The U.K. economy buckled under the strain of Brexit uncertainty in the fourth quarter.
Gross domestic product increased a smaller-than-forecast 0.2 percent, compared with 0.6 percent in the third quarter. December alone saw the economy shrink by 0.4 percent, the most since before the 2016 vote to leave the European Union.
The slowdown over the quarter came as businesses cut investment for a fourth consecutive quarter, the longest continuous decline since the financial crisis, and the weakening global economy hit trade. The pound fell 0.3 percent to $1.2909 as of 9:46 a.m. in London.
The economy is facing the worst year for growth since 2009, with economists warning of a recession if Britain leaves the EU without a deal to smooth the transition on March 29. The Bank of England sees growth of 0.2 percent in the first quarter, but the sudden loss of momentum at the end to 2018 suggests the economy could stagnate, as indicated in recent purchasing manager surveys.
With wage pressure building, the BOE might in different circumstances be preparing to raise interest. But officials last week signaled they have no intention of doing so until the “fog of Brexit” has cleared.
The fear gripping business was illustrated this month when Japanese carmaker Nissan scrapped plans to build a new model in Sunderland. Airbus, which makes wings for commercial aircraft in Britain, has also threatened to switch investment elsewhere. Business investment fell 0.9 percent in 2018.
Brexit is not the only threat facing the economy. Major markets from the Eurozone to China are losing momentum, weakening demand for British exports. Net trade cut 0.12 percent points from growth in the fourth quarter as the trade deficit hit the highest in more than two years.