Business output fell at fastest rate since 2016 in run-up to election

British business output fell at its fastest rate in more than three years as the country prepared to go to the polls, preliminary data from a closely watched measure shows.

The flash Purchasing Managers’ Indexes (PMI) figures, which measures business output based on a smaller sample than the full figures, showed the composite figure was 48.5 in December, down from 49.3 in November.

Anything below 50 is considered to be a contraction.

It represents a 41-month low, while manufacturing output dropped to its lowest point in 89 months, at 45.8.

“The latest decline was the second-largest recorded over the past decade, and increases the likelihood that the economy contracted slightly in the fourth quarter as Brexit-related uncertainty intensified in the lead-up to the General Election,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, which compiles the data.

He added: “Manufacturing production is falling at a rate exceeded only once since the height of the global financial crisis in early-2009, but output of the vast service sector has now also fallen in each of the past two months, representing the first back-to-back declines since 2009.”

However, business leaders are more optimistic about the future, believing that the election will bring clarity on Brexit and lift the uncertainty that has depressed demand.

Duncan Brock, at the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, which works on the figures with IHS, said: “Any vestiges of hope are now pinned on the election results as the potential for reducing uncertainty may restore confidence in the months ahead.

“But the Brexit path is still littered with obstacles and the need for strong negotiation skills for a future EU agreement will be paramount to avoid this downward slide becoming the economic landscape for an extended period.”

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