Increase in consumer spending in Ireland - but still in the shadow of Brexit
Dublin, 6 June 2017: The latest Consumer Market Monitor (CMM), published today by the Marketing Institute of Ireland and the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, showed that spending in the consumer economy performed reasonably well in Q1 2017, up by 2.5%. While Q1 2017 continued the slightly softer trend experienced in the latter part of 2016, it has not yet returned to the vibrant level seen in 2015, before fears of Brexit dampened confidence.
“The fundamental conditions supporting growth – particularly employment numbers – are still very strong for Q1 2017, so all forecasts are positive for this year, and may actually surpass the performance achieved in 2016. The strength of demand is most evident in the housing market where mortgage approvals increased by 48% in Q1, with lack of supply being the main obstacle to market growth,” said Mary Lambkin, Professor of Marketing in the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and author of the report.
The number of homes purchased in Q1 2017 increased by 11% compared to the same quarter last year, despite a further fall in supply. There were just 20,500 properties for sale nationwide in March 2017, the lowest since the series started in January 2007. Mortgage approvals in Q1 2017 were also up by a very large 48%, for a total of 7,831, influenced by the help-to-buy scheme and looser mortgage lending rules, but putting further pressure on the limited supply.
“The continued improvement in employment and incomes is most encouraging, as is the boost in consumer confidence in the first quarter of 2017,” said Tom Trainor, Chief Executive of the Marketing Institute of Ireland.
Consumer spending and investment, which includes construction, are the main drivers of economic growth in Ireland at present. Fortunately, strong growth is continuing in both sectors in 2017 and this trend is expected to continue in 2018. Aggregate domestic demand is projected to grow by 4.0% in 2017 and by 3.5% in 2018. Personal consumption forecasts for 2017 range from 3 to 3.4%.
It seems likely that 2017 will be equal to or higher than last year which experienced a slowdown in the second half as fears of Brexit dampened confidence. For the year 2016 as a whole, spending grew by 3%, which was considerably lower than the 4.5% growth achieved in 2015.
Fears of Brexit effects still loom over us, but our economy is being influenced more by positive factors here at home. The main driver of growth is continuing improvements in employment and incomes. There are now 2.048 million people at work, up 65,100 year-on-year, and up by 223,000 or 12% since the low point in early 2012. Pay increases have also contributed, up 2% on average in 2015 and 2016. Employment is expected to continue performing very strongly this year and next, with growth of 2.6% projected for 2017 and 1.9% in 2018. This will mean an additional 91,000 persons at work which would bring employment to over 2.1 million for the first time since 2008.
This expanding employment drives the amount of disposable income circulating in the economy, and spending closely matches income. In fact, there has been a remarkable increase in disposable income in recent times -- it increased by 5% in 2015, and by a further 4.4% in 2016. In sum, it reached €98 billion in 2016, not far off the 2007 peak of €102 billion.
Another important influence on consumer spending is household wealth, as perceptions of increasing wealth raise consumer confidence, encouraging people to release funds for spending. Household wealth comes mainly from the value of our homes, as well as savings and investments. Irish household wealth is increasing again as property values recover and progress is being made in paying down debt.
Consumer confidence is still relatively strong here, and significantly higher than in the UK and the rest of Europe. It fell a little bit in the second half of 2016 due to worries about Brexit. However, the confidence barometer is still in positive territory and has got a significant boost in the first quarter of this year.
This is driving a steady increase in consumer spending that is producing sales growth in most retail and service sectors. This is especially seen in home furnishings, clothing and other consumer durables–-all of which are continuing to grow exceptionally well.
Retail sales excluding the motor trade grew by 5.3% in volume and 2.4% in value in 2016 which was a relatively strong performance, considering the upheavals provoked by Brexit and the US election, among other things. Retail growth reduced by about half in the second half of the year so the eventual outcome was actually better than might have been expected.
Fortunately, retail sales have got off to a good start in the first quarter of 2017, and were up by 5.9% in volume and 2.3% in value, more or less back to the strong rate experienced throughout 2015 and early 2016.
