However, a new survey of small and medium-sized manufacturers from the CBI reports that new orders fell during the three months to July, with export orders registering a fifth consecutive quarterly fall and output dropping slightly. Despite this, the CBI survey of 390 manufacturing SMEs found that optimism has risen for the first time since April 2012.
In its half-year Economic Prospects report, EEF predicts that the UK economy will pick up momentum this year as increased consumer spending drives growth and improved confidence supports a recovery in business investment. It is now forecasting GDP growth of 1.1% for the UK this year, up from 0.9%. It expects this to increase steadily to reach 1.8% during 2014.
However, EEF still expects UK manufacturing to contract by 0.7% this year due to a poor end to last year. It predicts that output will pick up in the second half of 2013 and to expand by 1.9% in 2014. A continuing growth in exports – especially to non-EU markets, which have grown 45% in the past four years – will help to drive the sector, along with recovering domestic demand.
“The events of the last few years have impacted heavily on manufacturing but we are now seeing far more positive signs that growth will pick up,” says EEF chief economist, Lee Hopley. “With the UK economy beginning to move through the gears and, glimmers of hope in the Eurozone, this should translate into more broad-based growth for manufacturing in the next few years.
“However, significant risks remain,” she adds, “particularly the continued failure of investment to show signs of life. We are still some way behind the previous peaks and, if we are to benefit from continued research, innovation and export growth, then investment needs to pick up substantially. A failure to do so could see a build-up of problems in the supply chain and, our competitive position slipping.”
EEF reports that the outlook for employment has stabilised. It does not expect to see a repeat of the job gains posted in 2012, adding that the pace of job losses will be “very modest” this year and next and, well below those seen in the decade before the recession.
Investment remains a problem, and is expected to be almost 10% lower during 2013 than in 2012. Rebalancing the economy towards a greater reliance on growth driven by trade and investment is still some way off becoming a reality.
With business investment currently a third below levels seen in early 2008, EEF is worried that any further delays to the upturn in business investment could dent growth this year and next. In its worst-case scenario of a return to growth being delayed until 2014, the UK may not see any meaningful growth in business investment before 2015.