‘Always be cheerful’ – a motto to which I’ll return in the final item – speaks to my natural demeanour. But when asked whether I see grounds for optimism in the UK business scene, I’ve struggled lately to find anything positive in the near-certain advent of a Labour government, the agonisingly slow retreat of inflation and the damage of still-rising interest rates. Nevertheless, let me take a step back.
In an ONS survey this month, four times as many respondents (36 per cent) thought their business performance would improve over the next 12 months compared with those who thought it would decline (9 per cent). There were also upticks in expectations for manufacturing output and in consumer confidence. And while food inflation stays sticky (not helped by Russia’s new blockade of Ukrainian wheat), there’s a fair chance that falling energy prices will bring overall UK inflation down to a less strike-provoking 5 per cent by year-end.
As for this week’s headlines about ‘the biggest drop in UK household wealth since the second world war’, they refer largely to falls in bond prices to which most households, I suspect, are oblivious. And house prices – down just £905 last month and still 2.6 per cent higher than in January, according to Rightmove – continue to confound doomsters who cry out for what they seem to think would be a cleansing crash.
So I’m an optimist despite everything? Not quite, not yet. But there’s always two sides to a story.
The last jobber
A salute to Brian Winterflood, the City’s ‘Last Jobber’ – to borrow the title of his biography by Brian Milton – who died last month. Having joined the stock exchange as a boy messenger in 1953, Winterflood became not only one of its pillars but also one of its great democratisers.