Most regions enjoyed solid rates of expansion that were quicker than in July. The most notable exception was the North East, where output was almost flat amid an ongoing soft patch in demand.
Yorkshire & Humber and East Midlands jointly led business activity growth in August, with both regions recording a Business Activity Index reading of 56.1. The seasonally adjusted index measures changes in the combined output of the region's manufacturing and service sectors, and any reading above 50.0 signifies growth from the previous month. The higher above the neutral 50.0 threshold, the faster the rate of expansion signalled.
In comparison, the North East's reading of 50.1 signalled almost no change in the level of output in the region compared with the month before.
The top-eight ranked regions all saw business activity growth accelerate from the previous month. Among these were the East Midlands and Wales (both 56.0), with the latter seeing its steepest rise in business activity since January. Scotland's (55.5) increase in output was meanwhile the most marked since July 2014.
In the West Midlands (55.0), London (54.8) and North West (54.2), business activity growth accelerated but failed to fully recover to the rates seen in June.
July's top-performer, Northern Ireland (53.9), saw a loss momentum and recorded its weakest rise in output since April. The South East (51.3) also saw a slowdown in growth, but in this case to the weakest for over two years. The South West (52.2) performed slightly better than in July but still to recorded only a modest rate of expansion overall.
The steepest rise in demand for goods and services was seen by firms operating in Yorkshire & Humber, closely followed by those in Wales. Both areas saw rates of new order growth improve since July, as was the case for five other regions: North West, East of England, London, East Midlands and South West. The North East was the weakest performer, seeing a fall in order books for the third time in four months.
Only half of the 12 regions registered an increase in order backlogs, a sign of increasing pressure on business capacity. Nevertheless, most saw employment rise during the month, and at a quicker pace than in July. The steepest rise in payroll numbers was in Yorkshire & Humber, while the only net job losses were seen in the North East.
Cost pressures remained strong throughout the UK in August, with firms in Northern Ireland recording the sharpest rate of input price inflation for the fourth time in the past five months. London saw the slowest rise in business costs, despite the rate of inflation in the capital having accelerated to the quickest since last December. Notably, input cost inflation in Scotland rebounded sharply from a 22-month low in July.
Reflective of the trends in input costs, businesses operating in Northern Ireland noted the most marked rise in average prices charges in August, while those in London recorded the smallest increase. Rates of output price inflation eased in most regions, the only exceptions being the East Midlands and North West. In the case of the former, the latest increase in selling prices was the most marked since March.
As well as leading growth in both output and new orders, Yorkshire & Humber also registered the highest degree of business optimism towards future activity. Other areas where future expectations were particularly high included the North West and East Midlands. Sentiment was generally weaker than in July, however. The lowest business confidence was found to be among firms in the North East, where the degree of optimism retreated to the lowest in 2018 so far.
Sebastian Burnside, NatWest Chief Economist, commented:
“Yorkshire & Humber was the standout performer in August, recording not only the joint-fastest output growth but also seeing the steepest rise in employment and strongest business optimism.
“While most regions enjoyed a revival in growth compared to the rates seen in July, the levels of performance remained unbalanced. The North East, in particular, remained stuck in the slow lane, lagging behind on a number of key indicators.
“The one area where the data were generally more downbeat was in regard to business confidence, with firms often commenting on increased uncertainty towards the outlook over the next 12 months”.
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