Spending squeezed but growth boost
Britain's dire economic performance at the end of last year has been confirmed as official figures revealed household spending grew at the slowest rate in a year.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said spending on goods and services rose 0.2% between October and December - the lowest reading since the fourth quarter of 2011 - after slow growth in wages hit consumers.
But there was a chink of light in the economic gloom as the ONS said the economy expanded as a whole in 2012, up 0.2% against a previous estimate for zero growth.
The upward revision came after the ONS raised its estimate for third quarter growth from 0.9% to 1%, although it continues to believe the economy contracted by 0.3% in the final quarter of the year. It will offer little respite for Chancellor George Osborne ahead of next month's Budget, coming just days after the UK was stripped of its prized AAA rating by Moody's.
Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said recent industry surveys suggested the economy would "narrowly" avoid a triple-dip recession with 0.2% growth in the first quarter. "However, none of the root causes of the weakness of the economy have yet been resolved, suggesting very modest growth at best can be expected over the course of 2013," he said.
A marked slowdown in wages growth was behind the drop in household spending in the last quarter, with employee compensation rising by just 0.1% against 0.5% growth in the third quarter. Business investment fell by 1.2% in another sign of weak demand, while exports fell 1.5% and imports dropped 1.2%. But Government spending rose 0.6% in the fourth quarter and by 2.6% as a whole over 2012.
The ONS said that output in the powerhouse services sector - which accounts for around 77% of total GDP - was worse than previously thought in the fourth quarter, down 0.1% against an initial estimate for zero growth.
Output from the production sector was also revised down even further, to a drop of 1.9% from an 1.8% contraction previously as mining and quarrying activity was sent plunging by disruption to the Buzzard oil field in the North Sea, which was shut during extended maintenance and has now restarted production.
An upward revision for construction output - up 0.9% against 0.3% in the initial estimate - was not enough to alter the overall picture for the fourth quarter.
In comparison with other global economies, the UK's fourth quarter decline is marginally better than the 0.6% fall in GDP suffered across the eurozone. The United States saw its economy flatline in the last three month's of 2012, while Japan's output fell 0.1%.