The proportion of small businesses predicting growth for the next three-months has fallen to 34% – its lowest level for eight successive quarters and, for the first time, the proportion of businesses predicting significant expansion has fallen below 5%.
The new research from Hitachi Capital Business Finance asked a nationally representative sample of 1,184 small business owners to forecast their growth outlook for the three-month period to 30 June. Whilst the percentage of small businesses predicting growth held firm at 36% over the previous three quarters – through a period of extreme political and economic uncertainty – this month sees the first fall in the number of small businesses predicting any form of growth – whether significant expansion or modest, organic growth.
This time last year, the spring months saw an annual high in business confidence, as businesses started the new tax year with bullish plans for the year ahead. This spring, confidence is sliding.
Asked what the barriers to growth where, market uncertainty (31%), unwillingness to embrace risk (17%) volatile cash flow (13%) and the cost of labour (12%) were all key factors. Further, when asked which initiatives small business owners were taking in order to secure future growth, key initiatives mentioned included: keeping fixed costs down (41%), improving cash flow (22%), tackling late payment (28%), expanding into overseas markets (16%) and investing in new equipment (12%).
On the upside, the north emerged as the country’s engine room for growth, with small businesses in the North West (43%) and the North East (41%) most likely to predict growth – compared to the national average of 34%. In contrast, small businesses in the west were the least confident: Welsh businesses were least confident about the future, closely followed by the South West – 23% and 28% respectively. In only three regions had the growth outlook of small businesses improved since the start of the year.
By sector, quite a lot of movement was noted since the start of the year. Despite a January of bleak trading announcements from the high street, the latest Hitachi Capital data reveals a sharp improvement in growth outlook from the retail sector among small businesses (up 9% on Q1 to 40%), with confidence in Real Estate rising by 17% since January. Conversely growth forecasts have fallen most sharply in the Finance/Accounting and Transport/Distribution sectors (falling 9% and 17% respectively).