Construction industry

Investors believe Mario Draghi could impose deeper negative interest rates and unleash more QE tomorrow. UK construction growth hits seven-month low. Latest: eurozone inflation just 0.1%. Citi predicts big moves from Draghi tomorrow…

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Euro weakens as eurozone inflation boosts stimulus hopes – business live” was written by Graeme Wearden, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 2nd December 2015 17.01 UTC

After a fairly undramatic day, London’s stock market has closed higher:

In 24 hours we’ll know exactly what Mario Draghi and co have decided.

In the meantime, City analysts continue to speculate — and perhaps prepare the ground for some ‘I told you so’ action.

Capital Economics have nailed their trousers to the mast, forecasting steeper negative interest rates on banks, and a serious QE boost.

Brian Davidson says:

We have long argued that the ECB would need to add more stimulus before long, and the consensus has come round to this view following a series of dovish signals by the ECB. Accordingly, markets are now pricing in a cut of around 10bp to the deposit rate and polls show that most economists expect a €15bn increase in monthly asset purchases. We think the ECB will cut the deposit rate by 20bp, and increase its monthly asset purchases by €20bn.

Updated

Thursday’s ECB meeting could be quite combative, as some central bank governors are reluctant to provide more stimulus.

The German contingent are particularly concerned, as the Wall Street Journal explains:

Several officials have expressed skepticism that more stimulus is needed at this time, led by the ECB’s two German officials, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann and ECB executive board member Sabine Lautenschläger. Central bankers from Baltic euro members have also signalled resistance, making it unlikely that Thursday’s decision will be a unanimous one.

More here:

Newsflash from Ontario: The Bank of Canada has left interest rates unchanged at today’s policy meeting.

Money is also flowing into eurozone government bonds today, on anticipation that the ECB will boost its QE programme.

This has driven the yield, or interest rate on German two-year bonds deeper into negative territory – which means the price is at a record high.

The pound is tumbling on the FX markets today.

It just hit a new seven and a half-month low against the US dollar at $1.4979.

Sterling is being hit by two events

Back to the eurozone.

Swiss bank UBS have produced a nifty chart showing the main options which the ECB could deploy tomorrow…..and the likely impact on the markets.

ECB policy options

Updated

US private sector job creation hits five-month high

A strong dose of US employment data has just increased the chances that the Federal Reserve raises interest rates in two weeks time.

A total of 217,000 new jobs were created by US companies last month, according to the ADP Research Institute.

That’s the biggest rise in private sector payrolls since June, and beats forecasts for a 190,000 increase. It also beats October’s reading of 196,000, which was revised up from 182,000.

It suggests that the wider Non-Farm Payroll will show a robust labour market. The NFP is due on Friday, and is the last major data point until the Fed’s December meeting.

US ADP Payroll

US ADP Payroll Photograph: ADP / fastFT

As fastFT puts it:

Although the ADP survey has not proved a consistent forecaster of the official monthly government jobs numbers, they may soothe investors nerves ahead of an important period for economic data and central bank decisions.

The euro has fallen back today, in another sign that Draghi is expected to announce new stimulus measures tomorrow.

The single currency dropped back through the $1.06 mark against the US dollar today, which is a near eight-month low.

Euro vs US dollar today

Euro vs US dollar today Photograph: Thomson Reuters

This is a handy chart, showing the three main options in the ECB’s toolbox, and the way they could be deployed:

There’s no realistic chance that eurozone inflation will hit the forecasts drawn up by the ECB’s own economists three months ago.

That’s the view of Timo del Carpio, European Economist, RBC Capital Markets, who told clients:

The most recent staff projections from the ECB (published in September) revealed an expectation for HICP [inflation] to average 0.4% y/y over Q4/15 as a whole.

Taking into account today’s outturn, this would require the headline rate to rise to at least 0.8% y/y in December in order for those forecasts to still be valid. Suffice to say, we think that is too tall an order, even taking into account the expected base effects from last year’s oil price declines (expected to come into force primarily in December and January).

In other words, this outturn should represent further downside news for the ECB.

