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Instant view: UK markets sapped by Hunt's budget

Autumn statement of Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, in London

LONDON (Reuters) - British finance minister Jeremy Hunt announced on Wednesday a bigger-than-expected cut in social security contributions and made incentives for business investment permanent in a bid to speed up the country's sluggish economy.

The pound fell against the dollar and the euro, while blue-chip stocks stayed in negative territory, although shares in pubs rallied sharply after Hunt unveiled a plan to freeze duty on alcohol until August next year.

UK growth is forecast to reach 0.7% in 2024, Hunt said, citing the latest projections from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), far below a forecast in March for an expansion of 1.8% next year.

MARKET REACTION:

STOCKS: FTSE 100 was down 0.4% on the day. Shares in pub owners FULLER'S, Marston and JD Wetherspoon jumped, rising between 0.5-2.2%.

FOREX: Sterling fell 0.5% to $1.247, compared with $1.2543 before Hunt's speech.

FIXED INCOME: Benchmark 10-year gilt yields were last up 4 basis points on the day at 4.142%, having reversed an earlier decline after Britain's Debt Management Office surprised investors with only a tiny cut to its bond issuance plans.

COMMENTS:

CHARLES HEPWORTH, INVESTMENT DIRECTOR, GAM INVESTMENTS, LONDON:

"The OBR have downgraded UK GDP growth by some margin for next year from 1.8% (in their March estimate) to 0.7%. A stagnant labour force post Brexit is clearly impacting their assessment. Given growth is directed by the size of labour and its productivity, there is only one part of that equation Hunt can try to tweak - an increase in productivity. But that is the age-old problem across many economies that remains elusive."

THOMAS MCGARRITY, HEAD OF EQUITIES, RBC WEALTH MANAGEMENT, LONDON:

"Ultimately, the budget does not change our view that the UK economy faces a high risk of stagflation, which keeps us cautious and highly selective on UK domestic stocks.

While we remain neutral overall on UK equities, we continue to have a bias for more globally diverse businesses, many of which trade at a notable valuation discount versus their international peers listed in other markets. We view this unwarranted "UK market discount" on these global companies as an opportunity for long-term investors in these stocks."

MATTHEW RYAN, HEAD OF MARKET STRATEGY, EBURY, LONDON:

"We’ve seen a rather limited reaction in markets to today’s budget announcement - a far cry from the wild gyrations we witnessed when UK tax cuts were last unveiled by Liz Truss’ government a little over a year ago."

"All in all, most of the policy tweaks announced, including the increases in the state pension and (universal credit) and disability benefits, were either fully expected or seen as having minimal impact on the economic outlook. This can explain the mild reaction in both equity markets and the pound this afternoon."

MICHAEL FIELD, EUROPEAN MARKET STRATEGIST, MORNINGSTAR, AMSTERDAM:

"From a macro-economic perspective, the autumn statement provided little in the way of good news. GDP growth forecasts were slashed for both 2024 and 2025, while inflation forecasts were increased, a double-whammy of negativity."

"For consumers, today’s budget will be taken mildly positively, with national insurance rates falling and benefits rising by a higher rate than expected. With inflation now forecasted to remain higher for longer, this could go some way to offsetting the likely cutbacks that households will have to make in order to make ends meet, which is also good news for consumer facing businesses.”

OLI CREASEY, PROPERTY EQUITY ANALYST, QUILTER CHEVIOT, LONDON:

"There were a few bits and pieces that were aimed at increasing planning outcomes and unlocking the bottlenecks in the planning system."

"This doesn't feel like it's the sort of thing that's going to move the needle right now."

"It's not planning that's stopping (developers) from selling homes right now, it's affordability. Inflation dropping and the prospect of a peak in interest rate is perhaps more impactful for the housing market."

PHILIP SHAW, CHIEF ECONOMIST UK AT INVESTEC, LONDON:

"Early days to make a very informed comment, but in overall terms this is a meaningful fiscal stimulus - 14 billion pounds of measures next year is equivalent to 0.5% of GDP. This will help to buttress demand but the question is what effect this has on monetary policy.

It may be excessive to think that it will trigger higher interest rates, but potentially it could delay the point next year when the MPC (Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee) moves to bring rates down. Full expensing should be a major lift to UK industry and to the longer term-macro outlook where improving the UK’s woeful pace of productivity growth is critical."

JATIN ONDHIA, CEO, SHOJIN PROPERTY PARTNERS, LONDON:

"Housing could not be overlooked today, not after Labour had made such a point of championing housebuilding as a key part of its election campaign. Hunt struck some positive notes, such as plans to make it easier for councils to fast-track applications for infrastructure projects, and potentially making it easier for houses to be converted into flats. But overall, this was a lacklustre statement for the property sector, with little of substance to excite those building, buying and investing in UK real estate."

MARC VON GRUNDHERR, DIRECTOR, BENHAM AND REEVES, LONDON:

"Another underwhelming autumn statement where the housing market is concerned. Much like unwrapping a pair of socks on Christmas Day, it lacked imagination and left us feeling largely disappointed.

It’s clear they have run out of ideas when it comes to addressing the current issues plaguing the property market. Hardly surprising when we have housing ministers coming and going more frequently than the postman."

(Reporting by EMEA Markets Team; Editing by Yoruk Bahceli)