Brexageddon? Brexitastrophe? Whatever your choice of compound noun, disaster should feel more, well, disastrous. The charts of economic data refuse to show the expected right-angled precipice. Company statements — pace London estate agents — have not registered much of a Brexit effect. Sure, there are some nasty survey results, but surveys are a bunch of guesses. Out on the high street, shoppers continue to open their wallets.
Here are three theories. Call them the deluded shopper, the cowardly director and the phoney war. Under the first, shoppers are myopic, only influenced by what actually happens to them. No one is being fired, bank loans are available and the cheaper pound has made spending at home more attractive. Far-sighted business is by contrast worried, and understands that a cheaper pound means a hit to the national income. Little is being cancelled, but the wisest course is to not to venture anything new — hence those gloomy surveys. Soon the penny will drop and consumers will catch the pessimism in company boardrooms.
Or maybe these businessmen are a bunch of Chicken Littles, no better at judging Brexit than they were at predicting it. If so, the survey responses are more of a kind of virtue-signal for Europhiles to express their disapproval of the vote. Should consumers hold their nerve and foreign demand stay steady (so far, Europe is calm in the face of its sulkiest member leaving), they will return to those investment plans.
The wisest theory is the phoney war. What has happened since the referendum? A vote, some political brutality, the creation of new departments, and then everyone went on holiday. Confronted with a likely supply shock, the Bank of England has done its job, turning a possible bang into more of a whimper. If they handle it right, a nasty hit of about 3 or 4 per cent of gross domestic product could be spread over a decade.
Such a result would be bad long-term, but feel mild throughout. It depends on a competent handling of Brexit. Recall how the credit crunch began in August 2007 — and the Great Recession a full year after that.
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