Comment: Cold bath quite refreshing for Osborne

Martin Flanagan. Picture: Adrian Lourie
Martin Flanagan. Picture: Adrian Lourie
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The afterglow for George Osborne of the International Monetary Fund’s Damascene conversion regarding better prospects for the UK economy has dimmed a tad with the biggest fall in industrial output in August in over a year.

But even that unexpectedly disappointing data cannot totally take the gloss off the veritable raft of previous sector surveys that suggested Britain had turned the corner in the recovery and helped the IMF ramp up its growth forecasts for the country this year and next.

The Chancellor will also take comfort from the latest Bank of England survey yesterday that says the brighter economic outlook is set to boost lending to British businesses in the final quarter of 2013. In fact, the Bank’s quarterly Credit Conditions Survey says banks and building societies are planning the fastest growth in credit supply to small firms since the second quarter of 2010 when we were motoring away from a recent recession.

The troika pulling the country’s recovery carriage is likely to be made up of good credit lines for companies, boosted business investment and renewed consumer appetite.

Even with the better picture overall, we are still in the relatively early stages of the journey. But even Osborne’s critics are now finding it all but impossible to make the argument stick that the government’s austerity drive would ensure only a bloodless recovery at best and possibly a stillborn one.

US fiasco causing sleepless nights

Financial markets had a mild case of twisted blood yesterday when deciding what view to take on events in that linchpin of the global economy, the United States.

The embarrassing car crash that is the closing down of many US government operations and the looming default on government debt interest payments continues to prove oppressive to investor sentiment.

One really wonders whether the Republicans decided straight after they lost the last election that Plan B would just be to render Barack Obama a lame duck president right from the off in his second administration. We are back to the fiscal cliff, the market bogeyman has reappeared at the darkened window.

On a more positive note, however, markets are buoyed by the nomination of Janet Yellen as successor to Ben Bernanke at the US Federal Reserve.

She is seen as one of the most dovish candidates for the role, even more likely to stick longer with low interest rates than the hardly hawkish Bernanke, and that is seen as positive for equities by investors.

Under Yellen, markets also hope that quantitative easing will be scaled back slower.

Greggs returning to the original recipe

SIMPLE Simon met a pieman on the way to the fair. And he didn’t ask for a third-party supply agreement. Greggs, familiar with falling sales and profits warnings in the past two years, is returning to basics.

The company is returning to its roots as a supplier of on-the-go food products, and putting more emphasis on tarting up existing stores than opening new ones at breakneck pace.

This looks sound management rather than a U-turn. Opening more Greggs’ outlets in industrial parks and motorway service stations has only been a limited success. It is sometimes salutary to remember what made you successful in the first place.

Twitter: @martinflanagan8