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UK on course for a deep recession as downturn worsens

Recession in the final quarter looks almost a certainty as business activity declines. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA
Recession in the final quarter looks almost a certainty as business activity declines. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA

Britain could be headed towards a deep recession as new figures show the economic downturn worsened in October.

S&P Global's flash UK purchasing managers index (PMI) fell to 47.2, down from 49.1 in September. Economists had expected a reading of 48.1.

A number below 50 indicates a contraction, while above 50 indicates growth.

The services barometer came in at 47.5, down from 50.0 in the previous month. Flash UK manufacturing output rose to 45.6, from 44.2 in September — a three-month high.

Meanwhile, flash manufacturing PMI registered 45.8 in October, down from 48.4 the month before, and a 29-month low.

Read more: FTSE 100 lower as Conservative leadership race heats up

Gross domestic product (GDP) "looks certain to fall in the fourth quarter after a likely contraction in the third", Chris Williamson, chief business economist at S&P Global, said.

The composite showed private sector output fell for the third month in a row as new orders declined at the sharpest pace since January 2021. That was attributed to a considerable downturn in business and consumer confidence in recent months and adds to signs of weakening underlying demand.

Businesses reported a steep fall in expectations for the year ahead, with optimism at its lowest since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in April 2020.

Companies cited intense inflationary pressures, escalating political uncertainty and rising interest rates as the most common reasons for downbeat sentiment this month.

"October's flash PMI data showed the pace of economic decline gathering momentum after the recent political and financial market upheavals," Williamson added.

"The heightened political and economic uncertainty has caused business activity to fall at a rate not seen since the global financial crisis in 2009 if pandemic lockdown months are excluded.

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Analysts say that the fall in inflationary costs could see members of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee (MPS) turn down their "appetite" for hawkish interest rates increases.

Martin Beck, chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club, said: "More evidence of economic weakness, combined with signs of less heated inflationary pressures, should, all else equal, tone down the MPC's appetite to raise interest rates substantially in its November meeting.

"The reversal of almost all the mini-budget's tax cuts and the possibility of further fiscal tightening in the forthcoming fiscal statement point in the same direction.

"The EY ITEM Club now expects the MPC to raise rates by 75bps in November, a position to which retreating market rate expectations (down from a predicted rise of 150bps in late September to below 100bps at present) are moving closer."

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"With a jump in the base rate looking likely and tax rules toughened, they will now be calculating the long-term fallout of a tumultuous month for the country," Jeavon Lolay, head of economics and market insight at Lloyds.

"This is restricting recruitment, pushing prices higher and limiting investment that might support growth as the economy recovers."

Read more: Pound extends gains as Rishi Sunak poised to become prime minister

Separate figures showed the picture for Europe's economic prospects is gloomy.

Business activity in the eurozone suffered its biggest contraction in nearly two years, adding to signs that the trading bloc is entering a recession due to rising prices and tumbling output among services and manufacturing firms.

"The eurozone economy looks set to contract in the fourth quarter given the steepening loss of output and deteriorating demand picture seen in October, adding to speculation that a recession is looking increasingly inevitable," said Williamson.

Watch: What is a recession and how do we spot one?