UK private sector recovery ahead of global trend

The proportion of UK firms reporting lower output and attributing this to Covid-19 has fallen every month since the height of lockdown early in the second quarter.

80% of construction firms, 69% of services business and 67% of manufacturers cited lower output caused by the pandemic during April, but by July the number of survey respondents reporting a decline in output due to Covid-19 had fallen to 24%, 28% and 15% respectively.

In July, 12 of the 14 sectors monitored by the Tracker reported rising output compared to June. By comparison, at the height of lockdown in April, every UK industry reported that its output was falling. At that point, Healthcare fared best (39) while Tourism and Recreation output collapsed (2), reflecting the varied sector-by-sector impact of the pandemic.

The manufacturing industry underpinned the overall increase in UK output during July.

Of the manufacturing sub-sectors analysed by Lloyds Bank, those operating in metals and mining reported the greatest rise in output during the month – with a reading of 75 – due to increased demand for manufacturing materials and sales to reopened automotive plants.

Producers of Chemicals (66), Automobiles and Auto Parts (64) and Machinery & Equipment (57) all benefited from the same demand trends.

Technology Equipment (39) makers were the only manufacturing outlier. The sub-sector reported falling output in July, with firms citing ongoing supply chain challenges created by Covid-19, rising air freight costs and US-China trade tensions as contributing factors.

The picture for the UK services industry was more nuanced. Financial Services (63) and Software Services (59) output rose during July, with the latter benefiting from increased demand for digital services during the pandemic. However, the output of sectors that rely more heavily on in-person interaction, such as Tourism and Recreation (45), continued to fall, albeit with the rate of decline slowing for the third successive month.

Employment and jobs

The proportion of firms that mentioned ‘redundancies’ when reporting on their staffing trends is now level with those that mention ‘furloughing’ staff. In July, 23% mentioned them in each case.

Notably, the proportion of survey respondents that mention ‘recalling or rehiring staff’ has increased every month since April, with 14% mentioning this in July, up from 1% in April.

Jeavon Lolay, Head of Economics and Market insight, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “Covid-19 has brought about a period of concentrated disruption unlike anything we’ve seen before. Now, as lockdown measures around the world begin to ease, we can better explore the potential shape and pace of the UK’s recovery from the historic lows recorded last quarter.

“The Lloyds Bank UK Recovery Tracker provides a monthly analysis of how UK firms are faring in a global context – and takes a deep dive into the key factors underpinning momentum behind the economic recovery.

“Our debut edition paints an encouraging early picture for a number of domestic industries, although the major caveat is that output is rising from an extremely low base, and the risk of further local lockdowns is very real. Future editions will give a clearer direction of travel for the UK economy, as Covid-19 restrictions evolve and demand profiles change.”

Ed Thurman, Managing Director, Global Transaction Banking, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, added: “The impact of coronavirus on business activity is hard to understate. The UK Recovery Tracker will be valuable in analysing the shape, pace and scale of the fightback as firms seek to overcome the challenges of this pandemic.

“The very early signs of recovery measured in July are, in my mind, the result of the resilience and innovation that the UK business community is renowned for – and the ambition that we have seen from our own customers time and time again.

“Clearly, the coming months will be critical in the journey to recovery. This data will help our understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing businesses right across the country. It will also inform our recently launched Big Conversation initiative, a grassroots programme designed to help businesses and communities build back better.”