Coronavirus has impacted the global business climate unlike any event prior. Uncertainty is compounded with no clear end date for the disruption; a vaccine has yet to be found or tested and fears of a second wave are emerging – either from relaxing lockdown too early or during winter flu season.

British consumer sentiment has had a lot to deal with in recent years with the ongoing saga of Brexit and the accompanying political jousting. Following the General Election in Dec 19, this year started off well with Brexit fatigue easing off. Positivity had returned, and Sterling had strengthened only for COVID-19 to hit, reversing all gains.

This month we introduced a monthly survey to measure the Infinity International Client Sentiment, this involves a cross section of our clients from different industry verticals to gauge their experiences regarding current business conditions. An index score is then formulated from the data provided. The scoring is 0-100, with 100 being the most positive, the lower the score, the worse the sentiment.

The aim of the index is to determine the following points:

  • Emotional mindset of businesses and consumers
  • To understand the strength of order books
  • Plans for investment and employment in the short term
  • Any expectations to change price strategies

By running the survey on a monthly basis during these unprecedented times, we aim to track how business sentiment is changing amongst our clients (a good cross section of UK PLC) against the COVID-19 backdrop.

The total score for our first survey, and for the month of April is 44.28, a little below the halfway point and slightly more positive than we may have assumed with the continued negative news.

Our survey asked 7 simple questions to determine the above points and produce the score.

The questions and results were as follows:

  1. Overall, would you describe current conditions for your business as good, middling, or bad?

52.5% of respondents said that they consider business conditions as ‘bad’, which on a positive note left 32.5% of businesses as middling and the other 15% as good.

Given the Office for Budget Responsibility recently stated that Britain’s economy could shrink by 35% this spring and unemployment could soar by more than 2 million, we are not surprised that this is so low.

Next month could see conditions improve as lockdown restrictions in other regions are starting to relax and may result in an improvement to supply chains. In addition, the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme went live this month and may provide businesses addition financial resources.

  1. In the next 12 months, do you expect your business’s revenue to increase, stay the same, or decrease?

46.84% of respondents said that they expect revenue to decrease, with 25.32% expecting no change and 27.85% expecting an increase in revenue.

The inability to forecast when this crisis will end is undoubtingly resulting in many companies needing to forecast a decrease in business revenue. This figure will be interesting to monitor once clarity emerges on how the nation will exit lockdown and what this means for business revenue moving forward.

  1. In the next 12 months, do you expect your business’s staff of full-time employees to increase, stay the same, or decrease?

On a positive note for employees, 65% of respondents expect their staffing levels to stay the same, with 11.25% expecting an increase and 23.75% expecting a reduction in numbers.

In this poll we attribute staffing levels staying the same is largely due to the Government’s “furlough” scheme. This has been recently extended to the end of June. If this crisis goes on beyond June and the Government fail to extend its “furlough” programme, there could be some detrimental effects.

  1. In the next 12 months, do you expect your prices to increase, stay the same, or decrease?

Based on the survey results, 57.5% of businesses expect to keep their prices the same, with 35% planning increases and only 7.5% expecting to reduce prices.

The value of Sterling could have a direct correlation with increasing prices whilst those suggesting price may stay the same may well have hedges in place for the next 12 months or fixed pricing. One factor business may need to consider are the Brexit Trade talks and what progress is made before the end of June or whether an extension is agreed. Sterling’s value could be dependent on the state of these talks.

  1. In the next 12 months, do you expect investment in sales and marketing to increase, stay the same, or decrease?

Investment in sales & marketing is broadly expected to remain the same, at 53.75%, with 23.75% planning to increase their spend and 22.5% expecting to reduce it.

These figures may be in large tied to the government’s “furlough” scheme and ability to forecast business conditions. Once the UK has an idea of when and how it exiting lockdown is likely to have an effect.

  1. In the next 12 months, do you expect foreign exchange volatility to have a negative effect, no effect, or a positive effect on your business?

45% of businesses expect FX volatility to have a negative impact on their business, with 35% believing there will be no effect and 20% a positive effect.

With volatility topping what we saw in 2008, it is no surprise to see “negative effects” topping this poll.

  1. In the next 12 months, do you expect your foreign exchange turnover to increase, stay the same, or decrease?

FX flows are broadly expected to remain the same or decrease, with 43.75% of respondents expecting no change, 35% a decrease and 21.25% expecting an increase.

The results are skewed slightly to the downside suggesting that business may be more cautious with there ordering over the next twelve months or could possibly be holding inventory that could be repurposed. In addition, this could be conditional on what type of rebound the economy has once it emerges from lockdown.

Summary

This first survey index has provided us with a base sentiment of how British business is feeling. Whilst we are not surprised by how business sentiment is skewed to downside, we were surprised with some of the figures, particularly with regards to the 76% on Question 3, which believe their full-time employees will remain the same or increase. As stated, we feel this is linked to the current government “furlough” scheme.

It will be interesting to monitor how the COVID scenario develops over the next month and see what the results are on sentiment moving forward. In the next month, the UK will have visibility on how other nations are exiting lockdown, what effect this has on economic data, a decision on whether lockdown will be extended further and hopefully with PM Johnson fighting fit and back at the dispatch box; all of which could change sentiment… Watch this space.

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