Anthony Hilton: More good news needed

We were told that the Olympics appeared to have done nothing to boost retail sales
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The Independent Online

Alastair Campbell, he who for many years was spokesman for the then prime minister Tony Blair, believes the British press has become massively more negative over the past 30 years. He believes, having studied the matter at some length, there is a far greater proportion of "bad news" stories in today's papers than there was a generation ago.

That is certainly how it looked this week. It was widely reported that the insurance group Direct Line plans to shed 900 jobs as it prepares for a stock-market flotation this year. There was significantly less coverage given to the announcement by car manufacturer Honda that it is planning its biggest investment for a decade at its Swindon plant, which will create hundreds of jobs.

Similarly downplayed was Toyota's Thursday announcement that it is creating 1000 jobs at its plant in Derby.

It's not the only example. Sir Martin Sorrell's global advertising and marketing group WPP announced its profits a few days ago and also confirmed that it was moving its headquarters from Dublin back to London. This generated nothing remotely like the headlines and comment which followed that same company's decision a few years ago to leave the UK.

Then following the publication of the monthly British Retail Consortium survey, in which we were told that the Olympics appeared to have done nothing to boost retail sales. The verdict was that Britain's shopkeepers had a miserable August.

But data supplied by Visa, whose cards and payments account systems track £1 in every £3 spent in the UK, a far bigger sample than that of the BRC, told a different story on Wednesday. According to its figures August showed the strongest spending growth in almost a year. And given that services spending was soft, this implied that retail sales probably had benefited from the Olympics.

But if it got mentioned anywhere then I missed it. When you talk to companies up and down the country many of them claim to be doing quite well. If you take out the drag caused by the contraction of banking and construction and the fall-off in oil production from the North Sea the rest of the economy seems to be showing commendable resilience.

But however confident they are about their own activities, businessmen usually confess to being inhibited by what they read about the wider economy and this is making them cautious. I wonder why?