Employment numbers steady but wage growth stuck in neutral

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The UK the rate rose 46,000 to 1.47m, or from 4.3 to 4.4 per cent, the first rise in two years. GDP had advanced 0.5% in the third quarter.

The data shows that household spending grew by 1.8% between 2016 and 2017, its slowest rate of annual growth since 2012, in part reflecting increased prices faced by consumers.

The economy has held up far better than expected immediately after the Brexit referendum, when the consensus of economists was for a slowdown to 0.8 per cent in 2017 but global growth outperformed...

"This is demonstrated by our Budget investments of nearly £2.4bn in enterprise and skills and the most attractive package of non-domestic rates reliefs available anywhere in the United Kingdom, including the Small Business Bonus, worth £720m, and the UK's first nursery relief".

"The significant number of unfilled vacancies means that the problem is more about not having the right workers available rather than the economy not creating enough jobs", said Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG in London.

"The economy still appears to have gathered a little momentum in the second half of previous year".

The unemployment rate has now risen to 4.4% from 4.3%, although unemployment is 123,000 lower than one year ago.

Exports declined by 0.2 per cent, while imports jumped by 1.5 per cent, meaning net trade dragged on overall GDP growth, although this was distorted by the London-based global gold trade. It estimates that over 2017 as a whole GDP per capita growth was just 1.1 per cent. The dominant-services sector grew 0.6% while production output rose 0.5% in last quarter.

It helped to offset a dismal update from the construction industry, with output falling by 0.7% across the fourth quarter.

The number of people in work rose 88,000 sequentially to 32.15 million.

On net trade, the deficit widened by £2.5 billion to £12.2 billion quarter on quarter following a hefty jump in the cost of imported fuels.

Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG in the United Kingdom, said: "There are signs that average weekly earnings, which rose by 2.5% in the fourth quarter, are beginning to respond to the tightness of the labour market, although households are still feeling the squeeze when accounting for inflation, with real earnings falling by 0.3%". What's more, high inflationary levels have continued to place pressure upon household incomes in recent months.