Apparently, slowing negative is now the new positive. Contraction is passé. The only problem is, that the evidence doesn't appear to suggest that.
Just two examples, of many recently, spring to mind.
The latest Key Purchasing Managers Index for construction from the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) rose from 30.9 in March to 38.1 in April. Hurrah! It was reported by many as confirmation of more "green shoots". Unfortunately, anything below 50 means that activity in the sector is falling and below 40 implies it is falling fast.
One year ago CIPS was reporting the rapid deterioration in construction with a figure of 39 and yet it is now being celebrated with cheer? Of course, 38.1 is less bad than 30.9 but certainly not something to shout about, at least not positively.
The latest RICS survey of the housing market was also perceived as excellent news, with buyer inquiries experiencing their fastest growth for 10 years although some parts of the press stated buyer inquiries were at their highest level for 10 years (if only). A negative seasonally adjusted balance of -60% illustrates that 60% of respondents, on balance, stated that house prices were falling. This is considerably less bad than the 89% at the end of last year but it is still illustrating falls.
The point is not to discount the information that is coming out but to understand what the data means.
Furthermore, in volatile times, it also critical not to pin hopes upon one set of data, or indeed one month's data. Halifax's house price rises in March were greeted with great joy and coverage. Unfortunately, Nationwide's house prices a few days later illustrated further falls and since then both series have highlighted further house price falls.
The falls in housing occurred so sharply initially that we would not expect the falls to accelerate. The fact that the falls are continuing is bad enough and the deceleration of the fall is what we would expect. Tentative signs are there but personally I would be very careful before predicting significant growth.
Noble Francis, economics director at the Construction Products Association