UK Inflation Slows to Near Three-year Low

A general view shows Palace of Westminster, home to the Houses of Parliament, and the Elizabeth Tower, commonly known by the name of the bell "Big Ben", in London on June 15, 2023. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)
A general view shows Palace of Westminster, home to the Houses of Parliament, and the Elizabeth Tower, commonly known by the name of the bell "Big Ben", in London on June 15, 2023. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)
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UK Inflation Slows to Near Three-year Low

A general view shows Palace of Westminster, home to the Houses of Parliament, and the Elizabeth Tower, commonly known by the name of the bell "Big Ben", in London on June 15, 2023. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)
A general view shows Palace of Westminster, home to the Houses of Parliament, and the Elizabeth Tower, commonly known by the name of the bell "Big Ben", in London on June 15, 2023. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

Britain's annual inflation rate slowed to a near three-year low in April as energy prices cooled further, official data showed Wednesday, boosting the governing Conservatives before this year's general election.

The Consumer Prices Index slowed to 2.3 percent from 3.2 percent in March, the Office for National Statistics revealed in a statement, though it was still faster than the 2.1 percent analysts were expecting.

April marked the lowest level since July 2021, when inflation had stood at the Bank of England's 2.0-percent target.

The news comes after the British central bank this month signalled a summer interest rate cut, as it held borrowing costs at a 16-year peak of 5.25 percent to further dampen price rises.

Following the inflation data, most analysts said a rate reduction was unlikely to occur as soon as June, when the European Central Bank is forecast to decrease eurozone borrowing costs, AFP reported.

The Federal Reserve is also expected to cut US interest rates this year as global inflationary pressures subside.

Sharply lower inflation sets the scene for this year's general election, as beleaguered Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's Conservatives trail the main opposition Labor Party in opinion polls.

"Today marks a major moment for the economy, with inflation back to normal. This is proof that the plan is working and that the difficult decisions we have taken are paying off," insisted Sunak, who has made cutting inflation a top priority.

However, Labor finance spokesperson Rachel Reeves slammed the Tories' stewardship of the economy, which emerged in the first quarter from a shallow recession.

"Inflation has fallen but now is not the time for Conservative ministers to be popping champagne corks. Prices have soared, mortgages bills have risen and taxes are at a seventy year high," Reeves argued.

Prices are still rising on top of the sharp increases seen in recent years but at a far slower rate, with businesses and households weathering a cost-of-living crisis.

That has been worsened by elevated BoE interest rates which ramp up the cost of loans, denting disposable incomes and company investment, thereby crimping economic activity.

 



Lebanon Tourism Season Revives Economic Outlook

People are seen at the arrival lounge at Beirut International Airport, Lebanon. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
People are seen at the arrival lounge at Beirut International Airport, Lebanon. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Lebanon Tourism Season Revives Economic Outlook

People are seen at the arrival lounge at Beirut International Airport, Lebanon. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
People are seen at the arrival lounge at Beirut International Airport, Lebanon. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The surge in visitors to Lebanon during Eid al-Adha and high demand for summer concert bookings are boosting hopes for a revival in tourism.

This sector is crucial for reigniting positive economic growth after about nine months of challenging conditions due to the Gaza war and subsequent border clashes between Hezbollah and Israel in southern Lebanon.

Contrary to earlier fears this month of possible Israeli strikes inside Lebanon, Ali Hamieh, caretaker Minister of Public Works and Transport, reported a daily average of 14,000 arrivals at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport, with numbers on the rise.

Jean Abboud, President of the Association of Travel and Tourism Agents, confirmed that despite initial concerns, booking rates have bounced back to 90-95% after Israeli threats of a mid-month strike. Most arrivals are Lebanese expatriates and foreign workers.

Before the summer season’s anticipated surge, Lebanon saw a 5.37% decrease in arrivals, with air traffic down by 9.34% and passenger numbers at Beirut International Airport dropping by 6.84% in the first five months of this year, totaling 2.29 million travelers compared to 2.46 million last year.

These declines were linked to the border clashes.

Lebanon’s tourism sector, generating over $5 billion annually in recent years, ranks as the country’s second most vital revenue stream after expatriate remittances, which officially approach $7 billion.

Together, they contribute more than half of Lebanon’s national income, which has dropped sharply from about $55 billion to under $22 billion due to the ongoing financial and currency crises that erupted five years ago.

Despite significant losses during peak tourism seasons like Christmas, Easter, and Eid al-Fitr, a report by Bank Audi indicated that Lebanon’s tourism revenues lost over $1 billion in the first six months of the Gaza conflict, driven by a 24% drop in tourist arrivals.

On average, tourists spend around $3,000 during their stay in Lebanon.