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UK companies endure listless December, PMI shows

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers hit the Boxing Day sales in London

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's services sector ended 2022 in lacklustre fashion, with new orders falling and hiring frozen during December, according to a survey on Thursday that highlighted the likelihood that Britain is already in recession.

The S&P Global/CIPS UK Services Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for December was revised down to 49.9 from an earlier flash reading of 50.0, indicating a very mild contraction in business activity.

While it marked an improvement from November's reading of 48.8, new business contracted for a second month running and the survey's employment index fell to its lowest level since February 2021.

The survey came a day after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised to tackle Britain's most pressing problems, with pledges to halve inflation, grow the economy and reducing debt.

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"UK service providers ended the year with another downturn in new orders as strong inflationary pressures and worries about the economic outlook sapped demand," said Tim Moore, economics director at S&P Global.

The survey tallied with other gauges of Britain's economy that point to a recession and cooling cost pressures, despite consumer price inflation running above 10%.

The composite PMI, which combines the services survey with Tuesday's manufacturing PMI, rose in December to 49.0 from 48.2 in November, unrevised from the earlier flash reading.

"Survey respondents commented on squeezed disposable incomes, elevated recession risks and a housing market downturn as key factors likely to constrain demand in the year ahead," Moore said.

The latest Reuters poll of economists points to a 0.9% contraction for Britain's economy in 2023.

(Reporting by Andy Bruce; editing by John Stonestreet)