ALEX BRUMMER: Chancellor to revisit furlough plan?

Even the greatest optimist will draw cold comfort from the April-to-June data from the Paris-based OECD, which places Britain firmly at the bottom of output tables for the G7 biggest economies in the second quarter. 

The UK’s performance is so much worse than that of the country’s major competitors that it verges on embarrassment, at minus-20.4 per cent against an average of minus-9.8 per cent across all advanced economies. 

It is possible to come up with excuses for this dismal outcome. The UK lockdown came later than many competitors and the discipline of citizens and companies meant it was more watertight than imagined. 

Looking ahead: Rishi Sunak may yet have to revisit his furlough plan, which vanishes in October as a support for jobs

Looking ahead: Rishi Sunak may yet have to revisit his furlough plan, which vanishes in October as a support for jobs

Looking ahead: Rishi Sunak may yet have to revisit his furlough plan, which vanishes in October as a support for jobs

Moreover, there was a big anomaly in British data in that the Office for National Statistics way of capturing public sector output meant that, because cancer and routine medical procedures were on hold, NHS production looked to be in free fall when the hospitals were chock-a-block with Covid-19 patients. Nevertheless, the gap with Germany, down 9.7 per cent, is disheartening. 

The cheerier scenario is that there was a small uptick in June, a big jump of 8.4 per cent in July and August, with the help of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s eat out and enjoy scheme, should be better. Clearly, there are sectors gasping for air, including travel (which should benefit from airport testing) and the service sector in moribund city centres. 

The extreme privilege of working from home contributes heavily to that problem and potentially is a huge drag on productivity. But there are good developments too. 

Airline Virgin Atlantic has pulled back from the brink with a £1.2billion rescue deal. And, with some typical Richard Branson marketing aplomb, it is offering travellers on planes comprehensive insurance including hard-to-find Covid-19 health coverage. 

The recently lamented historic Appledore shipyard in north Devon, closed by big beast Babcock, has been snapped up by infrastructure specialists Infrastrata, which also last year bought the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast. 

And Anglo-French owned industrial software outfit Aveva lifted prospects for UK tech with a £3.8billion offer for Osisoft. 

Housing continues to defy all expectations with transactions at a 13-year high last month, and Screwfix is to open 40 stores this year, including 30 in the UK. Admittedly, some of this might look like clutching at straws and more Whitehall assistance may be required. 

Germany is to spend an additional £9.1billion to keep people in short-time work until well into 2021. Sunak may yet have to revisit his furlough plan, which vanishes in October as a support for jobs.

Tech fellowship 

Investors trusting in Edinburgh fund manager Baillie Gifford and its flagship Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust have reason to be cheerful in a pandemic. 

Traditional industrial, retail and real estate stocks may be grounded but the riches accumulated by the Silicon Valley stars, a big part of the trust’s portfolio, are defying gravity. 

The latest rally has been engineered by San Francisco-based Salesforce, a cloud computing champion which is pulling everyone else, including Apple, up with it. 

The August bull market, a historic rarity, unleashed animal spirits bringing another generation of tech stocks to the market. Big newcomer Palantir has been around 17 years and ignored a traditional initial public offer for a direct listing. That means no new money will be raised but existing shareholders, including Donald Trump backer Peter Thiel, can cash in some chips. 

It is the biggest US launch since Wework, which flopped soon after launch. Palantir, which provides a huge amount of data analytics, should not suffer the same fate.

Energy curb 

The office-shy brigade at PwC, law firm Linklaters and Natwest bank could do worse than listen to an unheralded business guru – comedian Jerry Seinfeld. 

In the New York Times he lambasts snowflakes hiding in Maine, Vermont and Miami, urging them back to Manhattan, mocking the unreliability of remote connections. 

His killer line? Just look at Silicon Valley, the home of ‘insane technology’. Why does big tech gather in one place rather than connect with their devices? ‘Because it doesn’t work…Real, live, inspiring human energy exists when we coagulate together.’ 

QED. 

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