No good news on GDP
It wasn't a bad dream. The recovery really did stall in the final three months of 2010, and it wasn't only the weather. That is the most important conclusion to be drawn from today's second round of GDP estimates for the fourth quarter.
Most City experts were expecting little change in these numbers - and they were right. No-one should read too much into the extra 0.1% that has been taken off output, taking it from minus 0.5% to minus 0.6%.
As the chief economist of the ONS, Joe Grice, commented as the numbers were coming out, that 0.1% change is well within the margin of error. In the past five years, the average revision, in either direction, between the first estimate and the version three years later has been 0.16%. If you extend the time frame, the average change is much larger.
Many will doubtless find it symbolically important that the ONS has revised down the output number, but not changed its estimate of the negative effect of the weather. If the ONS is right, the new figures suggest that the economy would have contracted, very slightly, in the fourth quarter, even if the sun had been shining throughout. But symbolic or otherwise, the same caveat applies, with bells on.
There is even more uncertainty around that 0.5% estimate of the weather impact than there is surrounding the output number itself: no-one should put much store behind the minus 0.1% you get from subtracting one from the other. The basic message of both estimates is that, absent the bad weather, the economy was flat.
Those looking for bad news in these figures (and that is usually everyone) might do better looking beyond the first page, to the trade and investment tables towards the back. Investment was 2.5% down on the previous quarter, and was a key factor in the slowdown. And net trade, once again, made a negative contribution to the recovery - exports growing 2.3%, but imports up 3%.
The ONS do not provide any further breakdown on their estimate of the weather effect: they just say it hasn't changed. Perhaps exporters were worse affected than importers by the snow - that is certainly plausible. But weather or not, we are still waiting for the fall in the pound to generate a significant upturn in the UK's net trade. And we are still waiting for lasting growth in investment.