Recession 'on verge of being over'

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%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%The recession that has gripped the UK for six years is on the verge of being over after a leading economic body said the economy is almost back to its pre-financial crisis peak.

Growth will exceed its 2008 high in the next few months, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) said in a report today.
The institute predicts that gross domestic product (GDP) will grow by 2.9% this year, an increase of 0.4% on its estimate of just three months ago.

Forecasts for 2015 through to 2017 are about 2.4%, although GDP per capita remains well below its previous peak and is not expected to exceed that before 2017.

Jonathan Portes, director of NIESR, told The Times: "The end of the Great Recession, it is an important moment. The British economy is very close to being bigger than it has ever been.

"Symbolically, that matters, and it comes at a time when growth is clearly entrenched."

His colleague Jack Meaning, a research fellow at the institute, added: "We are incredibly close to the pre-recession peak. Whether we make it in the April estimate will be a matter of 0.1%."

Growth accelerated rapidly after the marginal gains of 2012, NIESR said, and is now running at around 3% year-on-year.

But while wage levels are also expected to grow this year in real terms, they remain around 6% below what they were in 2009 - ground that is not expected to be made up until at least 2018.

Unemployment rates are also improving, falling by 1% over the last year. NIESR said it expects unemployment to average around 6.5% this year before dropping to close to 6% from 2015.

But despite the robust rise in employment, productivity growth has fallen.

"Even the return of GDP growth, however, has not yet resulted in significant productivity increases," the report said.

"This matters in the short run, since without any improvement in productivity, robust economic growth will see spare capacity absorbed relatively quickly; it matters even more for the medium to long run since ultimately productivity is the main, if not the only, driver of real wages and overall prosperity."

Inflation is also under control, NIESR said, in part because rises in wages are subdued, and the institute expects inflation to remain around the target of 2%.

Yesterday the Bank of England announced it was keeping interest rates at their historic low of 0.5%, a level they have been at for more than five years while the Bank tried to nurse the economy back to health.

It also left the scale of its quantitative easing programme to boost the money supply unchanged at £375 billion.

The Bank will update its own forecasts for GDP growth and inflation at its quarterly inflation report next week.

Meanwhile, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has hiked its UK growth forecast to 3.2% and sounded a warning that action may be needed to cool the housing market.

Figures from Halifax showing a second consecutive month-on-month fall in house prices in April - though they were 8.5% up year-on-year - looked likely to ease concerns about an overheating market.

On the basis of current monetary policy, the NIESR said it expected public sector finances to be in surplus by 2018-19.

Mr Portes told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is quite important symbolically that the economy is, or will very shortly be, bigger than it was in 2008.

"But as far as individuals are concerned what really matters is how rich we are - per capita GDP - and that's well below the level of 2008 and won't get back to its previous level for a couple of years.

"In fact, real wages - take-home pay deflated by inflation - is about 6% lower than it was then and won't get back to its previous 2008 peak before, we reckon, another three or four years."

He added: "We are back on trend, we are back on the previous path, but we haven't made up the lost ground. In previous recessions usually what has happened is that we've had a big bounceback, so you lose the output but not only do you grow faster than trend but you get back much of what you've lost relative to trend.

"We, and most others, are saying we are not going to get back a lot of that lost ground this time. We are going to lose maybe 10% or 12% of output compared to pre-recession trend."

The most economical cars to run
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Recession 'on verge of being over'

Official mpg: 57.6mpg
True mpg: 45.4mpg

The third generation Seat Leon is the most economical car to run according to the WhatCar? True mpg test.

It's been a good year for the Spanish manufacturer as the Leon also won the Auto Express New Car Award 2013 after years of missing out to sister brands Volkswagon and Skoda.

The 1.2 TSI 105 has the smallest engine of the top six cars in the WhatCar? lineup, so unsurprisingly is the most efficient of the group.

As well as being efficient it's a great family car. You get plenty of cabin space and an impressive boot size of 380 litres - 65 litres more than in a Ford Focus!

The cheapest in the range is the 1.2 S-trim, but even as a starter model you get a decent standard of equipment with things like air-conditioning, Bluetooth, 5" colour multimedia screen and tyre-pressure monitoring included.

You can buy a new Seat Leon 1.2 TSI 105 S 5-door from £15,850.

Official mpg: 55.4mpg
True mpg: 42.8mpg

The stylish Mazda 3 is second on the list of the most economical family cars to run. And like the Seat you can get a starter model relatively cheaply, but with a generous helping of the best mod cons.

The entry-level SE models come with alloy wheels, Bluetooth and air-conditioning as standard. Plus, in terms of size, the 3 is almost on par with the Seat Leon.

WhatCar? says it's a fun car to drive and although it misses out on the top spot for fuel economy, it's not far off so worth a look.

The 2.0 Skyactiv-G 120 5-door is available from £16,995.

Official mpg: 54.3mpg
True mpg: 42.5mpg

The Audi A3 was named Car of the Year 2013 by WhatCar?, but only manages third place on its list of the most economical family cars to run.

It's not the cheapest motor, but the A3 offers plenty of space with a boot size of 380 litres on the Sportback. That's perfect for a family with a lot of gear to transport.

WhatCar? says it should definitely make the shortlist if you are looking for a decent sized hatchback.

The Audi A3 Sportback 1.4 TFSI 122 5-door can be purchased from £20,200

Official mpg: 52.3mpg
True mpg: 42.1mpg

The Kia Ceed provides an exceptional amount of space (1,318 litres with the seats down) and comfortably transports five adults.

Its large 1.6 engine can almost match the economy of rivals, but WhatCar? says the petrol version of this car is a disappointment compared to the diesel in terms of driver enjoyment.

The Kia Ceed is available in four trim levels. Top level Ceed '4' gets you parallel park assist system (PPAS) which automatically parks your car! But your basic trim '2' isn't exactly rubbish with reverse parking sensors included.

The Kia Ceed '2' 1.6 GDi 133 5-door is available from £16,195 and comes with the Kia seven-year warranty.

Official mpg: 51.4mpg
True mpg: 41.5mpg

The new A-Class looks pretty great with its sharp exterior and smart cabin, and the A180 has attracted high praise from the likes of Top Gear magazine who claim it's enough to rival the BMW1-Series and the Audi A3.

But WhatCar? says that even though safety and equipment levels are up there with the best (you get alloy wheels, Bluetooth and air-conditioning as standard with every model) it's a disappointment to drive.

If you want to be the judge, the A180 is the cheapest Benz you can buy. You can get the A180 BlueEfficiency 122 five-door from £20,370.

Official mpg: 53.3mpg
True mpg: 40.6mpg

Last but not least is the Skoda Octavia.

It's not the most stylish motor of the lineup but WhatCar? reports that the petrol engines are smooth and quiet, while the cabin is a comfortable and spacious place to sit - six-foot adults can sit comfoirtably behind similar-sized adults at the front with leg-room to spare!

If you fancy it the 1.4 TSI 140 is available from £18,390.


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