Sharp decline in motor vehicle production puts brakes on UK manufacturing output

UK manufacturing output slowed to a halt in the three months to June 2019, marking the slowest growth since April 2016. That’s according to the latest Industrial Trends Survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Weaker growth was predominantly driven by the largest contraction in motor vehicle production since the financial crisis (March 2009). This was likely due to the bringing forward of planned seasonal plant closures to align with previous Brexit deadlines.

However, the picture for manufacturing output was somewhat better outside of the motor vehicles sector. Ten out of the other sixteen subsectors saw growth, particularly in the chemicals category and the food, drink and tobacco category. Nonetheless, output is expected to remain broadly flat in the three months to July.

The survey of 308 manufacturers also revealed that total order books deteriorated further on the previous month, to their lowest level since October 2016. Export orders improved slightly in the three months to June, moving back above the long-run average. Pricing pressures also remain muted, with only a slight uptick in output price inflation expected over the next three months.

Stock adequacy returned to its long-run average in June, after spiking in May to its highest since 2009. The fall in stock adequacy was mostly driven by the motor trades sector.

“Clear evidence that Brexit uncertainty is really biting”

CBI Principal Economist Alpesh Paleja commented: “The bringing forward of planned closures to car manufacturing plants had a real impact and led to manufacturing output grinding to a halt. While the picture elsewhere in the sector was more benign, total orders weakened once again, revealing some underlying causes for concern.

“There’s clear evidence that Brexit uncertainty is really biting, with our surveys showing volatility in both stocks and output in recent months. Firms are desperate to see an end to the current impasse – that means securing a Brexit deal that can not only command the support of parliament and the EU, but prioritises the protection of jobs and the economy.”

New PM must quickly resolve the Brexit deadlock

Tom Crotty, Group Director of INEOS and Chair of CBI Manufacturing Council, said: “Manufacturers are proving highly resilient in the difficult circumstances they face, but these results are further evidence of how ongoing Brexit uncertainty is holding back growth in key industries.

“The first item in the new Prime Minister’s in-tray must be to quickly resolve the Brexit deadlock. We can then look forward to working with the new government to address long-term challenges and identify new opportunities to enhance productivity in the sector.”

Across the economy as a whole, stock building supported economic growth in early 2019. However, business surveys suggest that underlying conditions remained more subdued, as Brexit uncertainty and slower global growth bit further on activity – a theme that appears to have continued into Q2. For more detail on the CBI’S view of the outlook, see its most recent economic forecast.

Key findings from the survey

Output

  • Manufacturing output was flat in the three months to June (+2%), marking the slowest outturn since April 2016. This was down on the three months to May (+14%).
  • Output expanded in 10 out of 17 subsectors, with growth driven primarily by 2 industries: chemicals, and food, drink and tobacco. Motor vehicle manufacturing was the most significant drag on output, falling at the fastest pace since March 2009 (-83%).
  • Overall, output is expected to remain flat in the three months to July (+3%).

Orders

  • 16% of firms reported above-normal order books, compared with 31% who said order books were below normal, giving a balance of -15%. This represented a deterioration from May (-10%) and was the lowest balance since October 2016.
  • 12% of firms reported above-normal export order books, compared with 24% who said export order books were below normal, giving a balance of -12%. This was a slight improvement on April (-16%) and was slightly above the long-run average (-17%).

Stocks

  • Present stocks of finished goods were reported as more than adequate (+12%), but to a lesser degree than last month (+25%), moving back in line with the long run average (+13%).

Prices

  • Output prices over the next three months are expected to grow slightly (+4%, from -1% in May).

Are you confident that the new Prime Minister will resolve the Brexit deadlock before the October deadline? For advice on preparing your business for all outcomes, email me or call me on 020 7099 2621.