Sunday, July 21, 2024

East Midlands business activity growth slowest for six months

The NatWest East Midlands Growth Tracker – a seasonally adjusted index that measures the month-on-month change in the combined output of the region’s manufacturing and service sectors – posted at 50.8 in June, down from 52.3 in May, to signal only a marginal expansion in output at East Midlands firms.

Moreover, the pace of growth was the slowest in six months. Companies often noted that greater output was linked to backlog depletion, with new business contracting for the first time in 2024 so far.

East Midlands businesses signalled a renewed fall in new business during June, thereby ending a five-month sequence of expansion. The decrease in new orders was solid overall, and the fastest since November 2023. Anecdotal evidence suggested that the drop related to weaker client demand, with growing hesitancy among customers to place orders.

June data indicated further positive expectations regarding the outlook for output over the coming 12 months at East Midlands firms. Companies stated that investment in new products and service lines, alongside hopes of a stronger sales environment buoyed business confidence. The degree of optimism was below both the long-run series and UK averages.

Dipesh Mistry, Chair of the NatWest Midlands and East of England Regional Board, said: “The East Midlands private sector continued to see growth midway through the year, as output rose further. That said, there was a loss of momentum as new business returned to contraction for the first time this year so far. Customer hesitancy is not expected to last, however, as businesses foresee greater activity levels over the coming year.

“Nonetheless, firms adjusted their workforce numbers downwards amid muted demand conditions and as spare capacity built, with backlogs of work falling at the sharpest pace in nine months.

“Meanwhile, inflationary pressures picked up in June. Higher raw material and wage bills spurred renewed momentum in cost and charge increases, with rates of inflation broadly in line with long-run averages. Although input prices rose at a sharper pace than the UK average, the pace of output charge inflation was more muted than at the UK level amid efforts to drive new sales across the region.”

Performance in relation to UK 

The rate of expansion in output was weaker than both the long-run series and UK averages.

Meanwhile, new orders contracted at the joint-fastest pace of the 12 monitored UK regions (alongside the East of England).

East Midlands companies signalled a further substantial rise in operating expenses midway through 2024. The pace of inflation quickened from May. Higher input costs were commonly linked to greater raw material prices, including for metals.

The pace of increase in input prices was sharper than the UK average.

East Midlands businesses indicated a sharper uptick in selling prices in June, with the pace of inflation accelerating from May. The rate of increase was broadly in line with the long-run series average despite being softer than the UK trend. Companies often noted that the pass-through of greater costs to customers drove the latest uplift in output charges.

East Midlands private sector companies recorded a twelfth successive monthly decrease in workforce numbers midway through the year. The pace of job shedding accelerated to the sharpest since November 2023 and was solid overall. The region was one of only three to register a decline in employment (others were the South West and West Midlands) in contrast with the UK trend which signalled a fractional uptick in headcounts.

East Midlands private sector firms registered a further decrease in outstanding business in June, thereby extending the current sequence of decline seen since October 2022. The pace of contraction quickened to the fastest since last September and was sharp overall. Panellists noted that lower backlogs of work were due to reduced new orders and sufficient capacity.

The rate of depletion was stronger than the UK trend, with only Yorkshire & Humber, the East of England and Wales seeing steeper declines.

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