Sales of new cars are one important exception, being considered an important barometer of the consumer economy. Sales of new private cars were down by 11% in the first quarter of this year, for a total of 60,753 units.
In contrast, however, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of imported second hand cars, up 47% in 2016, and up by a further 61% in the first quarter of 2017. This reflects the weakening of sterling which has made imports more affordable. Taken together, car sales in the first quarter of this year are actually up by 1.3% on last year, which is a less disappointing figure.
Sales of services are also showing a bit of volatility, up 4.6% in Q1, compared to 5.5% for 2016. Accommodation and food services were particularly weak, down -0.4% compared to an increase of 15.5% in the same quarter last year.
Residential property is the sector under most pressure, and this has been the case even before Brexit came into sight. There were 45,342 homes sold in 2016 which was actually lower than the 47,313 sold in 2015.
The number of homes purchased in Q1 2017 increased by 11% compared to the same quarter last year, despite a further fall in supply. There were just 20,500 properties for sale nationwide in March 2017, the lowest since the series started in January 2007. Mortgage approvals in Q1 2017 were also up by a very large 48%, for a total of 7,831, probably influenced by the help-to-buy scheme and looser mortgage lending rules, but putting further pressure on the limited supply.
Consumer confidence in Ireland reached a record high in June 2015, and remained strong through the rest of the year. At this point, consumer confidence here was well ahead of the last peak in 2007, and well ahead of our European neighbours.
Unfortunately, confidence fell steadily through 2016, with Q4 at 5.9, (compared to 16.6 in Q4 2015,) reflecting uncertainly about Brexit, the tumult of the US election, and industrial unrest.
Fortunately, Q1 of 2017 saw confidence pick up again, to 8.9, which is a positive sign and should underpin a stronger performance in the consumer economy.
Consumer confidence in the UK has been negative since Q2 2016, as consumers are still unsettled by the Brexit vote, and fearful of its consequences. Q1 2017 was no different, with confidence still in negative territory, picking up only slightly to -3. This continuing weakness is forecast to have a major impact on consumer spending in the coming quarters.
2016 was a tumultuous year for US consumers, which negatively affected confidence levels. In Q1 2017, however, confidence recovered to the highest it has been since 2001, indicating high expectations for the new president.
Consumer Incomes and Spending
Household disposable income rose by 5.5% in 2015 and by 4.4% in 2016 bringing it to a total of €98 billion, due to a combination of expanding employment and increasing pay rates. There are now 2.048 million people at work, up 204,000 or 11% from the lowest point in 2012. Pay increases of 2% were common in 2015 and 2016, also influencing the amount of money circulating. Lower fuel prices and a favourable Sterling exchange rate also boosted disposable income.
Consumer spending began to recover in 2014, when it grew by 2% and it grew by a very strong 4.5% in 2015. Spending continued to grow strongly in the first half of 2016, but the rate of growth weakened in the latter half, ending the year up by 3%. The pre-Christmas peak in 2016 surpassed the 2007 peak for the first time in nine years.
Growth is continuing in 2017, up by 2.5% for Q1 and 4.2% for March, year-on-year, indicating continuing strength in the consumer economy which is currently the main driver of growth in the overall economy. Growth of 3% or more is forecast for 2017 and slightly less for 2018.
Of the main components of spending, retail sales (excluding motor trades) increased by 6.1% in 2015 and by 5.3% in 2016. Activity in the services sector was also higher, up 5.8% in 2015 and 5.5% in 2016. Vat receipts have followed a similar path, up 7.1% in 2015 and 4.4% in 2016.
All of these measures have continued to be strong in Q1 2017. Retail was up by 5.9% in volume terms in Q1, services were up by 4.6%, and Vat was up by 17.3%, year-on-year. The main drag on services was accommodation and food service which was down by 0.4%.
Personal spending in the UK grew each quarter since Q4 2011 at an average annual rate of 2%. Spending continued to grow at 3% right through to the end of 2016, suggesting that Brexit had little impact up to that point. However, growth has slowed to 0.1% in Q1 2017, as have lots of other economic indicators.
