The credit crunch continues

We are still experiencing a crunch in credit - when will it end?

The financial crisis, which began in 2007, is often described as the "credit crunch". The evidence, however, is that the crunch in credit only really began in 2009 and shows no sign of abating.

For many the financial crisis became real when queues of depositors were filmed outside Northern Rock on 14th September 2007. However, Bank of England credit data reveals that the credit crunch really began in the middle of 2009 and in a very dramatic fashion. It was then that many sectors of the British economy witnessed such a dramatic fall in credit that nearly three years on credit levels remain significantly below their peak.

Credit in many sectors fell off a cliff edge in the second quarter of 2009 after years of continual growth. The sectors in the table above all witnessed dramatic falls in credit in the middle of 2009, although real estate saw a more pronounced fall about a year later.

What is even more worrying is the fact that, in many sectors, credit levels have continued to fall.

The data in table 2 begins where that of table 1 finished and gives bimonthly credit figures from March 2011 to March 2012. Credit in these four key sectors has continued to fall. Of most concern are the falls in credit to manufacturing and financial intermediation firms. The manufacturing sector produces the majority of Britain’s goods exports and firms in this sector rely on credit to invest in capital. Furthermore, trade credit helps firms reach foreign markets. The fall in credit to firms involved in financial intermediation is both a symptom and a cause of the problem and is evidence of the weaknesses that continue to plague the British banking system.

The final table indicates the severity of the credit crunch. Interestingly the crunch that began in the middle of 2009 was of a similar magnitude to the contraction in credit since the end of 2010. The data suggests that, far from the crunch relaxing, it continues and with previous falls the problem is compounded.

The picture is not the same for all sectors; lending to individuals secured on the value of property or similar asset has returned to, and in fact risen beyond, pre-crisis levels. The hotels and restaurants sector did not witness a significant fall in credit during the crisis. Nevertheless credit constraints continue to affect many important sectors of the British economy and there is little indication that this situation will change any time soon. Given this, it is hard to argue that the worst is behind us.

What time is it? Time to make it easier to get credit. Photograph: Getty Images

Selling Circuits Short: Improving the prospects of the British electronics industry by Stephen L. Clarke and Georgia Plank was released yesterday by Civitas. It is available on PDF and Amazon Kindle

Photo: Getty Images
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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR