCI (P) 016/02/2020