UK Plc out of Recession?

Today the Office for National Statistics produced information that suggests, albeit rather lightly, that Britain is finally coming out of recession. The economy grew by 0.1% in the final quarter of 2009. Invariably published statistics get revised as more accurate data is fed into the equation. One has to wonder though whether there is any real point in providing information that tells us what happened, but doesn’t really as it gets altered. It would be rather like me telling you that your investment has risen by 10%, but then a few months later explaining that in fact I was wrong, it rose by 15%. The bottom line is “so what?” and therein lies the problem.

Whatever the official statistics show, they are little more than window dressing, however impartial. They are used to provide ammunition to support argument on both sides of a debate and have little to do with reality, let alone the present tense or how we create a better future. The financial services industry is rife with statistical manipulation and is often an unhelpful way to assess investments.

All in all, I have to agree with one of my colleagues who likes to use the phrase, “there are lies, damned lies and then statistics”. I tend to take the view that the quality of questions is more valuable than any statistic. Take pretty much any example – say, swine flu. The WHO (World Health Organization) has been under criticism of its handling of the swine flu pandemic. Over 12,700 people died from it (12,700 too many) but this is actually less than the amount that die each year from “normal seasonal flu”. A huge cost to all and perhaps some deaths were avoided, but again statistics only tell part of the story. Perhaps better questions could and should have been asked. I know many of you are ‘top drawer’ medical professionals and you will have your own view on this, but one has to ask, was this the proverbial storm in a tea-cup? I have to admit though that on this occasion it was probably a case of lose-lose for the Government had the pandemic materialised into anything approaching the worst projected scenarios. A case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

So I confess to being generally sceptical of most statistics… don’t get me started on surveys!

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