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It’s Monday morning, it’s freezing, it’s still dark outside, and it’s already 1-0 to Australia in the Ashes series. Need cheering up? How about this: economic growth is now as lacking in pace as an English first-change bowler, and it’s all the fault of Brexit, according to top City of London financiers.
Leading members of the FT City Network – a panel of more than 50 top financiers, business leaders and policymakers – have publicly stated that the handling of Britain’s exit from the EU is damaging companies and the economy
Mike Rake, until this month chairman of BT, said the latest data offer stark evidence that “we have moved from one of the fastest growing economies in the EU and OECD to one of the slowest with the inevitable fiscal and income consequences. The cause: Brexit.”
Mervyn Davies, the financier and former minister, said Brexit was forcing the government to adopt emergency measures to deal with short-term economic fallout. “Confidence in Britain is falling,” Lord Davies added. “It feels as if we are having a nervous breakdown as a country, with only the far left and far right having a voice.”
Several business leaders warned that without more radical action to boost the economy Britain could be heading for a bumpy Brexit. Barbara Judge, chair of the Institute of Directors, said: “With the next Budget [in November 2018] too close to the EU exit door, this was the last opportunity to have a real impact on shaky business confidence.”
The Office for Budget Responsibility, the UK’s independent fiscal watchdog, published its own downgraded economic growth forecast alongside Mr Hammond’s Budget. This year’s growth would be just 1.5 per cent, the OBR said, compared with the 2 per cent it predicted in March. The rate would decline further — to 1.3 per cent by 2019 — it added.
As if to further prove the point, UK private equity firm Anacap now says it is likely to ditch the UK as a top tier investment destination, because of the effects of Brexit. It blamed the falling value of the pound, pressure on consumer spending and European workers leaving the UK as factors that may put it off investing.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Joe Giannamore, the company’s founder and co-managing partner, said the “numbers are simply mind bogglingly obvious” when it comes to the business case for UK investing. He claimed: “It’s terrifying. People are saying that it hasn’t been that bad but we have a currency devaluation of 15 per cent to 20 per cent. You have a massive challenge to an economy.”
He also cited inflation and the risk of tariffs on trade after Brexit as two of his biggest worries about the UK economy.
So far this year, AnaCap, which has €3.5bn under management, has made no investments in the UK and instead has expanded its interests in France and Germany. It recently sold one of the UK’s new “challenger” banks Aldermore to South Africa’s FirstRand in a £1.1bn deal,
Last month Johannes Huth, the European boss of US firm KKR, said he was more cautious about doing deals in the UK because of Brexit and that the company was likely to invest more in France. Some investors in new private equity funds have also been requesting funds invest no more than 30 per cent in the UK.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Patisserie Holdings, owner of Patisserie Valerie – or Val’s Cake and Pie Shoppe, as it will probably be known post Brexit – is still achieving growth.
Sales in the full year to September 30 were up 9.7 per cent to £114m, boosted by 20 new store openings and a 26 per cent rise in online sales.
No figure was given for like-for-like sales growth but it seems likely to have been positive given a stable gross profit margin, despite rising costs. This morning, the company said tight cost control and production efficiencies had mitigated higher wages and ingredient costs in the year. As a result the gross margin was flat at 78 per cent.
According to Peel Hunt analysts, Patisserie Holdings only has to increase like-for-like sales by 1 per cent to offset cost inflation.
Operating cash flow was up 11 per cent to £24.4m, better than Peel Hunt’s forecast of £22m. This was enough to fund all store openings and the analysts reckon it provides “a war-chest that could be used to make acquisitions”.
And, finally, the Opening Quote Ashes update – as if you needed it.
First Test, Brisbane: England 302 & 195. Australia 328 & 173-0 (50 overs).
Australia won by 10 wickets and lead the 5-match series 1-0.
Prevailing sentiment: Grim resignation that the odds on another 5-0 gubbing are now only 7-2.
FT Opening Quote, with commentary by Matthew Vincent, is your early Square Mile briefing. You can sign up for the full newsletter here.