Will Holman and Tim Pike
Firms are increasingly investing in automation, substituting capital for labour, as workers become more scarce and costly. We are seeing multiple examples, from automation in food processing to increasingly-common self-service tills. This push for productivity growth is one of the key themes from our meetings with businesses in the past year, which we think suggests a reversal of a decade-long trend.
Saleem Bahaj, Angus Foulis and Gabor Pinter
Apocalypse Now is widely regarded as a masterpiece of the new Hollywood era. Director Francis Ford Coppola displayed audacious vision and a willingness to take risks. But we don’t just mean artistic risk. Mr Coppola gambled financially too: he staked his Napa Valley house and vineyard on the film, pledging it order to get the $32 million in loans necessary to keep the production on the road. While his movie was exceptional, there is nothing unusual about Mr Coppola’s financial strategy. Small business owners worldwide use their personal assets, and often their house, to back loans to their firms: in a new paper, we use microdata for several thousand firms to show how important this can be for UK investment.
Saleem Bahaj, Iren Levina and Jumana Saleheen.
Since the financial crisis the UK has experienced a period of weak productivity growth, weak investment coupled with a decline in credit to non-financial sectors of the economy. But there is debate about the direction of causality: did low growth and other structural factors mean firms and households wanted to borrow less – as argued by Martin Wolf? Or did the financial sector offer too few funds to the real economy in the wake of the crisis as banks tried to repair their balance sheets. Alternatively, the financial system may not be functioning properly in general, if much of the financial sector’s activity contributes little to the betterment of lives and efficiency of business – a point made by John Kay.
The internet’s share of UK retail sales is – at 12% – the highest in the developed world. In my daily conversations with businesses and services, I find that some sectors are responding much more nimbly to the competition from internet retailers than others. In this blog I argue that the growing share of internet retailing is likely to reduce business investment, especially in buildings, but the additional capacity associated with internet retailing is likely to be a drag on retailers’ profitability that may last for many years. In my view the long-term effect on capital productivity should be positive, but the effects on labour productivity are less obvious and may be adverse.