British Economy Doing Just Fine After Brexit Vote

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LONDON — Britain's economy grew faster than expected in the three months after its vote to leave the European Union despite concern that uncertainty over the country's future would weigh on business.

The figures, however, are preliminary and experts warn they do not yet reflect some of the looming negative impacts, such as an expected rise in inflation.

theresa may
British Prime Minister Theresa May gives a speech on the final day of the annual Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Britain, October 5, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville)

The Office of National Statistics said Thursday that the economy grew by a quarterly rate of 0.5 per cent in the July-September period thanks mainly to the services sector.

The figure is down from the previous quarter's 0.7 per cent growth but beat forecasts for 0.3 per cent. It's is likely to dampen expectations that the Bank of England might offer more stimulus soon.

"The economy has continued to expand at a rate broadly similar to that seen since 2015."
— Joe Grice, Office of National Statistics

The data is important in that it is the most comprehensive reading since the June 23 vote.

"The economy has continued to expand at a rate broadly similar to that seen since 2015 and there is little evidence of a pronounced effect in the immediate aftermath of the vote,'' said Joe Grice, the statistics agency's chief economist. "A strong performance in the dominant services industries continued to offset further falls in construction, while manufacturing continued to be broadly flat.''

Analysts had feared the economy would to grind to a halt or even contract after the vote, which has seen some business activity take a substantial hit. The pound has plunged, an indication of investor concern about the country. But the weaker currency also helps British exporters and encouraged spending by tourists.

Treasury chief Philip Hammond appeared relieved that the economy was showing resilience. He travelled to Southampton's port Thursday to underscore the "outward-facing and globally connected nature of our economy.''

"We are moving into a period of negotiations with the EU and we are determined to get the very best deal for households and businesses.'' Hammond said. "The economy will need to adjust to a new relationship with the EU, but we are well-placed to deal with the challenges and take advantage of opportunities ahead.''

nissan qashqai suv
The next version of the Nissan Qashqai SUV will be built in Sunderland, England. (Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

As if on cue, Nissan announced that it would produce the next version of its Qashqai SUV and add production of the next X-Trail model at its plant in Sunderland, northern England. The move eases concerns that jobs will be lost because of the vote to leave the 28-nation trading bloc.

The company said its decision follows government commitments to ensure that the plant remains competitive and secures 7,000 jobs.

Economists warn, though, that it is still early in the Brexit discussion to declare all is well. Kathleen Brooks, the research director of City Index, said that the 20 per cent drop in the pound against the dollar has helped boost the economy.

"The U.K. economy hasn't buckled from the post-Brexit storm at this stage. But, this report isn't all sunshine and flowers.'' She said. "The economy is still extremely reliant on the service sector, and especially on tourism, which is boosting hotels and restaurants for now as the weaker pound makes the U.K. an attractive destination for travellers.''

And Samuel Tombs, chief U.K. economist of Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the adverse consequences of the Brexit vote "will become increasingly clear as inflation shoots up and firms postpone investment over the coming quarters.''

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