Private sector nears stagnation, manufacturing slows

The private sector economy in Scotland approached stagnation in July, growing only fractionally, according to the latest Royal Bank of Scotland PMI report.

“Order books increased for a second month running, however growth here was driven entirely by demand for services as manufacturing sales dropped sharply,” said the report.

“Challenging conditions were also highlighted by employment declining for the first time since May 2017, while business confidence dipped to a 35-month low.”

The seasonally adjusted headline Royal Bank of Scotland Business Activity Index — a measure of combined manufacturing and service sector output — posted 50.2 in July, down from 51.3 in June.

This signalled a fractional rate of growth in private sector output in Scotland at the start of the third quarter.

While a mild and slower expansion in business activity was registered at service providers, manufacturers reported a solid and quicker fall in production.

Malcolm Buchanan, chair, Scotland Board, Royal Bank of Scotland, said: “Having been one of the top-performing areas of the UK in June, Scotland’s private sector approached stagnation at the start of the third quarter, growing only fractionally.

“The main source of weakness remained manufacturing, where production was cut back at a sharper rate amid a deeper downturn in demand.

“Slowing global growth remained a key factor that panellists attributed challenging manufacturing conditions to.

“That said, the recent bout of sterling depreciation may act as a temporary boost to sales for Scottish manufacturers, although this will come at a price of greater imported costs.

“Scotland’s private sector remains dependent on services and sustained appetite from the domestic market.

“Whether services growth can continue to offset the manufacturing sector’s plight remains key, although the drop in business confidence to a 35-month low in July was underpinned by concerns towards the UK economy, raising question marks as to whether the positive growth trend in services can continue.”

The latest survey data nonetheless signalled back-to-back gains in new business at Scottish private sector firms in July.

The pick-up in sales was driven by services, as manufacturing order books contracted sharply and at a quicker rate.

New client wins reportedly lifted sales at service providers, but manufacturers mentioned uncertainty and softer underlying demand conditions as factors restricting new work inflows.

Overall, aggregate order book volumes increased modestly, but at a slower rate than seen on average.

Relatively subdued demand conditions filtered through to hiring in July, with employment levels falling for the first time in over two years.

The trend in Scotland diverged from the UK overall, where job creation was sustained.

The drop in staffing levels was driven by goods producers, as workforce numbers were held broadly stable in the service sector.

Meanwhile, a tenth successive monthly reduction in backlogs of work was recorded in Scotland, indicating spare capacity.

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Mark McSherry
Dalriada Media LLC sites are edited by veteran news journalist Mark McSherry, a former staff editor and reporter with Reuters, Bloomberg and major newspapers including the South China Morning Post, London's Sunday Times and The Scotsman. McSherry's journalism has also appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Independent, The New York Times, London's Evening Standard and Forbes. McSherry is also a professor of journalism and communication arts in universities and colleges in New York City. Scottish-born McSherry has an MBA from the University of Edinburgh and a Certificate in Global Affairs from New York University.