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Economic Week In Review | Issue 413 | 22 January 2024

UK construction and property

  • Wages | Workers covered by the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI) will see their pay rise by 11.3% this year and 5.5% next year, as well as improvements to sick pay. The deal means workers at Sellafield Nuclear facility and several oil fields will cancel planned industrial action.
  • SME Home Builders | The latest report from the Home Builders Federation (HBF), State of play: Challenges and Opportunities facing SME Home Builders showed that 46% of SMEs reported a 30%+ rise in the costs associated with achieving planning consent. The survey was carried out before the most recent rise in planning costs.
  • Nuclear infrastructure | A Development Consent Order has been officially triggered for Sizewell C. After being granted planning permission in 2022, several obligations which need to be satisfied before construction could begin – such as key road surveys and governance groups – have now been completed. Before construction can start, the government must raise £20bn from outside investors through a mix of debt and equity, which can be recouped through a surcharge on energy bills.
  • UK nuclear | Six of the UK’s nine nuclear reactors are currently offline for maintenance, according to EDF.
  • Data centres | Google has announced plans to build a £789m data centre at Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, having bought the land in October 2020.
  • Street works | The government has launched a consultation on increasing fines for utility companies whose roadworks overrun. Currently, £10,000 per day fines can be charged if works overrun into working days. The plans will allow for fines if overruns carry into the weekends and bank holidays and will double fines up to a maximum of £1,000 for breaching job conditions, such as working without a permit.

Materials and commodities

  • Gas network providers have said that debates over the future of domestic heating have made it hard for energy regulators to assess how much network owners should be allowed to invest and charge customers. Changes to plans could leave pipeline upgrades being counterproductive if government policy focusses on heat pumps and decommissioning of existing gas pipelines.
  • Bricks | Ibstock announced plans to close another factory due to falling sales to the housebuilding market. Together with the closure of its Ravenhead factory which was announced in the summer, the closures will cost £15m but will deliver £20m of savings a year.
  • Tata Steel announced plans to close both its blast furnaces at Port Talbot, losing 3,000 jobs UK-wide. The steelworks will be converted to electric arc furnaces to reduce carbon emissions.

UK economy

  • Post-Brexit checks scheduled to be introduced at the end of January have come under fresh criticism. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) warns that the checks will be an “existential threat” to the UK’s fruit and flower growers, as they rely on importing young plants from the EU. The checks have already been postponed five times since January 2021.
  • UK council debt | The Public Accounts Committee has warned that debt at UK councils has reached staggering levels and could pose a risk to local services. Council leaders claim that years of government underfunding have forced councils to invest in commercial ventures which have failed. Woking Borough Council is the most indebted local authority, owing over £2bn, but is committed to spending £605m on residential skyscrapers and £495m on a housing development which was scrapped in October.
  • Welsh independence | The Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales has concluded that independence in Wales is a “viable” option. Still, it would face a “significant” short to medium-term challenge in raising enough tax revenue to fund public services.
  • Sustainable business tracker | The latest tracker from NatWest showed the fastest rise in overall UK SME output since May 2023, and business optimism amongst SMEs has reached its highest level since March 2022. The tracker monitors UK enterprises’ business performance and sustainability actions with 1-249 employees. However, it also reported that sustainability actions had become less of a priority.
  • Housing affordability has reached a 148-year low, according to the Financial Times. Throughout most of the 20th century, the average UK house price was roughly four times the average earnings. Today, that figure has doubled.
  • Consumer prices | The average annual pace of consumer price inflation increased in December to 4%. Inflation in the services sector – which accounts for 80% of output – is proving to be ‘sticky’.

Global economy

  • US election | Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has dropped out of the US presidential race, endorsing Donald Trump as the Republican candidate.
  • China’s population has declined for the second year running. The latest data showed a population of 1.409bn at the end of 2023 – a fall of 2.08m when compared to 2022. 2021 saw China’s fall for the first time in 60 years.
  • Japanese inflation slowed for a second month, encouraging bankers to hold off on ending their policy of negative rates. The Bank of Japan has not increased central rates since 2007.

Environment

  • Carbon capture | Development consent has been given for the North Yorkshire power station Drax to build the world’s largest carbon capture facility, however, the £2bn project across two biomass units is dependent upon government funding.
  • Greenland’s ice sheet is disappearing faster than previously understood. A new study has shown that the amount lost from the glacier between 1985 and 2022 was underestimated by 20%.

Friday to Friday

Price / Index Week %
change
Annual %
change
FTSE 100 7,461.93 -2.14 -3.97
FTSE 250 18,864.37 -1.74 -4.25
Nikkei 36,414.32 2.35 37.14
CSI 300 3,268.46 -0.48 -21.84
S&P 500 4,839.81 1.17 21.83
Nasdaq 15,310.97 2.26 37.44
CAC 40 7,371.64 -1.25 5.37
Dax 16,555.13 -0.89 10.12
$ per £ 1.2675 -0.55 2.46
€ per £ 1.1643 0.11 1.93
Gold £/oz 1,592.31 -0.91 2.51
Brent Oil $/barrel 78.56 0.34 -10.35

Weekly Summary

Much of the week’s news has focussed on the implications of the risks to global trade due to the escalating geopolitical risks in the Red Sea, however, is the era of fast news helping us to navigate risk and threat in our industry, or adding to it?

 

Author contact

Rachel Coleman
Rachel Coleman,
Associate Research Analyst