And that’s why del Carpio predicts a further 20 basis point cut to the deposit rate, and a 6-month extension to the QE asset purchase programme .

It’s all systems go for more ECB stimulus, says Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics:

“November’s weaker-than-expected eurozone consumer prices figures give a final green light for the ECB to both increase the pace of its asset purchases and cut its deposit rate at tomorrow’s policy meeting.”

Loynes is also concerned the core inflation – which excludes volatile components such as energy prices – dropped from 1.1% in October to 0.9% in November.

(FILES) A picture taken on August 7, 2014 shows the Euro logo in front of the European Central Bank, ECB in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany. Financial markets are looking to the European Central Bank to open the cash floodgates next week after consumer price data showed the 18-country eurozone is flirting with deflation, analysts said. AFP PHOTO / DANIEL ROLANDDANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images

Ruben Segura-Cayuela, a euro zone economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, believes the weak inflation report will have surprised the European Central Bank, in a bad way.

With inflation stuck at just 0.1%, Segura-Cayuela believes the ECB will boost its bond-buying QE programme from the current rate of €60bn per month.

I’ve taken the quotes off Reuters:

“It [the inflation report] is not consistent with the trend that the ECB was expecting.

We are expecting a one year extension on QE purchases and quantities to go up to as much as €70bn a month.”

Segura-Cayuela is also in the ‘deeper negative rates’ camp — he reckons the deposit rate on bank deposits at the ECB could fall from -0.2% to -0.3%.

European stock markets are still rallying after the inflation data reinforced hopes of more eurozone stimulus:

European stock markts

Bloomberg’s Maxime Sbaihi also expects significant action from the European Central Bank tomorrow:

Updated

Economist and ECB watcher Fred Ducrozet has found a chart showing how weak inflation will prompt extra QE from the European Central Bank.

The x-axis shows the forecast for inflation — the ECB’s target is just below 2%.

The y-axis shows how much extra bond-buying would be needed if inflation is falling short — red if the ECB is struggling to push funds into the real economy, and grey if the ‘transmission mechanism’ is working well.

And as Fred tweets, today’s poor inflation data suggests anything between €400bn and one trillion euros of extra QE could be required.

Citi predicts lots more QE.

Citigroup has predicted that Mario Draghi will make two serious announcements tomorrow.

1) They expect him to hit the banks with more severe negative interest rates, by cutting the deposit rate at the ECB to minus 0.4% (compared with minus 0.2% today).

2) In addition, they suspect Draghi will boost the ECB’s bond-buying programme from €60bn per month to €75bn per month….

…and also run the quantitative easing programme for another six months. So rather than ending in September 2016, it would continue to March 2017.

That adds up to around €585bn of extra QE, I reckon.

City traders are predicting that Mario Draghi will announce a significant increase in the ECB’s stimulus measures on Thursday:

This weak inflation report could provoke the ECB into a more dramatic stimulus boost at tomorrow’s governing council meeting, says Jasper Lawler of CMC Markets:

He believes Mario Draghi could announce plans to buy more assets with newly printed money each month, rather than just run the quantitative easing programme for longer.

The euro plunged after data showed Eurozone inflation was stuck at a meagre 0.1% year-over-year in November, missing estimates of a slight rise to 0.2%.

The inflation miss adds to the case for stronger action from the ECB tomorrow. The data could be the difference-maker for the ECB choosing to increase the size of monthly asset purchases over just extending the end-date of the QE program.

Currently the ECB is buying €60bn of assets each month with new money, to expand its balance sheet and push more cash into the economy.

Updated

The euro has fallen sharply, as investors calculate that the ECB is very likely to announce new stimulus measures tomorrow:

Eurozone inflation: the detail

Eurozone’s inflation rate was, once again, pegged back by cheaper oil and petrol.

Here’s the detail, explaining why inflation was just 0.1% last month.

  • Energy prices slumped by 7.3%
  • Food: up 1.5%
  • Service: up 1.1%
  • Other goods: +0.5%
Eurozone inflation

Eurozone inflation, November 2015 Photograph: Eurostat

Another blow – core inflation, which excludes energy, food and tobacco, only rose by 0.9%.

