Sir Stuart Rose, chairman of Asda and former chief executive of Marks and Spencer, has told the BBC the government is gambling with the U.K.'s economic future, likening the government's mini-budget to a bet on a horse race.
"They have put the entire U.K. economy on the 3:30 at Epsom," he said. "If it comes in, people will cheer but if it doesn't, people will be in a very difficult position indeed."
He cast doubt on the U.K. economy's ability to grow, as he pointed to Asda's closely followed income tracker which shows that the poorest 20% of households are already spending £60 more than they are earning every month.
"That household budget deficit means people are having to rein in spending and move away from premium brands."
Companies are not only facing a vicious squeeze on customer budgets, their own borrowing costs have rocketed in the last year making it very difficult for firms to borrow to invest and grow their own business and — in turn — the economy as a whole.
The S&P Investment Grade Corporate Bond index shows that in October last year, U.K. companies that are considered to have strong finances — deemed investment grade — could borrow for 10 years at 1.76%. That same debt is now costing 6.1%.
As one senior banker told the BBC: "No one knows the value of anything right now, which means no one will be doing anything until this massive uncertainty clears."
He added that many firms were looking to reduce debt, which could mean selling off non-core parts of their business.
While it is early days, in the current environment few firms will be looking at ways to pour money into new projects — which is the outcome the chancellor desperately wants.
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