UK services firms show muted outlook

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    LONDON- British business and professional services firms have reported the biggest improvement in their outlook in more than five years but consumer services firms – harder hit by the coronavirus lockdown – remain downbeat, a survey showed.

    The Confederation of British Industry said its measure of sentiment among business and professional services firms – such as property management and logistics firms – leapt to +23 percent in the three months to February from -21 percent in the previous three months, the strongest rise since August 2015.

    While business volumes for those firms continued to fall steadily, expectations for volumes in the coming quarter were the strongest in a year.

    The swift rollout of Britain’s COVID-19 vaccination program has raised hopes of a bounce-back in the economy after its worst slump in 300 years in 2020.

    Consumer-facing services firms – including hotels and restaurants and travel businesses – saw a deeper slump in business in the past three months but the pace of decline was set to ease slightly in the coming quarter, the CBI said.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week he did not plan to fully lift England’s current lockdown before late June.

    “While businesses will welcome the clarity on re-opening provided by the government’s road-map, restrictions are chipping away at companies’ resilience, with the majority of firms putting their investment plans firmly on ice for the year ahead,” Ben Jones, a CBI economist, said.

    The CBI survey was conducted between Jan. 29 and Feb. 15, before Johnson’s announcement of his timetable for easing England’s coronavirus restrictions. – Reuters