CapEx plans up despite low expectations   

 

The results from Dun & Bradstreet’s December Business Expectations Survey suggest both caution and optimism in the Australian business landscape as 2016 kicks off.

The general outlook remained relatively muted, with businesses reporting lower expectations for Sales, Profits, Employment and Selling Prices for the first quarter of 2016 compared to the final quarter of 2015.

However, the investment outlook took a positive turn, with the Capital Investment Index up to 12.6 points, compared to 11.9 points in the December quarter of 2015. Some 23.1 per cent of businesses said they intend to increase spending on Capital Investment in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the fourth quarter of 2015.

The Capital Investment Index is the percentage of businesses expecting an increase in investment activity

minus the percentage of businesses expecting a decrease.

The intention to increase Capital Investment in the coming quarter continues a recent trend: actual Capital Investment activity increased in both the June and September quarters. In the June quarter the index rose from 6.2 points to 8.3 points and in the September quarter it increased to 10.8 points.

According to Adam Siddique, Head of Group Development at Dun & Bradstreet, the latest results may indicate a shift in investment sentiment.

“We are finally seeing some positive movement in the Capital Investment space, which is encouraging and something we will track for further signs of improvement in the short-term. As flagged in last month’s survey, sustained business investment across all sectors is a key driver of future economic growth,” Mr Siddique said.

 

“The slight fall in the Employment Actuals Index is noteworthy given the surprisingly strong ABS employment figures released in December. Aside from seasonal fluctuations in jobs growth, we would expect to see Employment increase alongside Investment, as business activity ramps up.

“Looking farther afield, the US Federal Reserve has finally brought to an end an unprecedented period of zero interest rates. While it is too soon to assess the impact this will have on the domestic corporate landscape, we can be certain we are now entering a new phase for global monetary policy makers,” Mr Siddique added.

Dun & Bradstreet’s Business Expectations Index, the average of the survey’s measures of Sales, Profits, Employment and Capital Investment, has fallen to 18.9 points for the first quarter of 2016, down 2.9 points from 21.8 points in Q4 of 2015, and down 5 points from 23.9 points in Q1 of 2015. Nonetheless, it is significantly higher than the 10-year average of 6.8 points.

The Business Expectations Index is an aggregate of the survey’s
measures of sales, profits employment and investment expectations.

The Business Expectations Index was lower across five of the seven industries surveyed. The exceptions were the Transport, Communications & Utilities industry and the Finance, Insurance & Real Estate industry. Transport, Communications & Utilities’ Business Expectations Index has been on an upward trajectory since the September quarter and now sits at 20.7 points. Meanwhile, Finance, Insurance & Real Estate scored the highest Business Expectations Index score of all industries in more than two years for the September quarter (32.2 points), but plummeted to 19.5 points for the December quarter. Expectations for the March quarter from the Finance, Insurance & Real Estate sector suggest increased optimism, with the Index edging up to 19.6 points.

Of the seven industries, Construction demonstrated the lowest expectations for the March quarter, with expectations for Sales, Profits, Employment, Selling Prices and Capital Investment all lower compared to the December quarter. The Construction industry’s individual Business Expectations Index dropped 8.4 points from 19.7 points to 11.3 points – the lowest Business Expectations Index score of all industries. Compared to the March quarter of 2015, all current indices for the Construction industry were lower.

When asked if they were generally more optimistic about business growth in 2016 compared to 2015, 55 per cent of Construction businesses said they were more optimistic while 35 per cent said they were less optimistic. This result represents the lowest level of optimism across all sectors. By comparison, the Services industry was the most optimistic sector in terms of growth in 2016, with 69.5 per cent of businesses saying they were more optimistic and just 18.6 per cent feeling less optimistic.

Despite the general downward trend in expectations, the December survey found that across all sectors, 65.6 per cent of businesses reported feeling more optimistic about growth in 2016 compared to 2015 – up from 64.5 per cent in November.

