West Midlands Weekly Economic Impact Monitor – 8th January 2021

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As 2021 begins, the world is faced with promise and peril according to Deloitte. They note that on the positive side, the distribution of vaccines is underway, offering the promise that, sometime later in the year, the negative impact of the virus could ultimately abate. On the negative side, they highlight the virus continues to threaten economic stability, especially in those parts of the world where the outbreak has not been controlled. This is true in the United States and the United Kingdom and threatens to be a problem elsewhere as the new strains of the virus spread further. The challenge for policymakers will be to stifle the current outbreak, protect those who are disrupted by the outbreak and speed up distribution of the vaccine.

  • In the most recent week, the percentage of people testing positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) in England has continued to increase; during the most recent week (12 to 18 December 2020), ONS estimate 645,800 people had coronavirus. More recent data on testing is showing a rate of 640.89 per 100,000, considerably up from before Christmas. Throughout most of December, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust has been in the top five hospitals nationally for hospital admissions.
  • Weekly deaths in the West Midland Combined Authority (WMCA) area have risen to 244 in the week commencing 18th December and the infections and share of deaths are increasing in younger age groups.
  • England and Scotland have entered a national lockdown with legal ‘stay at home’ instructions. Daily virus cases in the UK have soared, setting a new record: 1 in 30 Londoners are estimated to have the virus. The country’s death toll stood at 76,423 after fatalities overtook Italy’s in recent days. Infection cases across the region have increased by over 50% over the Christmas period
  • Around 8 in 10 (78%) adults reported they would be either very likely or fairly likely to have the COVID-19 vaccine if offered and the proportion reporting this increased with age.
  • In the EU, Deloitte notes that “the fourth quarter outbreak of the virus on the European continent quickly abated due to the imposition of economic restrictions as well people staying at home.
  • Brexit was already impacting and slowing the economy pre-Covid and as a result, some markets were underperforming mid-term averages. Generally, those analysts previously reporting a “short sharp shock” and then recovery, have extended their time horizons.
  • China’s economic growth continues at a healthy pace. Consumer spending has been boosted by confidence that the virus is under control.
  • Emerging markets have experienced a range of economic outcomes during the pandemic, but the common denominator has been a sudden temporary collapse in economic activity followed by a rise in debt.
  • Meanwhile, global food prices have risen sharply in recent months, potentially creating economic and social stress.
  • Of all businesses, excluding those who have permanently ceased trading, 11% of their workforce are on furlough leave, down from 16% in the prior wave. 78% of businesses had been trading for more than the last two weeks (an increase from 76% in Wave 19 of the ONS survey), 7% of businesses had started trading within the last two weeks after a pause in trading (an increase from 5% in Wave 19), 3% of businesses had paused trading but intend to restart in the next two weeks (a decrease from 7% in Wave 19), 10% of businesses had paused trading and do not intend to restart in the next two weeks and 3% of businesses had permanently ceased trading.
  • In the week ending 20th December 2020, the seven-day average number of daily cargo ship visits in the UK increased to the highest levels since June 2020 at 111 visits. The increase in cargo ship visits occurred at several major UK ports including Grimsby and Immingham, Southampton, Felixstowe, Tees and Hartlepool, and Holyhead.
  • On Tuesday 1st December 2020, the number of seated diners in restaurants was around 4% of its total on the same day of the corresponding week in 2019. On Saturday 12th December, seated UK diners increased to around 84% of their level last year.
  • It is estimated that there will be around 11% more new referrals to mental health services, each year for the next three years; and associated costs amount to an extra £1 billion a year. This is around 8% of annual NHS expenditure on mental health services. 500,000 people were not able to access services during the first national lockdown.
Brexit Impacts
  • Delays at border crossings and reduced freedom of movement – increased costs, reduced flexibility and reduced profitability for the Haulage Industry, Retail and Manufacturers. There is a potential impact on retail prices.
  • Tariffs – could be payable where Rules of Origin not met or in the case of UK breach of level playing field conditions.
    • Important medium term consideration for manufacturing firms and supply chains and global investors. A particular concern is the UK position on electric cars and battery manufacture.
    • Immediate concern for processed food exporters.
  • Lack of mutual recognition – of standards and certification – increased costs in assessments or even dual production processes, e.g. sanitary and phytosanitary certification, chemicals, professional qualifications.
