Most areas see slower growth in businesses activity and new orders
11 out of 12 regions post record rises in charges for goods and services
Rising employment remains a bright spot for most areas
Latest NatWest Regional PMI® data showed a slowdown in growth of business activity and inflows of new work across most parts of the UK at the start of the second quarter. Rampant price pressures acted as a headwind to demand, with businesses in nearly all regions indicating a record rise in average charges for goods and services in April as they looked to offset soaring costs.
The PMI Business Activity Index is the first fact-based indicator of regional economic health published each month, tracking the monthly change in the output of goods and services across the private sector. A reading above 50 signals growth, and the further above the 50 level the faster the expansion signalled.
In terms of business activity, April saw a general loss of momentum across the UK, with nine regions recording slower growth and the North East (index at 48.3) seeing a renewed contraction. London (61.3) recorded the fastest overall rate of expansion, followed by the South West (60.3), though only Scotland (58.9 from 58.4) and the North West (58.7 from 56.9) registered quicker increases in business activity than the month before.
Sebastian Burnside, NatWest Chief Economist, commented:
"Most areas of the UK are experiencing a loss of growth momentum, with the post-lockdown rebound in activity losing steam and demand starting to creek under the pressure from ever-increasing prices.
"Latest Regional PMI data showed slower increases in business activity in ten of the 12 areas monitored by the survey, with many seeing an even sharper slowdown in new business growth.
"Soaring costs are a key challenge for businesses, a growing number of which are resorting to hiking their own prices to protect profit margins. Almost every region saw a record rise in average prices charges for goods and services, which will ultimately put even greater pressure on household budgets in the coming months.
"Higher employment remained a bright spot for most regions in April, with only the North East seeing a fall in workforce numbers during the month. However, rates of job creation generally slowed in April, with business confidence having been hit in recent months by the events in Ukraine and soaring prices.”
While inflows of new business rose across 11 out of the 12 monitored regions in April, rates of growth generally slowed, with only Wales seeing a faster increase than the month before. The steepest overall rise in new orders was recorded by firms operating in the North West, while the North East registered the only decline, its third in the past four months and the quickest since June 2020.
Common across all areas of the UK in April was a sharp rise in business costs. Rates of input price inflation were either at or close to a record high in all cases, with two-thirds of regions seeing a faster rise than the month before. Firms in Northern Ireland* registered the steepest overall increase in operating expenses, followed by those in Wales.
April data indicated unprecedented increases in average prices charged for goods and services across nearly all areas of the UK. The only exception was Wales, where the rate of output price inflation was just below the record high seen last December. Northern Ireland posted the steepest increase by some margin, while London saw the slowest rise.
A rise in employment was recorded in 11 of the 12 regions monitored by the survey in April. The only exception was the North East, where workforce numbers fell for the first time in 14 months, albeit only marginally. Elsewhere, rates of job creation generally remained solid, although they eased in all cases bar the West Midlands. London recorded the strongest growth ahead of Yorkshire & Humber.
Firms in Northern Ireland once again recorded by far the steepest increase in backlogs of work during April. Eight other areas saw an increase in outstanding business, but rates of accumulation generally slowed and were only modest overall. The North East posted the steepest fall in work-in-hand, with London and the North West also recording declines, their first for 12 and 13 months respectively.
Although firms in all areas remained optimistic about the year-ahead outlook for activity in April, expectations eased in the majority of cases. Only Wales (ranked third out of 12), the South West (sixth), East of England (seventh) and Northern Ireland* (twelfth and last) recorded improved confidence. Overall, businesses in the South East were the most upbeat, followed by those in Yorkshire & Humber.
* PMI survey coverage in Northern Ireland includes construction and retail, as well as manufacturing and services.