Belfast Telegraph

On a roll in economic snakes and ladders

With Business Editor David Elliott

There are a few empty desks in Stormont today because many of our political big guns are in China selling our goods and services.

The well orchestrated deals are starting to roll in - handily, because of the time difference, well ahead of deadline - and there will no doubt be many more in the days ahead to keep our juices flowing and pages filled.

You can't fault the Executive's commitment to the region after sending five ministers on a trade mission which will encompass Shanghai and Hong Kong and numerous meetings in between.

With the year of the snake approaching in the Chinese calendar in 2013, their efforts will hopefully go some way to ensuring the Northern Ireland economy manages to avoid slipping up again in the economic game of snakes and ladders we've been playing over the last few years.

The ladder that we need could be a cut in corporation tax but now is not for internal politicking with Westminster, rather it's for showing a united front and persuading Chinese buyers or inward investors that we are the type of people they want to do business with.

Meanwhile, they say in financial markets that if you wait long enough you will eventually be right. That's certainly the case with the rate of inflation which has at last bowed to the pressure of the business desk's expectations and headed higher.

We would love to take the credit for predicting such a rise but reading into the data we realised it was food for the mind rather than food for the stomach which had driven the jump to 2.7% in October.

A drought in the US Midwest which drove up grain prices was our reasoning for an autumn uplift, because we thought it would push up the price of food and therefore the CPI rate of inflation.

We were not wrong but just didn't bet on the increase in the price of bread and meat being overwhelmed by a massive jump in the cost of getting an education.

That climbed 19.1% last month after the cap on tuition fees was lifted while a further rise in energy prices has also added to consumer woes.

But before we get too carried away, at 2.7% inflation is only just above the Bank of England's target of 2% and its unlikely the Monetary Policy Committee will be worrying their cotton socks off just yet.

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