The week in charts

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Not the busiest week for new data releases but there were a couple of notable stats events this week. Here's a quick round up of what you might have missed:

1. Good news on UK manufacturing competitiveness

New research from the Boston Consulting Group paints UK manufacturing competitiveness in a pretty positive light. Of the top ten global exporting economies the UK's cost competitiveness comes in at number four.

Competitiveness index rankingsSource: Boston Consulting Group

The index is based on movements in labour costs, exchange rates, energy costs and productivity over the past decade. The Group note that the UK has, on average, seen relative stability on the main variables. However, this is likely to conceal some fairly big swings - particularly in productivity and the exchange rate - either side of the 2008/09 recession.

Its research also looks at how some key emerging economies have been performing and concludes that the competitiveness of the BRIC economies and part of Central and Eastern Europe is coming under quite a bit of pressure, with rising wage rates a major culprit in some regions. This trend has been linked to the reshoring phenomenon in parts of the developed world. EEF's own research supports that view - to a degree. In the past three years one in six manufacturers have reshored activity back to the UK, but rising costs elsewhere are only part of the story.

As encouraging as the picture from BCG is, there are other factors baring down on the attractiveness of the UK as a destination for manufacturing. Sustained increases in investment by manufacturers in the UK will need on-going commitments on competitiveness in areas such as energy costs, and also on wider policies that influence productivity such as the skills landscape, support for innovation and the tax environment for investment in modern machinery.

2. Not much news on lending

And speaking of investment in the UK, the latest Bank of England Trends in Lending Report shows more of the same on business lending.

Net lending £bnSource: Bank of England

Net lending to SMEs has been negative since the financial crisis, this trend continued through 2013, but the pace of contraction has been easing. The more negative trends in net lending for larger businesses will reflect the greater range of alternative financing sources available to them.

We should expect that more confidence amongst SMEs, the refocusing of Funding for Lending on businesses and lenders' expectations of improving avaibility will push net lending into positive territory in 2014 - shouldn't we??

3. Eurozone manufacturing off the critical list

Flash PMIs from Europe earlier this week brought another reason to be cheerful about the region and the prospects for UK exporters. The eurozone manufacturing sector has been posting pretty healthy activity readings since the start of the year and the early indications are that output and orders continued to grow, supporting stronger hiring intentions.

Manufacturing activity, 50 = no changeSource: Markit

The week ahead

Next week brings some more news on the UK with the 1st estimate of manufacturing and GDP growth in Q1, the manufacturing PMI for April and Consumer confidence.

We'll be kicking off the week with our expectations on those Q1 estimates.

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Chief Economist

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