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British Consumer Spending Power Lowest Since 1970s

Household disposable income fell for the third quarter in a row.Household disposable income fell for the third quarter in a row.

British consumers have suffered the longest decline in their spending power since the 1970s, official data showed on Friday, although there was a sign that the economy may have recently gathered a bit of momentum.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics painted a bleak picture for consumers who are facing the double hit of rising inflation—caused in large part by the fall in the pound since the Brexit vote—and slowing wage growth, Reuters reported.

Household disposable income, adjusted for inflation, fell for the third quarter in a row, the ONS said, putting some of the blame on the timing of tax payments. That was the worst run since the 1970s and took the household savings ratio down to an all-time low of 1.7%.

The Bank of England is watching for signs of a pickup in the economy after the weak start to the year as it plans when to raise interest rates for the first time in a decade.

The ONS confirmed that the economy grew by just 0.2% in the January-March period compared with the previous three months, slowing sharply from the fourth quarter of 2016 when it grew by a quarterly 0.7%.

The sudden slowdown meant Britain went from being one of the fastest-growing economies among the Group of Seven rich nations to its weakest performer in the first quarter.

BoE expects growth to increase speed to 0.4% in the second quarter—despite the inconclusive outcome of this month’s national election—and has said it might start to raise interest rates if it sees stronger exports and investment in the coming months.

ONS said Britain’s giant services sector grew by a monthly 0.2% in April, slightly slower than in March. But growth was up 0.2% in the three months to April, faster than 0.1% in the first three months of the year.

Alan Clarke, an economist with Scotiabank, said earlier on Friday that monthly growth of 0.2% for the services industry in April would be consistent with the BoE’s forecast for overall economic growth to pick up in the second quarter to 0.4%.

ONS said business investment grew by a quarterly 0.6% in the first three months of 2017, unchanged from its previous estimate and only partially offsetting a fall in the fourth quarter.

It also said Britain’s current account deficit widened to £16.9 billion ($21.93 billion) in the January-March period, equivalent to 3.4% of gross domestic product, up from 2.4% in the fourth quarter.

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