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Next week's economics: 16-20 Jan

Next week's economics: 16-20 Jan

The UK has seen a consumer boom. Next week's figures are likely to show that retail sales volumes jumped by over 2 per cent in the fourth quarter.

Whether this is good for investors is, however, moot.

One possible reason for the rise is that people have pulled forward their spending in anticipation of price rises this year. If so, spending will soon slow down. Some evidence next week will be consistent with this. Retail sales in December alone are likely to be lacklustre. And Tuesday's numbers could show that CPI inflation has risen to around 1.4 per cent, its highest since August 2014 - and that, with producer prices rising, there is more inflation in the pipeline.

But there's another possible reason: households might be expecting decent rises in real wages next year, perhaps at the expense of profits. There will also be some evidence for this next week. Thursday's report from the RICS should show that house prices are rising. Although this will be largely due to a lack of supply, it is also consistent with optimism about future incomes. And Wednesday's numbers could show that wage inflation is edging up, in response to a tighter labour market: the unemployment rate could drop to 4.7 per cent, its lowest since 2005, although there are another 2.2m people who are 'economically inactive' who want to work.

Although both these reasons should trouble equity investors, we might also see some very good news in Wednesday's labour market figures. They could show that hours worked are now falling, which implies that productivity is rising nicely after a long stagnation. If this continues, it would help to hold down inflation and mitigate the profit squeeze. Whether it can continue is, though, doubtful. It might reflect the fact that a few companies froze their hiring immediately after the EU plebiscite. Insofar as those freezes were temporary, hours worked might rise soon to the detriment of productivity.

We should also get some good news from the US. Wednesday's official figures should show that industrial production rose last month and if surveys by the New York and Philadelphia Feds corroborate last months', they will show increasing activity and optimism.

Things might not be so great in the eurozone, however. Tuesday's ZEW survey should show that optimism among finance professionals has stagnated in the last two months, at a level below its long-term average. This is consistent with continued slow growth in the region.

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By Chris Dillow,
09 January 2017

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Chris Dillow

Chris spent eight years as an economist with one of Japan's largest banks. Here, he provides insightful commentary on the latest economic news and data, along with thought-provoking articles about investor behaviour.

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