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Public sector borrowing falls in June as UK economy reopens – Financial Times

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UK public sector borrowing fell in June compared with the same month last year, as the reopening of the economy supported tax revenues and cut spending.

Public sector net borrowing was estimated to have been £22.8bn last month, £5.5bn less than in June 2020, the Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday.

The figure fell short of the £25.2bn forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the UK fiscal watchdog, as the economy rebounded faster than expected in the March budget.

However, borrowing reached its second-highest level for June since monthly records began in 1993, as the pandemic continued to weigh on public finances.

“The strong economic recovery is feeding through into lower government borrowing,” said Ruth Gregory, senior UK economist at Capital Economics.

Column chart of % of GDP showing UK public debt soared during the pandemic

Martin Beck, senior economic adviser to the consultancy EY Item Club, said: “The recovery should continue to run at a much faster pace than the OBR’s March forecast anticipated, boosting tax receipts and reducing the cost of government support schemes.” 

Public borrowing fell despite interest payments on central government debt soaring to their highest level on record, following increases in the retail price index to which they are linked.

“The volatility of debt interest spending underscores its sensitivity, not just to inflation but also to interest rates, which can rapidly change the path of fiscal sustainability,” said Michal Stelmach, senior economist at KPMG UK.

Public spending reflected £800m paid to the EU as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

The rise in spending on interest payments pushed central government bodies’ expenditure to £84.1bn in June, a rise of £2.5bn on the same month last year. The was despite a fall in spending on the furlough scheme as people returned to work.

Spending was offset by central government receipts of £62.2bn in June, according to provisional estimates, up £9.5bn on the same month last year, surpassing the £57.7bn OBR forecast.

The improvement in receipts was broad based with more money coming in from value added tax, fuel duty, corporation tax and levies on jobs, as businesses reopened.

Despite the improvement, public sector net debt, or borrowing accumulated over time, was about 99.7 per cent of gross domestic product at the end of June, the highest ratio since March 1961, when the country was tackling debt from the second world war.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he was “proud of the unprecedented package of support” to jobs and businesses, but added that it was also “right that we ensure debt remains under control in the medium term”. 

Economists warn of the risks for public finances for the months ahead.

Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at the consultancy Pantheon Macroeconomics, noted that plans for the Budget did not sufficiently allow for extra healthcare expenditure and the employment support schemes that will probably be needed this winter.

Isabel Stockton, a research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think-tank, noted that additional spending to meet cost pressures from Covid-19 or pre-existing spending demands, such as for social care, “would potentially require spending cuts elsewhere or further increases in tax”.

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Restarting a sustainable, export-oriented economy – Business in Vancouver

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Clean, sustainable products and services will be key to B.C.’s economic recovery | Chung Chow

This column was originally published in BIV Magazine‘s Trade issue.

As B.C. looks to restart its economy, the demand for our province’s clean and sustainable products and services is surging across a variety of sectors, demonstrating the key role that trade will play in our economic recovery.

Exports increased 24% year-to-date for April – that’s up $3 billion over the same time last year. It’s a big boost for the provincial economy, with a majority of our exports being commodities in great demand. Our stringent environmental standards in wood exports, burgeoning clean tech sector and high standards in labour protections mean that when other markets buy from us, they’re also contributing to a cleaner and more socially responsible global economy.

B.C. was committed to international trade long before the pandemic. It creates new opportunities for businesses, and more importantly, it creates good jobs and prosperity for people in B.C. When businesses export, they are more resilient. Access to more markets means they have a more diverse customer base and aren’t as impacted by fluctuations in their local economies.

We have a program perfectly designed to help small businesses get their goods and services to new markets. It’s called Export Navigator. This program offers businesses free expert guidance on exporting. Businesses get connected with an expert advisor who will help “navigate” them through the export process. It’s hugely beneficial, helping businesses reach new customers for the first time and making the process a lot easier along the way.

We continue to support B.C. businesses in other ways as well. For example, we developed a series of grant programs to meet their unique needs, making over half a billion dollars available in direct supports. The Launch Online program helps businesses improve their online presence to attract and keep customers and meet demand as online shopping hit new heights during the pandemic. The Supply Chain and Value-Added Manufacturing grant helps B.C.-based manufacturers in the aerospace, shipbuilding, food processing and forestry sectors recover and grow, supporting them to seek efficiencies to continually keep goods flowing into the marketplace.

