UK manufacturing shows signs of a slowdown

Britain’s manufacturers showed signs of a slowdown at the start of the year amid rising costs for raw materials, sending factory output to a seven-month low.

The Markit/Cips UK manufacturing PMI index showed activity fell to 55.3 last month from 56.2 in December, missing City forecasts of a further acceleration in growth. However, the PMI remained well above its long-run average of 51.7 and above the 50 mark which separates expansion from contraction.

Britain’s manufacturers have experienced growing demand for orders from as China, Japan, the Middle East and North America in recent months. There has also been an upturn in sales in Europe as the continent returns to economic growth after years in the doldrums. The readings come as ministers enter critical talks over trade with Brussels.

However, the upswing in demand for goods has prompted rising global demand for raw materials, pushing up the cost of oil, metals, food and chemicals, and further pressuring manufacturers’ profit margins. The PMI survey showed purchase prices rose at the fastest rate in 11 months in January, and to one of the greatest extents in its history.

The Bank of England is likely to monitor the increase in prices, should companies then push up the cost of goods sold to consumers, which would cause an upturn in inflation at a time when households are already squeezed by weak wage growth and rising prices.

Manufacturers remain positive about the outlook, according to the PMI survey of bosses, with more than half forecasting production to be higher at the start of 2019.

The manufacturing PMI in the eurozone also fell last month, although it continues to outperform Britain, dropping to 59.6 in January from 60.6 in December. After years of sputtering growth hampered by the Greek sovereign debt crisis, factory orders in the eurozone rose last month at the strongest rate since 2001.