Given the information we had on industrial production in October and November, there has to be some relief that the quarterly fall in gross domestic product (GDP) was not even larger. As it was GDP fell by 0.3%, while industrial production dropped by a hefty 1.8%.
Construction industry output rose modestly, by 0.3%, for the first time in a long while, in spite of an assumption by the Office for National Statistics that there was a non-seasonally adjusted slump in the sector's output of 16% in December. Service sector output was flat.
The big picture is that these preliminary figures show that the economy showed no growth in 2012 (actually marginally better than the Office for Budget Responsibility's December estimate of a 0.1% fall) and was broadly flat in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier.
Those employment figures, showing a 552,000 rise over the past 12 months, look even harder to explain in the context of zero growth.
Taking out North Sea oil from the picture doesn't help much either. Though this reduces the Q4 fall to 0.1%, it still leaves 2012 growth at a modest 0.2%, and growth in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier at 0.4%. The question is whether the third and fourth quarters should be taken together to show modest quarterly growth or, as justified, whether GDP genuinely is as flat as these figures suggest. More here.