That’s down from 1.1% a month ago, suggesting that inflationary pressure in the eurozone is actually weakening….

Eurozone inflation stuck at 0.1%

Here comes the eagerly-awaited eurozone inflation data!

And it shows that consumer prices only rose by 0.1% year-on-year in November.

That’s a little weaker than the 0.2% which economists had expected.

It raises the chances of significant new stimulus moves from the European Central Bank tomorrow (as explained earlier in this blog)

More to follow….

Updated

The pound has been knocked by the news that UK construction growth has hit a seven-month low:

Pound vs dollar today

Pound vs dollar today Photograph: Thomson Reuters

Updated

Britain’s construction sector is suffering from a lack of skilled builders, warns David Noble, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply.

He says this is a key factor behind the sharp drop in growth last month:

“Suppliers continued to struggle this month, citing shortages in key materials, supply chain capacity and skilled capability as the causes.

But there is a question mark over the coming months as the housing sector, normally the star performer, may drag back on recovery along with the lack of availability of skilled staff.”

Maybe George Osborne should get back to that building site….

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne lays a brick during a visit to a housing development in South Ockendon in Essex, Britain November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Carl Court/Pool

Construction recovery is ‘down but not out’

The slowdown in housebuilding growth last month means that it was overtaken by the commercial building sector, as this chart shows:

Construction PMI by sector

Tim Moore, senior economist at Markit, explains:

“The UK construction recovery is down but not out, according to November’s survey data. Aside from a pre-election growth slowdown in April, the latest expansion of construction activity was the weakest for almost two-and-a-half years amid a sharp loss of housebuilding momentum.

“Residential activity lost its position as the best performing sub-category, but a supportive policy backdrop should help prevent longer-term malaise. Strong growth of commercial construction was maintained in November as positive UK economic conditions acted as a boost to new projects, while civil engineering remained the weakest performer.

UK construction growth hits seven-month low

Breaking — growth across Britain’s construction sector has slowed to a seven month low, as builders suffer an unexpected slowdown.

Data firm Markit reports that house building activity expanded at the lowest rate since June 2013 in November.

Markit’s Construction PMI, which measures activity across the sector, fell to 55.3 last month from 58.8 in October.

That is the weakest reading since the pre-election slowdown in April, and the second-weakest since mid 2013.

The slowdown was particularly sharp in the house-building area – which is particularly worrying, given Britain’s desperate need for more homes.

Markit says:

All three broad areas of construction activity experienced a slowdown in output growth during November. Residential building activity increased at the weakest pace since June 2013, while civil engineering activity rose at the slowest rate for six months and was the worst performing sub- category.

UK construction PMI

More to follow…

Yannis Stournaras governor of Bank of Greece shows the new 20 euro note in Athens, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. The new 20 euro notes will circulate in the 19 Eurozone countries on Wednesday. Greece was formally cleared Monday to get the next batch of bailout loans due from its third financial rescue after the cash-strapped country implemented a series of economic reform measures that European creditors had demanded. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A new survey of Europe’s businesses has found that, for the first time since 2009, they aren’t struggling to get credit.

That suggests the ECB’s policy measures are having an effect — and also indicates that perhaps more stimulus isn’t needed after all….

The ECB surveyed more than 11,000 companies across the eurozone. And most reported that they have no concerns over their ability to borrow. Instead, the main problem is a lack of customers.

It’s six weeks since the last ECB meeting, when Mario Draghi dropped a loud hint that the central bank was ready to do more stimulus if needed.

Since then, European stock markets have climbed steadily, and are heading for a three-month high today.

Latvia’s central bank governor has apparently told a local newspaper that the ECB’s quantitative easing programme is “better than doing nothing”.

That’s via Bloomberg. The interview took place with the Neatkariga Rita Avize newspaper – but there’s only a teaser online.

There’s a bit of edginess in the markets this morning, as investors wait for November’s eurozone inflation data to arrive in 70 minutes time.

Economists expect a small uptick, from 0.1% to 0.2% — while core inflation (which strips out volatile factors like energy and food) might hover around 1.1%.

