UK economy still below pre-pandemic size, underscoring challenge for Truss

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LONDON, Sept 30 (Reuters) – Britain’s economy unexpectedly grew in the second quarter but was below its pre-pandemic peak, contrary to an earlier estimate that it had recovered, according to data that showed the scale of the challenge facing Britain’s new Prime Minister Liz Truss.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics also showed Britain’s current account deficit – a big concern of foreign investors – was narrower than expected.

The ONS said economic output rose by 0.2% in April through June, revised up from a previous reading of a 0.1% contraction.

But the ONS revised down its estimate for Britain’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, reflecting a bigger hit to the economy than first thought in 2020 when health lockdowns shut down businesses across the country.

“The level of real GDP is now estimated to be 0.2% below where it was pre-coronavirus at Quarter 4 2019, downwardly revised from previous estimates of 0.6% above,” the ONS said.

The ONS said it now believed Britain’s economy shrank by 11% in the year coronavirus hit the country, a more severe contraction than the previous estimate of a 9.8% hit.

Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the figures suggested that the damage inflicted to the economy’s ability to grow by COVID-19 and Brexit was even larger than previously thought.

“These revisions will compel the Office for Budget Responsibility to revise down further its estimates for future potential GDP,” he said.

New British finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng last week published an economic plan that he said would spur growth by cutting taxes.

Investors responded by selling the pound and British government bonds – putting the country’s large current account deficit into new focus.

The current account gap in the April-June period shrank to 33.8 billion pounds ($37.60 billion). Economists polled by Reuters had pointed to a deficit of roughly 44 billion pounds. ($1 = 0.8990 pounds)

The shortfall was smaller than a 43.9 billion deficit in the first quarter which was revised down from an earlier estimate in part due to energy companies, buoyed by surging prices, making more profit abroad than initially thought.

The January-March deficit remained the biggest on record, the ONS said.

(Reporting by Andy BruceEditing by Willam Schomberg)

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