Holding on to hope: Business confidence stays solid despite lockdowns

If it can’t get any worse, then you might as well hope it will get better.

Businesses responding to the ANZ Business Outlook survey in October remain relatively optimistic about the next few months – even in Auckland.

Meanwhile around the country the concern about rising cost pressure remains intense and appears more problematic than any lockdown hit to consumer demand.

Preliminary ANZ Business Outlook data showed strong resilience, with even Auckland firms maintaining firm expectations that conditions will improve over the next few months.

Most forward-looking activity indicators held up or showed and improvement.

“Auckland firms are showing real fortitude, but this isn’t a large sample,” said ANZ Chief Economist, Sharon Zollner.

Auckland firms reported higher business confidence, own activity expectations, investment intentions, export intentions and profit expectations (and cost and inflation pressure) than elsewhere, and employment intentions were holding up well, she said.

One possible explanation was that the expectation questions implicitly compared to the situation today, Zollner said.

“If Auckland firms expect restrictions to ease, they’ll expect more activity.

“But that reasoning doesn’t apply to investment and employment intentions in quite the same way, as these wouldn’t have tanked like current activity,” Zollner said.

“It’s encouraging, but we’ll put more weight on the full-month results.”

Business confidence eased 2 points to -9, but own activity jumped 6 points to 26.

Both measures continue to sit well above pre-pandemic levels of 2018 and 2019 when confidence plunged following the change of Government.

“Business sentiment continued to defy expectations,” said ASB senior economist Jane Turner.

“We had expected the prospect of a prolonged period of restrictions to take a larger toll on business confidence.

“Even more surprising, was that the level of optimism is actually higher in Auckland than outside of Auckland, according to ANZ.”

Meanwhile inflation pressures remain intense.

Inflation expectations were still above 3 per cent and the percentage of firms expecting to lift their prices in coming months rose from 58 per cent to a net 64 per cent.

Cost pressures were extreme, with a net 85 per cent of firms expecting higher costs, up 1 point.

Overall, capacity utilisation, which normally correlates well with GDP, lifted from 17 per cent to 20 per cent, Zollner said.

Only a net 4 per cent of businesses reported lower activity than a year ago. A net 11 per cent of firms are reporting higher employment than a year ago.

Preliminary results for the October Business Outlook survey cover the period fromSeptember 30 to midnight October 10 and roughly 230 respondents, of whom around 35per cent were in Auckland.

These responses will be incorporated into the official ANZBO results to be released onOctober 27.

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