A poor reading would surely seal fresh stimulus measure at tomorrow’s ECB meeting. But a stronger inflation report might cause jitters, as Conner Campbell of Spreadex puts it:

Given that the region’s failure to reach its inflation targets is one of the main reasons the Eurozone’s central bank is considering another injection of QE, this Wednesday’s figures perhaps carry slightly more weight than they have of late.

European stock markets

European stock markets in early trading Photograph: Thomson Reuters

This chart shows how investors expect the ECB to impose deeper negative interest rates on commercial banks.

That would discourage them from leaving money in its vaults rather than lending it to consumers and businesses:

Ramin Nakisa of UBS

Ramin Nakisa of UBS Photograph: Bloomberg TV

It’s possible that the European Central Bank disappoints the markets tomorrow.

Ramin Nakisa, global asset allocation manager at UBS, believes the ECB will not boost its quantitative easing programme tomorrow, despite a general belief that more QE is coming.

He also reckons the deposit rate paid by banks who leave cash at the ECB will only be cut by 10 basis points, from minus 0.2% to minus 0.3%.

Nakisa tells Bloomberg TV:

If that happens, there could be some disappointment in the markets.

But in the long-term, Nakisa adds, the eurozone economy is recovering. More stimulus isn’t really needed.

Ding ding – European markets are open for trading, and shares are rising.

The German DAX, French CAC, Italian FTSE MIB and Spanish IBEX are all up around 0.4%, ahead of tomorrow’s ECB meeting.

The FTSE 100 is lagging, though – up just 0.1%. It’s being dragged down by Saga, the travel and insurance group, which has shed 5% after its biggest shareholder sold a 13% stake.

The Bank of England printing works, now De La Rue, in Debden Newly printed sheets of 5 notes are checked for printing mistakes<br />B81HM8 The Bank of England printing works, now De La Rue, in Debden Newly printed sheets of 5 notes are checked for printing mistakes

You’d think that printing banknotes would be a safely lucrative business (losing money? Just make some more!).

But De La Rue, the UK-based printer, has just announced that it’s cutting around 300 staff and halving its production lines from eight to four.

The axe is falling sharply on its Malta plant, which is to close.

De La Rue prints more than 150 national currencies, and has suffered from falling demand for paper notes. There had been chatter that it might pick up the contract to produce new drachma for Greece, but that particular opportunity appears to have gone…..

Updated

VW shareholders to face workers

There could be ructions in Wolfsberg his morning, as the billionaire owners of Volkswagen face workers for the first time since the emissions cheating scandal broke.

The Porsche-Piech have been criticised for keeping a low profile since the VW crisis erupted. But today, several members of the group will make the trip to the carmakers headquarters to show solidarity with workers – who are being forced to down tools over Christmas because sales have weakened.

Bloomberg has a good take:

Wolfgang Porsche, chairman of family-owned majority shareholder Porsche Automobil Holding SE, will address thousands of workers in hall 11 of Volkswagen’s huge factory in Wolfsburg, Germany. He’ll be flanked at the 9:30 a.m. staff meeting by the other three supervisory board members who represent the reclusive clan: Louise Kiesling, Hans-Michel Piech and Ferdinand Oliver Porsche.

The Porsche-Piech family has been asked by labor leaders to signal their commitment to workers, now facing two weeks of forced leave during the Christmas holidays as the crisis begins to affect sales.

Labor chief Bernd Osterloh, who has pushed to shield workers by focusing cutbacks on Volkswagen’s model portfolio, will host the assembly. It comes amid mixed news for Volkswagen: though the company has made progress toward a simpler-than-expected recall of 8.5 million rigged diesel cars in Europe, plummeting U.S. sales show the impact of the crisis on the showroom floor.

Updated

The Agenda: Eurozone inflation could seal stimulus move

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and business.

There’s a ‘calm before the storm’ feeling in the markets today. Investors are bracing for Thursday’s European Central Bank meeting, where it is widely expected to boost its stimulus programme.

European stock markets are tipped to rally at the open, on anticipation that Mario Draghi will step up to the plate again and announce something significant.

