Blog: Chris Brook-CarterHave we weathered the downturn?

Chris Brook-Carter | 4 February 2011

Back when I was covering the financial performance of the world's drinks groups, I remember reaching a point when I got fed up of reading statements blaming weak sales performances on the weather.

"It's too wet to sell beer." "It's too hot too sell wine." "It's too cold to sell cider." I just never really bought into the idea that 21st century sales and marketing strategies could be floored by something as primeval and ad hoc as the climate. Don't get me wrong, I could see the logic, to some extent. But this is the UK, not flood-ravaged Queensland. And, executives seemed so keen to point to average rainfall figures that, in reality, meant you forewent the flip-flops before heading to the pub anyway and exclaimed: "See, there you go. We never stood a chance."

That has all changed in the last two years. The winters of 2010/11 and 2009 have been so spectacularly awful here in the UK that it has become a kind of sport to see which brand, company or category has become the latest to fall foul of the elements. But even now I have tried to maintain a healthy scepticism to its effects. I am, I suppose, a financial climate-change denier.

So, when fourth-quarter GDP figures here in the UK showed the country's economy had slipped back into negative growth, I was not convinced by arguments that the snow was the trigger for a one-off blip. "Here we go," I proclaimed, "it's going to be a double dip!"

So, it is a with a degree of humble-pie - which I am happy to eat for once - that I read the latest indicators that the weak recovery is still underway in 2011 Q1. The service sector rebounded strongly in January, according to the latest purchasing managers’ survey from Markit/CIPS. This follows equally promising signs from the manufacturing industry last week.

Of course, January in the UK has been as grey and un-noteworthy as it could possibly be. The lesson is, I guess, that you under-estimate Mother Nature at your peril.


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