The economic recovery is already taking shape nicely – and the shape looks increasingly like a “V” after all. Despite this, many commentators are still pessimistic and even eager to emphasise the downside risks. It is time to view the glass as “half full” instead.
Let us start with what we already know. The economy shrank by an unprecedented 25 per cent in just two months between February and April, but it could have been even worse. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s projections for the public finances are still based on a 35 per cent fall in GDP, sustained for a full three months. The Bank of England had warned of a 30 per cent decline.
What’s more, there is now ample evidence that April was indeed the trough, and that activity picked up sharply in both May and June, even while large parts of the economy were still in lockdown. This evidence includes surveys of business activity, such as the Purchasing Managers Indices (PMIs) published by Markit. The handful of official numbers released so far have generally been better than expected too, including a 12 per cent jump in retail sales last month.
Indeed, both the OBR and the Chief Economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, have now acknowledged that the economy is performing less badly than either had predicted. Even the record level of Government borrowing is slightly below the path that the OBR had pencilled in.
Of course, it is still too much to hope for a neatly symmetrical “V”-shaped recovery, where GDP returns to its pre-crisis level as quickly as it fell. But the latest data suggest that the UK economy should get back close to this level much sooner than many had anticipated, and the picture will look far more like a “V” than the “U”, or even “L”, that some had feared.
In the meantime, some households have been hit disproportionately hard, including many poorer families and the self-employed. Many of those on the Government’s furlough scheme are worried about losing their jobs when it ends. Nonetheless, most households have actually built up their savings during the lockdown. Pent-up demand is therefore still likely to be strong.