Economy struggles to recover from freeze

By John-Paul Ford Rojas, Business Reporter
Britain's dominant services sector managed only a muted recovery last month after snow disruption in March - further diminishing chances of an interest rate rise next week.
Figures from the sector - taken together with monthly surveys from the manufacturing and construction industries - pointed to a quarterly GDP growth rate of about 0.25% at the start of the second quarter .
The pound slipped below $1.36 against the US dollar on the report, which comes after official data last week showed first quarter growth at 0.1%, its slowest pace since 2012.Disappointing economic figures over recent days have sharply reduced earlier expectations that the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) would hike interest rates next Thursday.The latest services sector figures, from the IHS Markit/CIPS purchasing managers' index (PMI), gave a reading of 52.8 in April, up from March's 20-month low of 51.7 - on a scale where the 50-mark separates growth from contraction.While it was an improvement on March's performance, which was affected by the "Beast from the East" cold snap, it was lower than economists' expectations.The sprawling services sector, which ranges from bars and hotels to law and accountancy firms, represents four-fifths of UK economic output.Firms reported in April that they had been hurt by weak demand from consumers as well as caution from corporate clients amid the uncertain economic outlook.
Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, said the month's PMI surveys together showed that after the heavy snowfall of March, business activity had failed to return to the pace of growth seen in February.That suggested the underlying performance of the economy "continued to deteriorate", he said.He added: "The disappointing services data will add to expectations that the MPC will take its finger firmly off the rate hike trigger."Paul Hollingsworth, senior UK economist at Capital Economics, said the chances of an interest rate increase next Thursday were now "extremely slim" but that the MPC was "unlikely to want to wait too long before raising interest rates again".
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Elizabeth Martins at HSBC said the market still expected a hike in November 2018.She added: "For us, the lack of evidence so far of a rebound in growth - and the apparent slowdown in the jobs market - supports our view that there will be no further rate rises in the foreseeable future."
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