Borrowing by Irish consumers grew at a record level from 2000 onwards and peaked in March 2008 at €150 billion, but declined steadily since then, down -41% to €88 billion in Q1 2017. Household debt continued to fall during 2016, declining by €1.5bn to €144 billion or €30,199 per capita, and is continuing to decrease by about 2% per annum.
Loans for house purchase, which account for 84% of household loans, peaked in Q1 2008 at €124 billion. They decreased to €73 Billion by end Q4 2016, a cumulative decline of 40%, or an annual rate of -2.4%. Lending for house purchase increased by €27 million in Q1 2017, the first net increase since Q4 2009.
Lending for other consumption accounts for approximately 18% of total borrowing. This category peaked in Q1 2008 at €30 billion but declined to €12 billion by December 2016, a reduction of 60%. It is continuing to reduce at an annual rate of 2.6%.
Overall, the ratio of household debt to disposable income has fallen by 60% since its peak of 215% in mid-2011. Irish household debt has fallen more than any other EU country in recent years. Between Q4 2012 and Q4 2016, Irish household debt fell from 194% of disposable income to 141%, a decline of 53%. Despite this, Irish households remain the fourth most indebted in the European Union.
Following five years of decline, retail sales achieved a significant turnaround in 2014, with volume up by 3.7% and value by 1.6%. The recovery accelerated in 2015, with sales volume up by an impressive 6.1% and value up by 2.7% for the year.
The first half of 2016 delivered strong sales growth for most retailers, up by a very strong 5.6% in volume and 2.7% in value year-on-year. Retail sales continued to grow in Q3 and Q4, but at a slower rate of 3.3% in volume and 1.1% in value. For the year as a whole, volume sales were up by 5.3% and value by 2.1%.
New car sales were up 30% in the first half of 2016 but this slowed in the second half of the year. A final figure of 142,688 cars was sold in 2016, up 18% on the 121,110 cars sold in 2015. The 2016 total was just approaching the average sales level of the early 2000s.
New car sales have been weak in the first quarter of 2017, down 11% year-on-year, for a total of 60,753 units. This would normally suggest a weakening in the consumer economy but that is not actually the full story because there has been a dramatic rise in the number of imported second hand cars, up 47% in 2016, and up again by 61% in the first quarter of 2017. This reflects the weakening of sterling which has made imports more affordable. Taken together, car sales in Q1 are actually up by 1.3% on last year, which is reasonably healthy
Retail sales excluding the motor trade began to recover in 2014, and grew strongly in 2015, with volume up 7.4% for the year, and value up 3.9%. Growth continued in 2016, but the rate of growth slowed in the second half of the year, with volume up by 5.3% and value by 2.4% for the full year.
Fortunately, retail sales have been off to a good start in the first quarter of 2017, as they were up by 5.9% in volume and 2.3% in value, closer to the strong rate experienced in 2015.
All product categories except books/newsagents experienced healthy growth in Q1 2017. Household equipment which combines furnishings, electrical goods, hardware, paints and glass, continues to be the fastest growing category, up by 12.8% in volume and 6.8% in value, year-on-year.
• Food sales up 3.3% in volume and up 1.6% in value;
• Non-specialised stores (supermarkets) up 3.3% in volume and 1.8% in value;
• Fuel up 1.8% in volume and 12.8% in value;
• Clothing, footwear & textiles up 5.2% in volume and 2.2% in value;
• Household equipment up 12.8% in volume and 6.8% in value;
• Department stores up 2.7% in volume and -0.6% in value;
• Pharmaceuticals and cosmetics up 3.0% in volume and 1.4% in value;
• Bar sales up 3.4% in volume and up 4.4% in value.
• Books, newspapers, stationery down -0.5% in volume and -0.4% in value
The first quarter of this year has been watched particularly carefully, because the final quarter of 2016 was disappointing, compared to earlier in the year (up by just 3.3% year-on-year, compared to 6.4% for Q4 2015. In fact, Q1 this year has been reasonably strong, although still showing some signs of caution, but providing assurance that the economy is still on the path to recovery.
The full report can be viewed on www.mii.ie/cmm
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