What Brexit could mean for the UK economy

Published June 24, 2016
An illustrative picture taken in London on February 25, 2013 shows an arrangement of British 10 and 20 pound bank notes. ─ AFP/File
An illustrative picture taken in London on February 25, 2013 shows an arrangement of British 10 and 20 pound bank notes. ─ AFP/File

LONDON: Britons have voted to leave the European Union (EU), a decision which leaves the world's fifth-biggest economy facing deep uncertainty about its growth prospects and its attractiveness to investors, and which could hurt other economies in Europe and beyond.

The vote is expected to deliver at least a short-term hit to growth in Britain and might push it into recession. It could prompt the Bank of England to cut interest rates to zero and test the willingness of creditors to keep on funding Britain's current account deficit.

Further ahead, the implications of the vote will depend on what kind of trading relationship Britain can strike with the EU, which accounts for nearly half the country's exports.

Below is a summary of the economic implications of the vote:

Slower economic growth amid warnings of 'DIY recession'

Britain's economy would grow more slowly outside the EU than if it stayed in, according to a raft of projections made in the run-up to the referendum by the government, the Bank of England, British research institutes, international organisations and hundreds of academics.

Finance minister George Osborne has warned of a "DIY recession" and the BoE has said a "material slowdown" could result after a Brexit. Its governor Mark Carney has said the economy could go into a two-quarter contraction.

Uncertainty about the future of Prime Minister David Cameron and finance minister George Osborne, and the possibility of another independence referendum in Scotland, could also weigh on economic growth.

A small group of pro-Brexit economists has said leaving the EU will boost growth in the years to come although at least one of them predicts a shallow downturn first.

The fall in sterling, which on Friday hit its lowest level against the dollar since 1985, could help exporters ─ although demand in many countries around the world remains weak.

The OECD and the IMF have said a Brexit will hurt the rest of the EU and affect other countries further afield. The OECD has said output in the EU, not including Britain, will be around 1 per cent weaker by 2020 than otherwise if Britain left bloc, a palpable hit for a region which is growing only weakly.

The OECD has said there could be deeper economic fallout if a Brexit undermines confidence in the future of the EU, a scenario not included in its forecasts.

United States Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said last week the referendum could have consequences for the global economy and financial markets. "If it does so, it could have consequences in turn for the U.S. economic outlook that would be a factor in deciding on the appropriate path of policy," she said.

Monetary policy up in the air

BoE Governor Carney has said it is too simple to assume the Bank will cut interest rates from what is already a record low of 0.5pc to cushion the economy after a Brexit vote.

The BoE says it would have to weigh up slower growth against higher inflation caused by a weakening of the pound.

That means any decision to change interest rates might not take place for several weeks, possibly not until August when the BoE is due to publish its latest detailed view on the economy.

Seventeen of 26 market economists polled by Reuters in April expected the BoE's next move after an exit from the EU would be to cut rates rather than raise them.

On current account, Brexit could test 'kindness of strangers'

Britain racked up its biggest current account deficit on record last year, equivalent to 5.2pc of economic output.

The shortfall reflected higher flows of dividends and debt payments to foreign investors than similar flows into the country as well as its wide trade deficit.

Carney has said a Brexit could test the "kindness of strangers" who fund the balance of payments deficit.

Pound may hit multi-decade low

Despite the risk premium already built into sterling, analysts predicted before the referendum that the currency would fall further in the event of Brexit.

Investors, including bond fund PIMCO, predicted the pound would hit a multi-decade low around $1.35.

George Soros, the billionaire who earned fame by betting against the pound in 1992, it could go as low as $1.15. It was trading around $1.33 early on Friday.

In bonds, strategists think gilt yields could fall to new all-time lows of 1pc and the 10-year US Treasury yield could drop as much as 30 basis points to around 1.35pc, which would also be a record low.

Rising unemployment?

Most forecasters think Britain's unemployment rate ─ now at a 10-year low of 5pc ─ will rise after leaving the EU, although after the financial crisis Britain managed to avoid job losses on the scale seen it other countries.

As seen after the crisis, wages will probably bear the brunt of any post-Brexit slowdown, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Britain's National Institute of Economic and Social Research think tank estimated real consumer wages will be between 2.2pc and 7pc lower in real terms by 2030 than if Britain had stayed in the EU.

By contrast, Economists for Brexit has said Britain's labour market could become more dynamic through the repeal of onerous EU regulation and the elimination of some of the EU's highest import tariffs such as on food, boosting productivity and living standards.

But cutting back import tariffs could expose some sectors of the economy to fierce competition.

Britain at 'back of queue' for trade talks

World leaders from the United States, Japan, Germany and France have warned Britain that leaving the EU would hurt its standing as a global trading power.

US President Barack Obama said Britain would join "the back of the queue" for talks with the US.

This week French President Francois Hollande said leaving the EU would put at risk Britain's access to the single market.

Pro-Brexit economists have dismissed the warnings as scaremongering and they say Britain could forge trade deals with the EU and countries beyond and could also cut import duties on its own if no deal was forthcoming.

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