It could be a new cut to borrowing costs, hitting banks with harsher negative interest rates to force them to lend money. Or it could be an extension to the ECB’s QE programme – a commitment to pump even more new electronic money into the economy.

Or both.

Or something else entirely. With ‘Super Mario’, you never know for sure.

The ECB is under pressure to act, because inflation in the eurozone is so weak.

At 10am GMT, the latest eurozone prices data is released — it’s expected to show that prices rose by just 0.2% annually in November. That would be an improvement on October’s 0.1%, but still far short of the target (just below 2%).

Also coming up today….

  • Market releases its UK construction PMI report at 9.30am GMT. That will show how the building industry fared last month -
  • The latest measure of US private sector employment is released at 1.30pm GMT. That will give a clue to how many jobs were created across America last month, ahead of Friday’s non-farm payroll report.
  • Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen is speaking at the Economics Club of Washington on Wednesday at 5:25pm GMT.
  • And Canada’s central bank sets interest rates at 3pm GMT – we’re expecting no change.

We’ll be tracking all the main events through the day….

Updated

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USA 

Financial markets focused on the more downbeat indicators of construction and industrial production that some say might be a sign that the UK economy may be losing steam along with its largest trading partner the eurozone…

– >

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Official data points to loss of momentum in UK economy” was written by Katie Allen, for The Guardian on Friday 9th January 2015 16.30 UTC

Further evidence of a slowing British economy came on Friday as official figures showed a surprise drop in construction in November and falling industrial output as oil and gas output declined sharply.

But the data showed a bounceback in factory output that buoyed hopes for the manufacturing sector and good news on exports suggested UK companies could weather troubles in their biggest trading partner, the eurozone.

Financial markets focused on the more downbeat indicators, taking them as the latest evidence the economy lost steam in the final months of 2014. The pound lost ground against the dollar as traders bet the Bank of England would be in no hurry to raise interest rates from their record low, given the mixed signals on the economy.

“Disappointing official data are adding to survey evidence which indicate that the rate of UK economic growth slowed towards the end of last year,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at data analysts Markit.

“Looking at all of the official statistics and survey evidence currently available, the data collectively point to the economy growing 0.5% in the fourth quarter, down from 0.7% in the third quarter,” he added.

While economists said it was too soon to say whether the slowdown at the end of the year continued into 2015, the latest figures will be unwelcome to the Conservatives as they seek to convince voters that the recovery remains on track.

“On balance, there is further evidence that UK growth is slowing as we head towards the general election,” said Simon Wells, chief UK economist at HSBC.

Among the bright spots for the economy in a clutch of reports from the Office for National Statistics was the news that manufacturing output rose by 0.7% in November, reversing October’s fall and beating economists’ expectations for growth of just 0.3%. On the year, output was up 2.7%.

But the wider industrial sector which also includes utilities, mining and oil and gas production, fell 0.1%. That drop was driven largely by a 5.5% fall in oil and gas output. The ONS said the weakness was partly down to maintenance work at two North Sea oil fields.

Respected thinktank the National Institute of Economic and Social Research said following the latest industrial production numbers it estimated growth slowed to 0.6% in the final three months of last year, after 0.7% in the three months to November 2014.

Separate official figures from the construction sector showed output fell by 2.0% on the month in November, defying economists’ forecasts for growth and contrasting with surveys of the sector.

The news on trade was more encouraging, however, as the ONS reported the narrowest trade deficit since June 2013.

The manufacturing sector is still not back to its pre-crisis strength and exports have not grown as fast as the government would have hoped. Progress has been slow in the government’s push to rebalance the economy away from overdependence on domestic demand, but some economists are predicting a strong 2015 for manufacturing.

A drop in oil prices to their lowest level in more than five years has buoyed hopes for the sector. Maeve Johnston at the thinktank Capital Economics cautioned it was far from certain oil prices will remain so low, but the fall should help “reinvigorate the recovery”.

“Indeed, if low oil prices are sustained, it should greatly reduce costs for the manufacturing sector, providing some welcome support over 2015. And sustained low oil prices would also ensure that the improvement in the trade deficit proves to be more than a flash in the pan,” she said.

