We’ll soon find out if official statistics agree with economists polled by Bloomberg who say UK GDP likely fell by 0.2% in the second quarter. But at an uncomfortable time when we know things can only get worse, looking back doesn’t help and doesn’t hold hope for a miraculous “emergency budget” in September. As for the predictions beyond that, it’s almost too scary to contemplate. Better to avoid economists and politicians and focus instead on the facts that tell us what’s happening now – like Barclaycard data – and the things we can do to keep our own budgets in balance.
Spending on ‘essentials’ rose 7% in July year on year, according to the card company, but utility bills by 44% and fuel by 30% – a pretty good look at the state of the economy. ‘inflation . The average transaction in supermarkets fell, but the frequency of visits increased as shoppers shifted to “need to buy” rather than fuller shopping carts. Hospitality and travel were down from June and three in ten respondents say they intend to spend less on ‘social plans and outings’ – but 71%, four points less than there one year old, are still convinced that they can live within their means.
So that’s where we’re on the downslope – and here’s another clue. The Post processed a record £801million in cash withdrawals in July, up 20% from a year ago, as more people turn to cash as a budgeting tool – an interesting reflection on my argument (July 9) that the switch to cashless payment is itself an inflationary factor. In fact, I urge everyone, especially young card lovers, to switch to bills and coins so you know what’s left in your pocket.
And while I’m all the rage of Martin Lewis, the ubiquitous “money-saving expert,” here’s another piece of advice. Get someone smart to reprogram your boiler to use less gas. Mine had faltered for years on the same setting (much like Treasury tax orthodoxy) because I had no idea what buttons to push. Now that a friend has drastically reset it, I suspect I’m £1000 a year better off.
Sir Chris Gent was a titan of the previous generation of business as Vodafone boss who started the new century by pulling off a record £110billion takeover of Mannesmann in Germany, to create the biggest company in mobile phone in the world. It has been compared by the Daily mail at the time to John D. Rockefeller and was unlucky to be eclipsed by BP’s Lord Browne for the title of Britain’s ‘most admired’ business leader. He went on to become chairman of GlaxoSmithKline, a top ten multinational pharmaceutical company – and having first met him as a rising IT executive in the city of the 1970s, I have watched his development with some fascination.
But now, 74 and long in the limelight, Gent is back in the news, having been fined £80,000 by the Financial Conduct Authority for leaking inside information in his last job as chairman of FTSE 250-listed medical equipment maker Convatec, from which he retired in 2019. Sensitive news about the company’s finances and the retirement of its chief executive has been revealed to two of the shareholders of Convatec ahead of the stock market announcements – but Gent said he acted on advice and the FCA ruling upheld ‘I made no gain personally’.
A late mistake, it seems, in a bold career that has done more than most to put British business on the global map. I think we could give him the benefit of the doubt.
The next job for Sir Nick?
A big throwback to former Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Sir Nick Clegg, who moves to London from California while continuing to serve as ‘Chairman of Global Affairs’ at Meta, the parent company of Facebook. A part-time return to British politics seems unlikely, but this silky communicator can surely hope to land a few non-executive FTSE 100 directorships to bolster his Meta salary. One company in need of his particular skills could be Glencore, the Swiss-based commodities trader that is an embarrassing big winner from the war in Ukraine, having announced a doubling of first-half profits to $18.9 billion and a big payout to shareholders on strong coal sales resurging as the world turns dirty power plants back on for fear of freezing this winter. If Clegg can continue to make millions championing what I recently called Facebook’s “heartless monster,” surely he could find an argument to throw net zero goals into coal-fired ovens. And who knows, we might one day hear eco-skeptical Prime Minister Liz Truss echo her predecessors Cameron and Brown: “I agree with Nick.”
“Bring some mustard,” a confusing text told me as I was about to board my flight to Bergerac (Jet2 this time, as efficient as Ryanair but much friendlier). ‘Why?’ ‘None here!’
On the scale of current crises, this is a tiny crisis, but a fine parable of the clash of unforeseen market forces. The famous Dijon condiment, essential for a good vinaigrette, disappeared from the shelves of French supermarkets as the supply of mustard seeds was afflicted by extreme weather conditions – wet winter and late frosts in Burgundy, scorching heat in Canada – and the war in Ukraine, pushing wholesale prices up to six times normal levels, in addition to other increases in production costs.
But there’s better news for Brexiteers burning bangers on barbecues in the height of summer: Colman’s English mustard, made largely from East Anglian seeds, is still available in most grocery stores. Unfortunately, however, that’s partly because demand is declining as our tastes become more foreign.
The grocer reports that sales of the patriotic yellow product fell 13.9% last year to £11.9m, while overall sales under the Unilever-owned Colman’s brand were overtaken in the British league sauces by the mind-blowing concoctions of Nando from Portuguese Mozambique. Nothing can stand still in this turbulent world?