How Will Brexit Impact Retail?

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On June 23, the UK voted by a 52% majority to leave the European Union on a voter turnout of 72.2%, the highest turnout in a UK national vote since 1992. In a flash report, we summarized the immediate impacts of the vote and look at the medium-term economic outlook, with a focus on the impact on the retail sector.

At the time of writing, the overriding sentiment was one of uncertainty, and we expect this to continue for some time. This uncertainty is over the timescale of the exit from the EU (or even the formal notification to the EU of the UK’s plan to quit) and the nature of that exit. Even after the UK has advised the EU of its intention to leave, it has up to two years in which to negotiate and complete that process. This adds great uncertainty to estimating the outlook for industries. Below we outline some of the short- and medium-term impacts and the impact on retail.

SHORT-TERM IMPACTS

All parties expected a vote for Brexit to have an immediate impact on the pound and stocks, and we certainly saw that:

  • The British pound initially fell by around 10% against the dollar, but at the time of writing has recovered a little to around 7% down.
  • The FTSE 100 Index initially fell by around 6%, but at the time of writing has recovered some lost ground and is down around 4%. On a one-month basis, however, the index is down by only 1.7%.
  • The FTSE 250 Index initially fell by around 12%. One a one-month basis, the index is down by around 6%.
  • The FTSE 350 Index of General Retailers initially fell by around 12% before recovering, and is down by around 9%.
  • Major UK retailers slumped after the market opened, with discretionary-category retailers hardest hit: Marks & Spencer was down 19%, Debenhams was down 21%, Next was down 25%, Sports Direct was down 27%, Dixons Carphone was down 30% and WH Smith was down 31%.

MEDIUM-TERM EFFECTS

GDP Growth Set to Weaken—But Remain Positive

Nobody knows the extent to which Brexit will impact economic growth, so economists’ forecasts for 2017 range from positive but weaker growth, to a recession.

Citi forecasts that in 2016 and in each of the years to 2020, there will be a hit to real GDP growth of between 1% and 1.5%. The bank does not, however, forecast a recession on an annual basis, with real economic growth of around 1% in each year.

ING forecasts GDP growth to slow to 1.5% in 2017, some 1.2% below what they expect it would otherwise have been. In 2018, ING expects this downward pressure on GDP to reduce to around 0.7%. Like Citi, ING does not expect a recession on an annual basis.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EUI) forecasts a 1% fall in real GDP in 2017. This compares to a +2.24% GDP forecast by the IMF prior to the Brexit vote. In turn, this implies the EIU expects a swing of more than 3 percentage points in economic growth, which seems unduly negative to us.

Consumer Prices Expected To Rise

Over the medium term, an expected weaker pound will push up the rate of consumer prices inflation (CPI). However, economists are divided on the scale of these rises.

Citi estimates the Brexit vote could add around two percentage points to UK CPI in each of 2017 and 2018, and push it up from between 1% and 1.5% to between 3% and 3.5%.

The EUI expects consumer prices inflation to be “only slightly” above the Bank of England’s 2% target in both 2017 and 2018.

ING expects inflation to be pushed up only modestly: in 2017, ING expects inflation in the Brexit scenario to be 3.2% versus 3.0% for the Remain scenario.

RETAIL GROWTH LIKELY TO SOFTEN

The risk of Brexit to retail and other consumer-goods industries comes from two sources: first, uncertainty on the timescale, shape and effects of exit from the EU; second, any deleterious economic impacts of that exit, or from the uncertainty ahead of it.

The EUI forecasts real-terms retail sales (i.e., volumes) could fall by around 3% in 2017, compared to +2% in the case of a Remain vote. Our first estimates are that the Brexit vote could dent retail sales growth by between 0.7% and 1% in each of 2017 and 2018.

Retail volumes are likely to be softened by macroeconomic effects of the exit from the EU. Yet raised inflation is expected to boost the value of retail sales in current-prices terms.

 

Want to get more info on Brexit? See all of our reports here.

 

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