The trade numbers beat expectations as the ONS reported the goods trade gap narrowed by £1bn to £8.8bn in November, as exports edged down but imports fell faster. Economists had forecast a £9.4bn gap. The less erratic figures for the three months to November showed exports grew by £2bn and imports shrank by £0.5bn.

The details showed exporters continued to benefit from targeting markets beyond the deflation-hit eurozone. Exports to countries outside the European Union increased by £2.1bn, or 6.0%, in the three months to November from the previous three months. Exports to the EU decreased by £0.1bn, or 0.3%. At the same time, the UK recorded its largest ever deficit with Germany, reflecting a decrease in exports and a slight increase in imports.

The trade gap for goods and services taken together fell to its lowest since June 2013, at £1.4bn in November.

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While jobs growth and output are rising fast in the construction industry, retail offers a more mixed picture of the UK economy. Forecasting groups have modest expectations for growth in 2014: a 2% increase in GDP following 1.4% in 2013…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Construction and retail – contrasting perspectives on UK economic recovery” was written by Larry Elliott, economics editor, for The Guardian on Tuesday 5th November 2013 00.01 UTC

Construction and retailing offer contrasting perspectives on Britain’s economic recovery. On the UK’s building sites, things are looking up . The monthly construction industry health check from CIPS/Markit showed jobs growth and output rising at their fastest for six years. Although that may be more a reflection of the deep hole the sector plunged into during the recession, sentiment has certainly improved. The Government’s Help to Buy scheme has boosted house building, but Monday’s report suggests demand for commercial property is also on the up.

Tuesday’s report from the British Retailers Consortium is more mixed. After a strong summer, spending growth in the high street has cooled in the last couple of months. That could be because sales of new winter fashions have been hit by unseasonally warm weather, or it could be that consumers are saving up for a big splurge at Christmas. It could be that individuals are finding it hard to make the sums add up during a prolonged period when prices have been rising more quickly than wages. In all probability, the cautious mood is a combination of all three.

Rising consumer spending is the reason economic activity picked up in the second and third quarters of the year. There was little boost from the other components of growth -– investment, exports and the state – so the expansion was the result of higher household spending. How is this possible when real earnings are falling? In part, spending has been encouraged by rising employment. In part, it has been aided by stronger consumer confidence, which has led to people running down the precautionary savings they built up when they were more pessimistic about the future.

Clearly, consumers will be unable to continue dipping into their savings to fund their spending for ever. That’s why forecasting groups such as the National Institute for Economic Research have only modest expectations for growth in 2014: a 2% increase in GDP following 1.4% in 2013. NIESR sees little prospect of stronger investment kicking in, and with the prospects for exporters decidedly mixed that means consumers will again bear the strain.

Even so, the NIESR forecast looks too low. There will be some recovery in investment in response to stronger consumer spending. More significantly, perhaps, the housing market now has real momentum and that will lead to some further drop in the savings ratio to compensate for squeezed incomes.

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U.K. manufacturing is down, construction is struggling, exporters are having a torrid time – and then there’s the eurozone recession. Here is a view of the current conditions in the U.K. manufacturing, housing, construction and banking sectors…



Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “UK economy: the problem sectors” was written by Phillip Inman, economics correspondent, for The Guardian on Friday 7th December 2012 20.32 UTC

Manufacturing

Industrial output is now at its lowest level since May 1992 and manufacturing is 20% down on its peak. Latest figures showed a month-on-month fall of 0.8%, far worse than economists had expected and the 16th consecutive month when manufacturing output was lower than the same month a year earlier.

The Office for National Statistics found most areas of manufacturing were on the slide, with chemical production and wood and paper manufacture leading the downturn.

A fall in the value of the pound and the opening up of new destinations for UK exports – such as Indonesia and Columbia – have failed to lift the sector, which is far more dependent on trade with the euro area than ministers would like. The British Chambers of Commerce said the sector remained well managed and prepared for an upswing, but needed more government help to boost exports to fast developing countries.

