The preliminary first-quarter GDP estimate to be released on Friday 28 April may show a quarterly increase of only 0.3-0.4%, while revised data to be issued in late May could upgrade the fourth-quarter rise from 0.7% to 0.8%. The 8 June general election, therefore, may take place against the background of a halving of reported quarterly growth.
A post in early March suggested that GDP would rise by 0.4-0.5% in the first quarter – below a Bank of England staff projection of 0.6% at the time of the March MPC meeting. Subsequent data have, on balance, been weaker than expected then. Services turnover, in particular, was soft in February, suggesting little if any growth in output – see chart. Retail sales volume, meanwhile, fell by 1.8% between February and March, implying a negative impact of 0.1% on monthly GDP. (The sales volume series is used to measure retail distribution output, which has a 5.6% weight in GDP.)
Fourth-quarter GDP growth is currently estimated at 0.7%, with a revision scheduled to be issued on 25 May. A recent upgrade to quarterly services turnover growth suggests that the increase in services output will be revised higher, raising the possibility that GDP growth will move up to 0.8%. (Note that official data already show non-oil GDP growth of 0.8% in the fourth quarter.)
Previous research here suggested that GDP numbers have little impact on voting intentions – the key economic drivers were found to be average earnings growth, the unemployment rate, retail price inflation, house price inflation and Bank rate. A big GDP slowdown, however, would garner media attention and could fuel some voters’ suspicions that Prime Minister May has called an early election in anticipation of Brexit-related economic weakness later in 2017 and in 2018.