LONDON (Reuters) – British economic output stabilised in February after a sharp fall the month before, as many businesses continued to suffer from lockdown restrictions affecting hospitality and other face-to-face services, a closely watched survey showed on Wednesday.
Hours before finance minister Rishi Sunak is due to set out his economic plans for the coming year, the IHS Markit/CIPS composite Purchasing Managers’ Index gave a reading of 49.6 for February, up from an eight-month low of 41.2 in January.
The figure means businesses reported broadly stable activity for last month after a steep deterioration early in the year, and is little changed from an initial flash estimate of 49.8.
The PMI for the services sector alone rose to a four-month high of 49.5 in February from January’s eight-month low of 39.5, again in line with the initial flash estimate.
“Restrictions on travel, leisure and hospitality due to the national lockdown continued to curtail overall activity, but there were some pockets of growth in technology and business services,” financial data company IHS Markit said.
Britain entered its third national coronavirus lockdown in early January, closing schools, non-essential shops and most other businesses open to the public, though people can still travel to work if needed.
Last week Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a path for easing the lockdown in England as vaccinations roll out rapidly. Schools will reopen next week but full restrictions on hospitality venues will not go until late June at the earliest.
Sunak is expected to set out further spending plans in a budget statement around 1230 GMT after providing almost 300 billion pounds of support during the past year.
Business optimism in the services PMI has risen to its highest since 2006 due to expectations of a return to normality. But many firms still reported difficulties from new, post-Brexit trading restrictions that took effect on Jan. 1.
(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Catherine Evans)