Construction

There may be plenty of cranes on the London skyline, but the construction sector outside the capital is dead. Commercial building, the lifeblood of most large firms, has failed to recover from the financial crisis. The hole in the heart of Bradford, where a Westfield shopping centre is already four years late, is an example of building projects that have remained strictly on the drawing board.

Civil engineering has suffered from a lack of infrastructure improvements after a near-£30bn cut in public investment spending. The CBI has urged the government to use the downturn to upgrade the road and rail network. The Treasury encouraging upgrades to the broadband network has failed to counteract falls in investment elsewhere.

Banking

The Bank of England has become increasingly frustrated at the unwillingness of banks to increase their lending to businesses and households. In the summer it set up an £80bn Funding for Lending scheme that allows banks to offer cheaper loans to customers. Banks have reported using the money to lower mortgage rates, but anecdotal evidence suggest older, more creditworthy customers have gained while first-time buyers remain on the sidelines. More importantly, many economists argue the loans on offer are small in comparison to the size of the problem.

The UK’s major banks remain in a dire financial situation and need to build up their capital reserves to protect themselves against another financial crash. The central bank governor, Sir Mervyn King, insisted earlier this month that UK banks were well-capitalised but said it would be “sensible” to improve their resilience further. He warned “an erosion of confidence” was damaging economic activity, creating “a spiral characteristic of a systemic crisis”.

Trade

British exporters are having a torrid time battling the headwinds of the slowing Chinese economy, the eurozone crisis and uncertainty in the US over the fiscal cliff (the tax rises and spending cuts timed for January which could halt US economic progress in its tracks).

According to the latest figures from the ONS, in the three months to October the country racked up its biggest trade deficit since records began. The trade gap widened to a record £28bn, from £25bn in the quarter ended July, the ONS said, as sales of goods into the rest of the European Union declined sharply.

George Osborne promised more help for exporters with loan and credit guarantees through the government’s UKTI export arm. But the sums remain small compared to the size of export orders and firms seem reluctant to take risks in the current economic environment.

Housing

Housebuilders have largely shed the debts acquired in the crash and become profitable again. But building remains at historic lows. The last time the UK built so few homes was in 1931.

MPs and business groups have called for a 1930s-style house building boom, but with no success so far. Ministers are planning to rip up planning rules to allow developers a clear route on greenfield sites, but even if this plan goes ahead, it will be some time before there are any spades in the ground.

Developers, which already have several years of plots on their books with planning permission, have refused to increase the number of new homes while customers are constrained by high mortgage borrowing costs. They blame the banks for withholding credit or charging too much for credit as the main reason for their inactivity.

Prices are slipping, putting another brake on investment in the sector. Halifax said prices are likely to stay flat next year after a 1.3% fall in 2012. Most families are unwilling to buy homes in a market where prices are falling, though buy-to-let investors have snapped up thousands of homes since the downturn, increasing the size of the rental market.

The eurozone

The machine at the heart of the eurozone is spluttering: the Bundesbank has sliced more than 1 percentage point off its forecast for economic expansion in Germany next year – highlighting severe aftereffects of the sovereign debt crisis.

The German central bank revealed the crushing blow to confidence and growth that has struck the euro area when it cut its projection for growth in 2013 from the 1.6% it had expected six months ago to a grim 0.4%. It also said the German economy, Europe’s largest, will grow only 0.7% this year, down from its previous forecast of 1%. The downgraded forecast shows Germany is no longer immune from the downturn in the rest of the currency bloc.

Separately, the German finance ministry said industrial output fell 2.6% in October, while manufacturing crashed by 2.4%, providing “further evidence that the economy’s backbone is quickly losing steam,” said the ING analyst Carsten Brzeski.

Without an expansive and confident Germany, it is almost certain the eurozone’s double-dip recession will continue into 2013, dragged down by severe contractions in the southern states.

There is also a feedback loop into UK trade should Germany suffer a prolonged fall in demand. Germany and the rest of the EU still comprise over 50% of UK exports, despite the government’s emphasis on redirecting trade elsewhere to rapidly developing economies in Asia, Africa and South America.

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