LONDON, May 12 (Xinhua) -- The United Kingdom's (UK) economy grew by 0.1 percent in the first quarter (Q1) of this year, official figures showed on Friday.
In output terms, the services sector grew by 0.1 percent between January and March, driven by increases in information and communication, and administrative and support service activities, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
The construction sector grew by 0.7 percent, the production sector by 0.1 percent, and manufacturing by 0.5 percent.
Despite the expansion, the country's quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) is still 0.5 percent below its pre-COVID-19 level (fourth quarter of 2019).
The UK remains the only G7 (Group of Seven) country in which the main quarterly measure of GDP has not recovered to its pre-pandemic peak yet, Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics consultancy, noted. "This chiefly reflects weakness in households' real spending."
Monthly estimates showed the UK's GDP fell by 0.3 percent in March, following an increase of 0.5 percent in January and no growth in February.
The fall in March was driven by widespread decreases across the services sector, ONS Director of Economic Statistics Darren Morgan said.
"Despite the launch of new number plates, cars sales were low by historic standards --continuing the trend seen since the start of the pandemic --with warehousing, distribution and retail also having a poor month," he said.
"These falls were partially offset by a strong month for manufacturing as well as growth in gas production and distribution and also in construction."
UK GDP is expected to be flat over the first half of this year, although underlying output, excluding the estimated impact of strikes and an extra bank holiday due to the coronation of King Charles III, is projected to grow modestly, the Bank of England said on Thursday.
The UK economy looks increasingly likely that the UK will "avoid a recession this year," Ben Jones, lead economist at the Confederation of British Industry, said.
"Underlying momentum appears to be firming, with our surveys showing growth expectations for the quarter ahead creeping back into positive territory for the first time in a year," he added.
A monthly comparison of independent projections published by the UK Treasury in late April also showed an average new forecast of a 0.1 percent contraction for the UK economy in 2023, compared with a 0.5 percent decrease in March's prediction.
However, the outlook remains mixed. Public sector strikes look set to weigh a little more heavily on GDP in Q2 than in Q1, and output at many businesses will be slightly lower than normal in May due to the lost working days for the coronation, Tombs noted.
"While the surprise change in the UK's economic growth is certainly welcome, there are still real hurdles to overcome. There's no sugar coating the fact that growth remains very sluggish," analyst Sophie Lund-Yates at financial service company Hargreaves Lansdown said.
"The main issue is that inflation is set to fall more slowly than expected, partly because of the unprecedented rise in supermarket prices. It's now thought that inflation will stay above its 2 percent target until 2025, a full nine months longer than initially forecast," Lund-Yates added.