From natural resources and agrifoods to manufactured goods and high-tech goods and services, B.C. has a lot to offer to the world. We are a responsible, low-carbon producer of natural resources and manufactured goods, and we are working hard to make sustainability a larger part of B.C.’s brand and our global competitive advantage. Our priority is to help B.C.-based businesses start up, scale up, access global markets and succeed in the highly competitive world marketplace. The more we export, the more new dollars we bring into B.C. and generate revenue that supports government investments in health care, education and critical infrastructure.

We stand behind the high-quality goods that B.C. has to offer to the world. Globally, companies large and small are increasingly applying environmental, social and governance filters to their investment decisions. We are committed to growing our economy in a sustainable way, and are working on a new trade diversification strategy that will provide us with the opportunity to develop an updated, forward-looking and ambitious approach that aligns closely with these principles, while ensuring that our exporting businesses are maximizing the opportunities afforded to them through Canada’s existing free trade agreements. Our recently announced Mass Timber Demonstration Program is an example of how we are advancing technologies that can showcase to the world the possibilities of building with a more sustainable and environmentally friendly product from B.C.

The pandemic leaves behind many lessons and creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity for B.C. to redefine itself. We know the pandemic is not impacting everyone equally, with women and visible minorities being disproportionately impacted. This is why we are committed to continuing to grow strong, robust industries that can provide good jobs for all of B.C.’s diverse populations.

Growth in trade will be a big part of our economic recovery, and as we transition through our restart plan, we will continue to engage with businesses, industry and key stakeholders to ensure we’re supporting their efforts to expand globally.

Our goal is to diversify our trade sectors to include not just our natural resources, but clean tech, high tech, agritech and advanced manufacturing. We need to support our exporters and encourage new exporters to expand our opportunities in global markets and strengthen our resilience.

We’re committed to invest in people and in businesses to restore economic growth and we are confident that the entrepreneurial spirit of B.C.’s business community will rise to the challenge as we work together to build a better future with meaningful jobs and a strong, sustainable economy for all. 

Ravi Kahlon is B.C.’s minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation. George Chow is the province’s minister of state for trade.

This column was originally published in the July 2021 issue of BIV Magazine. The digital magazine can be read in full here.

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ECB Lifts Restrictions on Bank Dividends as Economy Rebounds – Bloomberg

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The European Central Bank said it will lift a cap on how much lenders can return to shareholders with dividends and share buybacks, while urging them to remain cautious given uncertainty in the pandemic.

The ECB “decided not to extend beyond September 2021 its recommendation that all banks limit dividends,” the central bank said in a statement on Friday. “Instead, supervisors will assess the capital and distribution plans of each bank as part of the regular supervisory process.”

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Reopening economy buoys B.C.’s job market – Business in Vancouver

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B.C.’s labour market outperformed most of the country in June with a 1.6% (42,100-person) monthly gain and outpaced the national increase of 1.2%.

The province moved through steps 1 and 2 of its restart plan, highlighted by the reopening of restaurant in-house dining and larger organized events, travel and other recreation. The labour market has fully recovered employment losses from the previous two months, exceeding pre-pandemic levels by 0.6%. The latter marks the best performance among all Canadian provinces, reflecting shallower economic restrictions from the pandemic, solid performances in the commodities and technology sectors and a robust housing market.

However, full-time work has similarly lagged, with levels 1.6% lower than in February 2020, while part-time work rose 9%. B.C.’s unemployment rate fell to 6.6% from 7% in May and marked the lowest level since the pandemic began.

Metro Vancouver performance was consistent with employment growth of 1.5%, although unemployment remained higher at 7.4% of the labour force.

There was strong rehiring for accommodation/foodservices (up 12%) employees as dining restrictions were largely lifted. This contributed half of the net monthly increase. Significant gains were also recorded in finance/insurance/real estate (up 4.1%), health care/social assistance (up 3%) and business/building/other support (up 5%). Gains align with broader business and office reopenings. A drop in resource employment and construction were partial offsets to services-driven growth.

Hiring momentum will continue with Stage 3 of the restart plan underway, which allows for larger events, fairs and trade shows, reopenings of casinos and normalization of fitness classes and gyms, while domestic tourism partly offsets international travel restrictions.

The Lower Mainland’s housing frenzy continued to cool through June as affordability erosion and satiation of demand pulled forward by the pandemic cut sales. Meanwhile, both buyers and sellers are likely taking a step back to pivoting attention to other activities as social restrictions ease.

Multiple Listing Service sales spanning Metro Vancouver and Abbotsford- Mission (Lower Mainland) reached 6,007 units last month. While still up a lofty 46% from a year ago, this is compared with a 217% increase in May. •

Bryan Yu is chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union.

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