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WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE UK

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The Week Ahead ...
The Week Ahead

Thursday 1 May - General Election: Various opinion polls over the past week have put Labour between 16 to 21 points ahead of the Conservatives (although one rogue poll reported only a 5 point lead) and on this basis, Labour look set to win comfortably. Although the size of their majority is difficult to predict, it should see them through a full five year term.

09.30 Friday 2 May - Halifax house prices (April): Rising earnings and the associated growth in consumer confidence have helped boost the market in recent months, particularly in the South East. With this in mind, we would expect further increases in house prices of 8% plus (annually).

The Week Just Past

The preliminary estimate of first quarter GDP growth was slightly higher than expected, increasing by 1.0% on the previous quarter to stand 3.0% up on a year earlier. Growth has been led by buoyant consumer spending with retailers amongst the beneficiaries. Revisions to the figure will probably depend on the extent of sterling's depressing effects on export growth over the first quarter which is as yet unclear.

Retail sales volumes rose by 0.3% in March to stand 4.0% higher than a year earlier. The data have proved rather volatile in recent months, and interpretation of March's figure is further complicated by the problems of seasonal adjustment over the Easter period. Nevertheless, activity in the sector - which remains highly competitive - is clearly buoyant.

Wednesday saw the release of the CBI's April Industrial Trends Survey of the manufacturing sector. The main story continues to be on the export front with new orders falling over the past four months leading to a deterioration in confidence about overseas trade in the short term. Almost three quarters of firms surveyed - the highest in almost 16 years - saw pricing as their main hurdle for winning new export orders over the months ahead. Domestic demand saw some improvement, feeding through into modest output growth. But inflationary pressures remain dormant with no capacity pressures evident and firms unable to pass on any price increases. Sterling's strength has allowed continued reductions in raw material input costs, however, keeping pressure of margins.

The UK's trade gap widened in February, rising to£758 from£535. The deficit with EU and non-EU countries both deteriorated, although the deficit with the latter involved an unexpected reduction in imports. This is the first official evidence of sterling's recent strength having a depressing effect on exports which has been signalled by recent business surveys.

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