The Business Actuals Index continued to track upwards for the third quarter of 2015, up 0.9 points from 10.1 points to 11.0 points – more than 10 points higher than its 10-year average of 0.9 points. Businesses reported increased Sales, Profits, Selling Prices and Capital Investment for the third quarter compared to the second quarter. The only Actuals Index that fell was Employment, which slipped a marginal 0.1 point from 5.6 points in the June quarter to 5.5 points in the September quarter. Around 23 per cent of businesses said they had increased their employment levels in the September quarter, while 17.6 per cent said they had reduced their number of staff compared to the previous quarter.

Attitudes toward September’s change in federal leadership remain largely neutral: based on December’s survey, 55.6 per cent of survey respondents expect the change in Prime Minister and Treasurer will have no impact on their business. 33.7 per cent believe it will have a positive impact, and 3.6 per cent expect a negative impact. The remaining 7.3 per cent are unsure.

The highest Net Optimism score (percentage of businesses expecting a positive impact minus percentage of business expecting a negative impact from the leadership change) is seen in the Manufacturing industry, at 42.4 points, with 45.8 per cent expecting a positive impact. The lowest Net Optimism score is seen in the Retail industry, at 19 points. Some 12 per cent of retailers expect a negative impact from the change in leadership and Treasurer – more than three times the group average.

 

According to Stephen Koukoulas, Economic Advisor to Dun & Bradstreet, “The overall tone of the business sector has faded into the start of 2016. The index of business expectations has dipped after the late-2015 jump that appeared to be associated with the change in Prime Minister in September.”

 

Mr Koukoulas added, “The only positive component of the Business Expectations Survey is for capital expenditure, which has edged higher, helped, it appears, by low interest rates and a more positive outlook for the non-mining sector. More than offsetting this positive news are falls in expected sales, profits and employment.

 

“The big-picture view of the economy as 2016 kicks off is a continuation of the below-trend pace of growth. The economy is not doing poorly, but nor has it had the breadth of expansion that is required for the business sector to have confidence and a sustained lift in sales, profits and employment,” Mr Koukoulas noted. 

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For more information please contact:

Stephen Koukoulas

stephen@thekouk.com  

+61 467 647 508


The latest D&B Business Expectations Survey shows:

Expectations index for the March quarter 2016:

Š       The Employment Expectations Index has decreased to 12.0 points, down from 14.5 points in the previous quarter and 16.1 points a year ago.

Š       The Sales Expectations Index has dropped to 32.7 points, down from 38.0 points in the previous quarter and 38.7 points a year ago.

Š       Profits expectations for the quarter have fallen to 18.5 points, compared to 22.9 points in the previous quarter and 25.9 points at the same time last year.

Š       Plans for Capital Investment are up, with the index at 12.6 points from 11.9 points in the previous quarter, but down from 14.9 points in Q1 2015.

Š       The Selling Prices Expectations Index has dropped to 15.1 points, down from 16.2 points in the previous quarter and 26.3 points at the same time last year.

Issues expected to influence operations in the March quarter 2016:

Š       65.6 per cent of businesses are more optimistic about growth in the next 12 months compared to 2015, while 26.6 per cent are less optimistic and 7.8 per cent are undecided.

Š       Consumer confidence (39.7 per cent) is identified as the issue most likely to influence business operations in the next quarter, followed by level of the Australian dollar (14.4 per cent) and cash flow (12.0 per cent).

Š       25.5 per cent of businesses see weak demand for their products and services as the biggest barrier to growth in the year ahead, while 13.2 per cent see online selling by competitors as the biggest barrier. A further 13 per cent identified a shortage of skilled labour as their prime concern.

Š       27.8 per cent of businesses reported having a customer or supplier that became insolvent, or was otherwise unable to pay them in the past year.

Š       48.2 per cent of businesses would choose to miss payments to trade suppliers if unable to pay all their bills on time, followed by a business credit card (18.6 per cent).

