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Business Monitor for March 2017
(95 responses, 58% exporters)

Comments on March 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

  • March's enquiry returns were very positive. Over half reported gains in UK and export prospecting coupled with a fall into single digits for the 'Downers' so that the month's balances are a record with both UK and export reporting over half (+56 for UK and +54 for export).
  • Order balances this month were also very strong, but not quite so dramatically good. While export gainers made up 62% and UK 52%, 'Downers' were a tad under a fifth (18%) of exporters and a full quarter of all UK business so the balances weren't quite so strong (+44 for export and + 29 for UK).
  • Despite these stonking results overall, business confidence remains 'realistically' positive with a slight uptick this month and only 9% saying they are less confident than they were.

Statistical commentary

Enquiries:

  • Prospecting in Q1 has been very positive with March's numbers stronger than ever with a net positive balance of better than 50% for both UK and for export enquiries.
  • To achieve this 'Uppers' recorded their highest returns coupled with the smallest number of f 'Downers' ever.
  • As a result, the Q1 average remains well ahead of last two years:
    • 2017 Q1 average balances                   UK +42           Export +41
    • 2016 Q1 average balances                   UK +15           Export +17
    • 2015 Q1 average balances                   UK +11           Export -1

Orders:

  • It's particularly pleasing to see the lead indicators on enquiries delivering large numbers of firms say their orders are up.
  • March's order numbers were very strong with balances of +29 for UK business and +44 for export. That's the highest export balance ever and is achieved despite nearly a fifth of firms reporting business down because over three in five firms (62%) said their orders are up.
  • These stonking results produced really excellent Q1 numbers:
    • 2017 Q1 average balances                   UK +22          Export +30
    • 2016 Q1 average balances                   UK+15           Export +8
    • 2015 Q1 average balances                   UK +6             Export +10
  • 'Uppers' averaged 49% for UK business and 52% for export orders over the three months.
  • 'Downers' share for UK orders seem to be stubbornly stuck at around 1:4 companies, but maybe softening when it comes to exporting (average 22 over the three months compared with 27 a year ago).

Jobs:

  • There's a slight increase in the number of vacancies, perhaps reflecting the positive enquiry and order balances.

Investment:

  • February's aberrant investment returns have settled back into a more coherent pattern with nearly a third reporting investment in all areas and 28% saying they are investing in skills development and training but not capital investment and a quarter developing projects but not committing to them.

Finance:

  • Although the positive balances didn't continue into March, the overall returns for Q1 are just positive (+2 and +7 for working and investment capital respectively).

Confidence:

  • An uptick in the number of firms reporting improved confidence produced a similar improvement in the overall balance.
  • The Q1 average +26 compares with +2 a year ago and +9 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