Latest GDP figures beat growth estimates as UK economy continues to grow – with retail making the biggest contribution

Figures published today (January 26) by the Office for National Statistics show that GDP is estimated to have increased by 0.6% during the final quarter of 2016, with the retail trade making the largest contribution to headline GDP growth.

UK GDP was estimated to have increased by 2.0% during 2016, slowing slightly from 2.2% in 2015 and from 3.1% in 2014. It is also estimated that through 2016, the UK’s was the fastest-growing G7 economy.

The data were keenly anticipated as Q4 was just the second full quarter of activity after Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union. Initial predictions of economic doom after the Brexit vote have so far failed to materialise — with the exception of the crashing pound — and economic data has broadly held up well.

UK GDP has now grown in 16 consecutive quarters (the last time UK GDP shrunk over a quarter came in Q4 of 2012 when the economy readjusted to normality following a huge boost from the 2012 Olympic Games in London).

Commenting on the figures, Rupert Eastell, head of retail at RSM said: “The latest GDP figures underline the important contribution of the retail sector to the UK economy. However, the picture in the final months of the year was mixed. While many supermarkets recorded some good year-on-year figures, other High Street retailers didn’t fare so well and the ONS data for retail sales in December showed a 1.9% fall compared to a 0.1% fall in November.

“Over the next year, retailers will face a number of challenges. Key among these will be having to cope with the lower pound, which is down by around 15% on a trade-weighted basis since January 2016, and is likely to stay at these levels.

“We could once again see inflation outstripping wage growth which could affect discretionary spending, and the decline in consumer confidence could lead to a reduction in business investment.

“Retailers therefore need to review their business plans for the next two years and identify any required realignment and risk mitigation activities. They also need to assess the ‘knock-on’ effects for the post-Brexit plan.

“Businesses must also evaluate the scope for changes in their international activities. With the pound set to remain around current levels for some time, both export and import activities should be re-assessed: rising import prices may mean sourcing and location strategies need reviewing.”

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