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Worst of recession over in UK but manufacturing output falls

THE worst of Britain's recession is over, but the Bank of England should still print more money because recovery is not assured, a business group said yesterday.

A separate report showed that manufacturing output fell in May, casting doubt over the sector's recovery.

The British Chambers of Commerce found there had been "welcome progress" in confidence levels in the second quarter - between April and June - in its survey of 5,600 companies.

Confidence levels have been positive for the first time since the third quarter of last year, having improved dramatically for manufacturing firms, rising 40 points from minus 38 in the first quarter to plus 2 in the second.

However, the BCC said further corrective measures were needed to support the economy and help sustain the improvement in confidence from low levels.

"The worst phase of the recession is over, but serious downward pressures persist across all sectors and regions," said David Kern, chief economist at the BCC. "Most key balances are still in negative territory and remain weak by historical standards. Recovery is now possible but it is not yet secure."

Official statistics out last week showing that gross domestic product shrank further than initially forecast caught many economists by surprise.

The revision to a 2.4 percent drop in GDP in the first quarter - significantly more than the previous estimate of a 1.9 percent decline and the worst contraction in a half century - indicated the recession was deeper than previously thought and had started earlier.

Kern said the Bank of England's monetary policy committee, meeting this week, should speed up its so-called quantitative easing program, meant to boost lending by increasing the amount of money in the economy.

The bank has committed to asset purchases of 125 billion pounds (US$203 billion), to be completed early August. The bank will review the program at its two-day rate-setting meeting from today and announce any changes tomorrow, when economists also expect it to keep interest rates at 0.5 percent.

"The immediate priority is to ensure that the moderation in the pace of decline is sustained," Kern said.

In other data, the Office for National Statistics reported that British manufacturing output fell by 1.2 percent in the March-May quarter compared to the previous three months, leaving output 12.3 percent lower than a year ago. Output of all production industries dropped by 1.8 percent.

Vicky Redwood, economist at Capital Economics, said the numbers suggest a recovery in manufacturing is weaker than earlier numbers hinted.

But Redwood said "industry still looks likely to post a much smaller fall in the second quarter overall than in the first quarter, thus boosting quarterly GDP growth."


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