Over the last couple of weeks my fellow Trajectorians have written about our view of the world in 2016 and trends including the new seriousness – the hunt for meaning among others. These big and important trends will impact how people vote in elections, where they live, when they retire, whether they should have children or not and so on. As a result, 2016 is going to be an important year in which global events will shape all of our lives in varying ways for some time to come.
In this week’s blog, I thought it would be good to set these trends in the context of the 2016 UK consumer market with some basic facts about confidence and spending levels. Consumers are the worst predictors of change – these facts are lagging not leading indicators, but if the road is going to get bumpy ahead, let’s establish what shape we’re in before we start.
First, how confident are consumers?
Despite mayhem in the global markets, consumers are pretty confident.
GFKNOP have been tracking consumer confidence levels since 1981 – they track what consumers think about the performance of the UK economy over the next 12 months. Every month they bring out an index which shows the net confidence level. The highest level reached was + 10 in 1987 and the lowest point was -39 in 2008. The January 2016 level is +4 and the last year has seen consistently positive net confidence levels. This is the first time there has been 12 months of positive net confidence since 2003.
This relatively high level of consumer confidence is reflected in spending patterns – latest ONS figures show that retail sales have grown for 32 months consecutively. This is the longest straight run of retail sales growth since 2005. Car sales reflect this run with the latest SMMT figures for December 2015, showing that this was a record year for the new car market as registrations hit 2.63 million after four consecutive years of growth.
UK consumer spending overall has continued on its growth trajectory since passing the previous 2008 peak of 280 Billion GBP in early 2014 – consumer spending is now at an all-time high of over 290 Billion GBP.
To what extent is this spending fuelled by debt? The Insolvency Service released its latest figures on the 29th January 2016. These show that in 2015 individual insolvencies were at the lowest level since 2005. Within this high level finding there have been decreases in individual voluntary arrangements to the lowest level since before the crash in 2008, the lowest number of bankruptcies since 1990 and a decrease in debt relief orders to the lowest level since they were introduced in 2009. The household saving ratio remains above 4 percent of disposable income, entering its seventh year at or above this level. In the three years prior to the crash it was consistently below 4 percent.
Finally, while the latest Bank of England data shows net lending to UK consumers increased by 8.6 percent year-on-year in December 2015, the biggest gain since February of 2006 – at 1169 GBP Million we are still some way off the all-time high of 2216 GBP Million reached in January 2005.
Overall UK consumers appear to be relatively confident, spending their money and managing their debt levels well. In robust shape for the turbulent times ahead.