UK economy shrinks 19% in March-May, chemicals stronger than most

Author: Jonathan Lopez


LONDON (ICIS)--The UK’s GDP fell by 19.1% in March-May as the country’s partial lockdown brought most economic sectors to a standstill, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Tuesday.

The chemicals sector’s output rose in March, then fell in April though to a lesser extent than other manufacturing sectors, and rose again in May (see bottom interactive graph).

Despite a recovery in May in chemicals-intensive sectors like construction and manufacturing, as workers started returning to work after some lockdown measures were lifted, most of the UK economy was still “in the doldrums” during that month, the ONS said.

Economic output rose by 1.8% in May, but that was not enough to offset falls of 6.9% in March and 20.4% in April.

The ONS added that preliminary data for June is showing a rebound but warned about the “long road” until the country’s output returns to pre-pandemic levels.

"The economy was still a quarter smaller in May than in February, before the full effects of the pandemic struck," said Jonathan Athow at the ONS.

"In the important services sector, we saw some pick-up in retail, which saw record online sales. However, with lockdown restrictions remaining in place, many other services remained in the doldrums, with a number of areas seeing further declines."

Earlier on Tuesday, Athow said to the UK’s BBC Radio that June data could be showing a “stronger performance” in June although it was too early to come up with definitive figures.

"You've got one month of firm data and some indicators suggesting June might be stronger, but there's a long road to go here and we're still trying to figure out what the best data is to understand the overall picture," he said.