Archive

Writing:

My Christmas holiday wasn’t entirely spent eating turkey sandwiches and watching television. A sizeable chunk was devoted, instead, to reading European Union Treaties, typing furiously at my keyboard.

The result is “Clean Brexit” – a paper I’ve written with the highly-regarded City economist Gerard Lyons, copies of which are doing the rounds at Westminster.
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UK manufacturing expanded at its fastest pace for two-and-a-half years in December, according to survey data released last week. Britain’s PMI manufacturing index soared to 56.1, up from 53.1 the month before – where readings above 50 indicate growth.

Our all-important services sector – no less than four-fifths of our economy – is also buoyant. Services growth hit a 17-month high last month, the PMI services index reaching 56.2, as employers saw a pick up in both new orders and jobs.
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Goodbye 2016 – and, in the minds of many, “good riddance”. There’s no denying that the UK’s Brexit vote, combined with “The Donald” winning the US election have made this year, for some, an annus horribilis.

The grim drumbeat of on-going terrorists atrocities and, at the other extreme, the passing of an unnervingly large number of much-loved cultural figures, means we can all agree 2016 has had its share of bad news.
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“I am not going to offer the incoming president advice about how to conduct himself”. So said Federal Reserve boss Janet Yellen last week, as the US central bank raised interest rates for only the second time in a decade.

The rate increase, in and of itself, wasn’t surprising. For months, various members of the Fed’s policy-making board have been publicly stating that higher rates were in the works. Still, despite the “quarter point” hike from 0.5pc to 0.75pc being “baked into” asset prices ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, the market reaction has been quite volatile.
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Theresa May has long refused to give a running commentary on her negotiations with the European Union. Last week, in a moment of high Parliamentary drama, the Prime Minister conceded her government will now publish a “Brexit plan” before triggering Article 50 by March next year.

Having backed Brexit, I’ve always recognized it may be unwise for the government to disclose its desired negotiating outcome. These two statements aren’t linked. However you voted in June, everyone should acknowledge the potential downsides of the UK showing its hand ahead of what could be some extremely hard bargaining.
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“In the absence of a major financial meltdown, oil will end 2016 north of $60 a barrel.” So stated this column at the turn of the year – a forecasting flourish possibly fuelled by one Christmas brandy too many.

Back then, in early January, having plunged all the way from $115 in mid-2014, Brent crude was trading at $37 a barrel. In February, oil fell again, going below $30. At that point, my $60 prediction looked silly.
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Last week’s Autumn Statement has provoked an extended gloom-a-thon. Those hoping to reverse the UK’s Brexit referendum, inevitably, were out in force. Scandalized at not getting their own way, countless political and media bien pensants have been doing their utmost to talk down the British economy ever since the vote went against them five months ago.

The negativity that’s followed Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s first Commons set-piece is just their latest attempt to spread panic and cower the government ahead of crucial negotiations on our European Union exit.

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