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UK economy saw no growth at the end of 2019

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The UK economy saw no growth in the final three months of 2019, as manufacturing contracted for the third quarter in a row and the service sector slowed around the time of the election.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the car industry had seen a particularly weak quarter.

The ONS figures also showed the economy grew by 1.4% in 2019, marginally higher than the 1.3% rate in 2018.

Recent surveys have suggested that the economy has picked up in the new year.

Ruth Gregory, senior UK economist at Capital Economics, suggested that the flat growth seen at the end of the year would “prove to be a low point”.

She added: “The pick-up in the surveys of activity and sentiment suggest the first quarter will be much better.

“The GDP figures were not quite as bad as we had feared in quarter four. The stagnation in GDP beat our forecast of a 0.1% quarter-on-quarter fall.”

In December alone the economy grew by 0.3%, the ONS said, reversing the decline seen previously in November.

“It’s likely that political uncertainty and unwinding stockpiles caused the economy to flag at the end of last year,” said Tej Parikh, chief economist at the Institute of Directors.

“However, firms entered 2020 with more of a spring in their step. Confidence has shot up, while hiring plans and investment intentions have also risen a notch, but the post-election bounce may tail off.

Rob Kent-Smith, the ONS’s head of GDP, said: “There was no growth in the last quarter of 2019 as increases in the services and construction sectors were offset by another poor showing from manufacturing, particularly the motor industry.”

The services sector – which accounts for more than three-quarter of the UK economy – grew by just 0.1% in the final quarter of 2019, while the construction sector grew by 0.5%.

However, the manufacturing sector saw output fall by 1.1%. That came after some car factories paused work in November in case Britain left the European Union without a deal on 31 October.

The ONS revised up the growth figure for the third quarter of 2019 to 0.5% from its previous estimate of 0.4%.

The last three months of 2019 also saw the trade deficit in goods and services widen to £6.5bn from the £4bn deficit seen between July and September.

A deficit occurs when the value of a country’s imports in goods and services exceeds what it exports.

The deficit widened largely because of a shrinking of the surplus in UK trade in services.

By contrast, the goods trade deficit shrank in the last three months of 2019. That was mostly accounted for by a £2.2bn decrease in machinery and transport equipment imports, which could suggest that orders might have been brought forward to avoid the (postponed) October Brexit deadline.

For 2019 as a whole, the trade deficit for goods and services narrowed slightly by £0.5bn to £29.3bn.

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Canadian retail sales slide in April, May as COVID-19 shutdown bites

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december retail sales

Canadian retail sales plunged in April and May, as shops and other businesses were shuttered amid a third wave of COVID-19 infections, Statistics Canada data showed on Wednesday.

Retail trade fell 5.7% in April, the sharpest decline in a year, missing analyst forecasts of a 5.0% drop. In a preliminary estimate, Statscan said May retail sales likely fell by 3.2% as store closures dragged on.

“April showers brought no May flowers for Canadian retailers this year,” Royce Mendes, senior economist at CIBC Capital Markets, said in a note.

Statscan said that 5.0% of retailers were closed at some point in April. The average length of the closure was one day, it said, citing respondent feedback.

Sales decreased in nine of the 11 subsectors, while core sales, which exclude gasoline stations and motor vehicles, were down 7.6% in April.

Clothing and accessory store sales fell 28.6%, with sales at building material and garden equipment stores falling for the first time in nine months, by 10.4%.

“These results continue to suggest that the Bank of Canada is too optimistic on the growth outlook for the second quarter, even if there is a solid rebound occurring now in June,” Mendes said.

The central bank said in April that it expects Canada’s economy to grow 6.5% in 2021 and signaled interest rates could begin to rise in the second half of 2022.

The Canadian dollar held on to earlier gains after the data, trading up 0.3% at 1.2271 to the greenback, or 81.49 U.S. cents.

(Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa, additional reporting by Fergal Smith in Toronto, editing by Alexander Smith)

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Canadian dollar notches a 6-day high

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The Canadian dollar strengthened for a third day against its U.S. counterpart on Wednesday, as oil prices rose and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell reassured markets that the central bank is not rushing to hike rates.

Markets were rattled last week when the Fed shifted to more hawkish guidance. But Powell on Tuesday said the economic recovery required more time before any tapering of stimulus and higher borrowing costs are appropriate, helping Wall Street recoup last week’s decline.

Canada is a major producer of commodities, including oil, so its economy is highly geared to the economic cycle.

Brent crude rose above $75 a barrel, reaching its highest since late 2018, after an industry report on U.S. crude inventories reinforced views of a tightening market as travel picks up in Europe and North America.

The Canadian dollar was trading 0.3% higher at 1.2271 to the greenback, or 81.49 U.S. cents, after touching its strongest level since last Thursday at 1.2265.

The currency also gained ground on Monday and Tuesday, clawing back some of its decline from last week.

Canadian retail sales fell by 5.7% in April from March as provincial governments put in place restrictions to tackle a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistics Canada said. A flash estimate showed sales down 3.2% in May.

Still, the Bank of Canada expects consumer spending to lead a strong rebound in the domestic economy as vaccinations climb and containment measures ease.

Canadian government bond yields were mixed across a steeper curve, with the 10-year up nearly 1 basis point at 1.416%. Last Friday, it touched a 3-1/2-month low at 1.364%.

(Reporting by Fergal Smith; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Toronto Stock Exchange higher at open as energy stocks gain

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Toronto Stock Exchange edged higher at open on Wednesday as heavyweight energy stocks advanced, while data showing a plunge in domestic retail sales in April and May capped the gains.

* At 9:30 a.m. ET (13:30 GMT), the Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index was up 16.77 points, or 0.08%, at 20,217.42.

(Reporting by Amal S in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

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