  • Data flows – agreement still needed – could undermine manufacturing operations as well as services.
  • Financial services – equivalence and “passporting” not yet addressed – potential impact on the industry.
  • Services – restrictions on trade.
Lockdown Impacts
  • Based on a sector methodology, a total of 417,845 businesses currently have to temporarily close, or not open as usual, in England due to COVD-19 restrictions. This is slightly lower than widely reported estimates of 550,000.
  • In the WMCA 3-LEP area, comprising Black Country LEP (BCLEP), Coventry & Warwickshire LEP (CWLEP) and Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP (GBSLEP), it is estimated that over 25,000 businesses are temporarily closed due to restrictions. This is an estimation, but the figure is very likely to be at least 20,000 and possibly above 30,000. Across the wider West Midlands region, 40,000 closures are estimated. Around 10,000 of closures in the WMCA are non-essential shops. Retail is the hardest hit sector in terms of business counts across all areas, but the restrictions are clearly causing temporary closures widely across the economy.
Property Market
  • Different sectors in the real estate market have reacted to the pandemic at startlingly different speeds – some unpredictably.
  • The impact of Government support measures has provided relief for some sectors but it remains to be seen whether they have slowed the pace of change with inevitable falls in the mid-term, or whether for some, the extent of the potential trough has been avoided altogether.
  • Investment activity during the first lockdown was at approximately 50% of the 5-year average but returned to 80% in September and October, providing some transactional evidence to inform views.
  • Generally, UK Land Values have not exhibited signs of falling to date, however, they are traditionally both slow to respond and falls in capital values are amplified for sites.
  • Construction costs have remained broadly the same with marginal labour price falls matched by materials price increases. Housebuilding is keeping construction volumes and therefore prices aloft.
  • Contrary to expectations house prices have increased. Whilst more data is required, emerging evidence suggests this is driven by sales in affluent areas, which are substantially above the 5-year average and mask substantial declines for the less well off.
  • Stamp Duty removal, low Bank of England Base Rate, increased savings for the affluent and changing lifestyles are primary drivers. A fall in prices may yet occur as the impact of these stimuli abates.
  • There is a suggestion that the domestic market for Private Rented Sector investment is still strong and Birmingham is well-positioned.
  • Leisure and Retail have been the worst-performing sectors with capital declines exceeding those in the financial crisis.
  • In Retail, the only bright spot is Food Stores, which have retained value. Retail Warehousing has been semi-insulated from the steep falls in value.
  • Online Retail is negatively impacting Retail property but bolstering demand for Distribution space, with the West Midlands well-positioned for the latter.
  • Industrial and Distribution values have increased marginally. Investor demand remains good, buoyed by e-commerce demand and potentially a need to redistribute funds to a performing real estate sector.
  • In the Office sector, lease structures and a “wait and see” attitude amongst office occupiers have meant that forecasting impact is still difficult, with little transactional evidence.
  • Indications of “corporate thought” would imply that prime office locations and product will retain values whilst secondary and tertiary could be dramatically impacted.
  • Serviced Offices are particularly the subject of debate, with a negative impact of homeworking and the potential for a positive push from the need for more corporate flexibility.

Download and view a copy of the West Midlands Weekly Economic Monitor.

The weekly monitor brings together data and intelligence from the WM REDI partnership into one single source which can be shared and utilised in planning and responding to the challenge of the virus. This is a rapid review of the issues. It is not intended to be a comprehensive assessment but rather a practical report which places emphasis on emerging issues and the best data and intelligence we have to date.

The monitor is feeding into the regional recovery planning that can help the regional economy bounce back and quickly move forward once lockdown restrictions start to be lifted.

The work is being endorsed by political and business leaders a task force of experts are being set up through WM REDI partners to better understand the impact of the lockdown and what measures will be needed to get the economy moving again.

City-REDI / WM REDI has developed a resource page with all of our analysis of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on the West Midlands and the UK. It includes previous editions of the West Midlands Weekly Economic Monitor, blogs and research on the economic and social impact of COVID-19. You can view that here.

This blog was written by Rebecca Riley, Business Development Director, City-REDI  / WM REDI, University of Birmingham.

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.

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