Business investment fell for the third quarter in a row – the first time it has happened since the financial crisis.
The Office for National Statistics said it fell 1.1% in the third quarter, revised up by 0.1 percentage points from the first estimate.
Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to the EY Item Club, said: “This strongly suggests businesses were cautious over investment as doubts mounted as to whether a Brexit transition arrangement would come into being next March and companies looked for greater clarity over the UK’s likely long-term relationship with the EU.”
The data comes a day after the Bank of England warned of growing risks to the economy because Brexit uncertainty had “intensified considerably.”
It cut its expectations for growth in the final quarter, from 0.3% to 0.2%.
Business groups also criticised politicians for the ongoing rows in Westminster rather than preparing for Brexit.
In a joint statement, the British Chamber of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry and Federation of Small Businesses said they were “watching in horror” and the “lack of progress in Westminster means that the risk of a “no-deal” Brexit is rising”.
Treasury minister Mel Stride said on Friday that businesses “need to take certain steps” to prepare for a no-deal scenario.
“The time is now, so there is a call to action and those who are importing or exporting into and out of the EU 27, in the unlikely event that there is a no deal at the end of March, will need to take certain steps. They need to do that now,” he said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Meantime, the ONS said the country’s economic growth in the third quarter was in line with earlier readings and economists’ estimates of 0.6%.
Strong retail sales during the World Cup and the recovery in construction in July was the primary driver behind growth.
ONS data also show that consumer spending grew 0.5% in the quarter, but this was fuelled by borrowing as the household savings ratio deteriorated to a historically low 3.8% in the period.
Third quarter #UK #GDP #growth confirmed at 0.6% quarter-on-quarter and 1.5% year-on-year. Consumer spending up 0.5% q/q but disappointing drop of 1.1% q/q in business investment. Net trade modestly positive as exports up 1.1% q/q & imports up 0.8% q/q
— Howard Archer (@HowardArcherUK) December 21, 2018
“Households continued to spend more than they received, for an unprecedented eight quarters in a row,” said Rob Kent-Smith from the ONS.
Data also show strong tax receipts meant public sector net borrowing in November was £7.2bn, £900m less than in the same month in 2017.
This was the lowest November borrowing for 14 years.
Borrowing in the current financial year to date stands at £32.8bn, which is £13.6bn less than in the same period in 2017 and the lowest year-to-date figure since 2002.
Britain’s current account deficit widened by £6.6bn to £26.5bn in the quarter, the largest for two years.
Mr Archer added: “The further, marked rise in the current account deficit is disappointing as an elevated shortfall is a potential source of vulnerability for the UK economy – particularly if there was any major loss of investor confidence in the UK for any reason such as Brexit concerns.”