THE ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT

The economy comprises millions of people and thousands of firms as well as the government and local authorities, all taking decisions about prices and wages, what to buy, sell, produce, export, import and many other matters. All these organizations and the decisions they take play a prominent part in shaping the business environment in which firms exist and operate.

The economy is complicated and difficult to control and predict, but it is certainly important to all businesses. You should be aware that there are times when businesses and individuals have plenty of funds to spend and there are times when they have to cut back on their spending. This can have enormous implications for business as a whole.

When the economy is enjoying a boom, firms experience high sales and general prosperity. At such times, unemployment is low and many firms will be investing funds to enable them to produce more. They do this because consumers have plenty of money to spend and firms expect high sales. It naturally follows that the state of the economy is a major factor in the success of firms.

However, during periods when people have less to spend many firms face hard times as their sales fall. Thus, the economic environment alters as the economy moves into a recession. At that time, total spending declines as income falls and unemployment rises. Consumers will purchase cheaper items and cut expenditure on luxury items such as televisions and cars.

Changes in the state of the economy affect all types of business, though the extent to which they are affected varies. In the recession of the early 1990s the high street banks suffered badly. Profits declined and, in some cases, losses were incurred. This was because fewer people borrowed money from banks, thus denying them the opportunity to earn interest on loans, and a rising proportion of those who did borrow defaulted on repayment. These so-called "bad debts" cut profit margins substantially. Various forecasters reckoned that the National Westminster Bank's losses in the case of Robert Maxwell's collapsing business empire amounted to over £100 million.

No individual firm has the ability to control this aspect of its environment. Rather, it is the outcome of the actions of all the groups who make up society as well as being influenced by the actions of foreigners with whom the nation has dealings.

MEASURING ECONOMIC ACTIVITY

There are a large number of statistics produced regularly on the operation of the world's major economies. The UK's economy is no exception in this respect. You will probably have noticed that often the headlines in newspapers or important items on television news programmes relate to economic data and the implications for individuals and businesses. A prime example of this occurs when interest rates are increased: the media responds by highlighting the adverse effects on businesses with debts and householders with mortgages.

Data is provided on a wide range of aspects of the economy's operation. Statistics are available to show.

* the level of unemployment

* the level of inflation

* a country's trade balance with the rest of the world

* production volumes in key industries and the economy as a whole

* the level of wages

* raw material prices, and so forth.

The main statistics illustrating the economy's behaviour relate to the level of activity in the economy. That is, they tell us whether the economy is working at fall capacity using all or nearly all, available resources of labour, machinery and other factors of production or whether these resources are being under-utilized.

The unemployment figures for the economy give an indicator of the level of activity. As the economy moves towards a recession and a lower level of prosperity it is likely that unemployment figures will rise. An alternative measure of the level of activity is national income statistics, which show the value of a nation's output during a year. Economists use the term Gross National Product to describe this data. Changes in the level or trends of such key data have great significance for businesses, as we shall see later.

There are numerous sources of data on the economy of which we can make use. The government publishes much through the Treasury, Department of Trade and Industry, the Bank of England and the Department of Employment. The Central Statistical Office, which was established during the Second World War, publishes about half of the government's economic data.

Much of this is contained in its annual publication, "The Annual Abstract of Statistics". It also publishes the equally valuable "Social Trends" annually. Additionally, private organizations, such as the banks, building societies and universities, publish figures on various aspects of the economy's performance.

Economic statistics are presented in many forms, the most common being graphs and tables. Although these statistics can be valuable in assisting managers, they should be treated with some caution when predicting the future trend of the economy and thus helping the business to take effective decisions.

THREE ECONOMIC ISSUES








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