Brits are increasingly scared about the state of their finances -- and it's all down to Brexit

LONDON — British consumers reported the biggest squeeze on the amount of cash they have available to spend in more than two and a half years in April, according to a new survey from IHS Markit released on Wednesday.

Markit’s Household Finance Index (HFI) — less closely watched than its monthly PMI surveys, but still widely respected — asks regular Brits to say how they feel their financial position is each month with the aim of anticipating changing consumer behaviour.

April’s reading for the HFI was 42.5, down sharply from the 43.1 reading seen in March, and “one of the lowest readings seen since the summer of 2014.” A score of 50 equals “no change.” The new numbers suggest people feel their personal finances are getting worse. That’s a worrying signal about the impact economic uncertainty surrounding Brexit is having on British consumers.

So far Britain’s economy has defied economists’ forecasts and proven robust in the months since the June referendum, but as time goes by the effects of the referendum are starting to take their toll.

The most obvious impact so far is inflation, which has surged above 2% for the first time since mid-2014, reflecting the drastic fall in the value of the pound since June 2016. Inflation’s increase is starting to make UK households feel poorer, and Markit’s survey puts it in stark terms:

“A sharp and accelerated squeeze on financial well-being was largely driven by renewed pressures on cash available to spend, which dropped at the fastest pace since August 2014. This reflected a combination of strong rises in living costs and subdued pay growth so far in 2017.”

And here is the chart showing that squeeze as part of the longer-term trend:

Rising inflation’s impact on the finances of normal Brits is made worse by the fact that average earnings grew just 2.2% in the three months up to February, compared to the same three months a year before. Accounting for inflation — which came in at 2.3% at the latest reading — real wage growth is actually falling in the UK for the first time since 2014.

Not only does Markit’s survey suggest that Brits have less cash to spend, Tim Moore, one of IHS Markit’s senior economists, notes that British households see their future financial outlook as the worst it has been for close to three years.

“April’s survey data reveals that pressures on UK household finances have returned to levels last seen in the summer of 2014, as rising inflation and subdued pay growth have created a renewed squeeze on cash available to spend,” Moore said.

“Households are also more worried about their financial outlook than at almost any other time in past three years.”

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