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Business Monitor for April 2017
(93 responses, 62% exporters)

Comments on April Monitor Data

This month it is particularly important to note: The Monitor records only the number/share of companies, not the size of orders or number of jobs etc.

Summary

  • Good month overall with large proportions of firms reporting performance levels the same or better than in March when the Monitor set records, so that the month-on-month balance comparisons can be misleading (e.g. on export orders). The standout exception in this generally benign picture for enquiries, jobs, investment and confidence is 'UK orders' where 40% of firms said their orders were down this month, rather similar to last year's 39%
  • Finance does seem to be easier to come by for those companies that want it.
  • Confidence is still positive but a dip in the overall balance may reflect a period where contingency plans are increasingly being reviewed.

Statistical commentary

Enquiries:

  • Prospecting returns continue to show a positive picture with April's numbers strong and for the most part consolidating the powerful performance in Q1.
  • The Downers' share remains small despite a doubling of the numbers to 15% on UK business. Meanwhile only 7% of exporters reported enquiries down in April.
  • There were significant increases in the share of firms reporting prospects at the same levels as last month, which were themselves at record levels.
  • As a result, the 3-month running averages are still well ahead of last two years:
    • 2017 average balances                   UK +36           Export +36
    • 2016 average balances                   UK +18           Export +15
    • 2015 average balances                   UK +9           Export -1

Orders:

  • The inevitable softening from March has gone a bit further when it comes to actual orders.
  • The share of companies reporting orders up shrank 17 points and they all ended up in the 'Down' column to create negative balance (-5).
  • The reaction amongst exporters was in some respects more modulated. The 39 point decline amongst companies reporting gains was split between 'Samers' (28) and 'Downers' (11) also producing a small negative balance.
  • These plus the earlier results mean the current 3-month averages are well ahead of the last two years:
    • 2017 average balances                   UK +11          Export +23
    • 2016 average balances                   UK+4              Export +5
    • 2015 average balances                   UK +1             Export +9

Jobs:

  • There's another slight increase in the number of vacancies and a stronger balance reflecting the opportunities for workers at all levels in the sector.

Investment:

  • April's investment returns maintained March's a more coherent pattern with nearly two in five firms reporting investment in all areas and 18% saying they are investing in skills development and training but not capital investment and a quarter developing projects but not committing to them.

Finance:

  • The overall returns for Q1 were positive (+2 and +7 for working and investment capital respectively) and strengthened in April so that the running averages since November indicate the finance is easier to obtain that it was last year (+6 and + 8 for working and investment capital compared with -6 and -3 over the same period a year ago)

Confidence:

  • Confidence still positive but pauses ahead of the Brexit negotiations (and maybe the General Election)
  • The 3-month running average is +20 compared with +9 a year ago and +7 in 2015.

The Monitor (Click graphs for larger image and data)


Notes:

  • choice of statements in full:
    1. Developing projects but not committing to them
    2. Investing in all areas of the business

 

Access to Finance

Monthly Changes in Confidence