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UK services firms see steady growth, Brexit concerns weigh

[LONDON] Britain's services sector kept up its steady growth in September but uncertainty about the economy remained high six months ahead of Brexit, a business survey showed on Wednesday.

The IHS Markit/CIPS UK Services Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) slipped to 53.9 from 54.3 in August, broadly in line with the median forecast of a Reuters poll of economists that had pointed to a reading of 54.0.

The survey suggested Britain's economy grew at a quarterly rate of just under 0.4 per cent during over the July-September period, data company IHS Markit said - its average growth rate since the Brexit referendum of June 2016.

"Brexit worries continue to dominate the outlook, however, keeping business optimism firmly anchored at levels which would normally be indicative of an imminent slowdown," Chris Williamson, chief economist at IHS Markit, said.

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London and Brussels have yet to agree the terms of their March 29 divorce, meaning there is still a chance of a "no-deal" Brexit that most economists think would harm British businesses.

Other data have also pointed to steady economic growth for now, although last week official statisticians said British companies cut their investment in the second quarter of 2018, a latest sign of nervousness about Brexit.

Wednesday's PMI also pointed to growing cost pressures faced by British companies linked to rising oil prices.

"The steady economic expansion and intensification of cost pressures will add to views that the next move in (Bank of England) interest rates will be another hike," Mr Williamson said.

"However, with Brexit uncertainty intensifying in recent weeks, any rise seems unlikely prior to the scheduled March 29th exit from the EU."

REUTERS