Š       26.2 per cent of businesses would prefer a higher Australian dollar and 19.5 per cent a lower dollar, while 50.7 per cent think that it doesn’t matter. 3.6 per cent are unsure.

Š       15.4 per cent of businesses intend to seek finance or new credit in the quarter ahead to help their business grow, while 76 per cent will not, and 8.7 per cent are undecided.

Š       While the majority (55.5 per cent) of businesses say the recent change in Prime Minister and Treasurer will have no effect on their business, 33.7 per cent expect it to have a positive impact, with just 3.6 per cent expecting a negative impact. 7.3 per cent are unsure.

Actual results reported for the September quarter 2015:

Š       Actual employment for the September quarter was down slightly, with the index at 5.5 points, compared to 5.6 points in the previous quarter and down from 8.5 points last year.

Š       Sales activity was up slightly at 19.1 points, compared to 19.0 points in the previous quarter and 17.3 points last year.

Š       The Actual Profits Index increased from 7.3 points in Q2 2015 to 8.5 points, and is higher than the 7.8 points recorded at the same time last year.

Š       Capital Investment activity increased to 10.8 points, up from 8.3 points in the previous quarter and 10.2 points last year.

Š       Selling prices were up, with the index at 13.3 points compared to 8.9 points in the previous quarter, but down from 16.9 points last year.

 


About Dun & Bradstreet
Established in 1887, Dun & Bradstreet is Australia and New Zealand's longest established credit information bureau. Backed by its extensive financial database, D&B helps businesses to make informed credit decisions, and consumers to access personal credit information.

D&B works across the entire credit lifecycle to deliver data-driven solutions in sales and marketing, credit reporting and debt management. Through analysis of financial and behavioural information, D&B also provides current and predictive assessments of the economy, business conditions and credit activity.


About the survey

 

Each month business owners and senior executives representing the manufacturing; wholesale; retail; construction; transport, communications and utilities; finance, insurance and real estate; and services sectors across Australia are asked if they expect increases, decreases or no changes in their upcoming quarterly sales, profits, employment, capital investment and selling prices. Since its introduction in Australia in 1988, the survey has proven to be a highly reliable measure of economic performance.

 

The index figures used in the survey represent the net percentage of survey respondents expecting higher sales, profits, etc., compared with the same quarter of the previous year. The indices are calculated by subtracting the percentage of respondents expecting decreases from the percentage expecting increases. The Business Expectations Index is a composite of four of the five indices surveyed: sales, profits, employment and capital investment.

 

Methodology

 

Each month D&B asks a sample of executives if they expect an increase, decrease or no change in their quarter-ahead sales, profits, employees, capital investment and selling prices compared with the same quarter a year ago.

 

The executives are also asked for actual changes over the twelve months to the latest completed quarter.

 

The Australian survey began in March 1988 obtaining some 900 responses in the third month of each quarter. Since the middle of 1999, the survey has been conducted monthly, initially with about 300 responses each month. From September 2000, responses have been obtained from 400 executives each month.

 

From July 2005, to simplify the interpretation of the survey data, the results have been presented as a sequence of preliminary, interim and final indexes. The 400 responses from the first month of each quarter give preliminary estimates of the quarter-ahead expectations and the quarter behind actual indexes. The 400 responses from the second month of the quarter are combined with those from the first month as interim estimates of the indexes based on 800 responses. The 400 responses from the third month are combined with those from the first two months to give the final expectations and actual indexes based on all 1,200 responses obtained during each quarter.

 

In this issue, the interim indexes for the latest quarters are based on approximately 1,200 responses obtained during October, November and December 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

Charts and tables

 

It is common practice to present the results of business expectations surveys as indexes showing the net balance of the positive and negative responses. However, this method of aggregating responses loses relevant information about the relative proportions and rates of change of the two (positive and negative) groups.

 

Accordingly, the detailed charts at the top of pages seven to 11 in the D&B National Business Expectations Survey show separately the positive and negative components of each of the various indexes. These charts help provide a better insight into the expectations and performance of Australian business than that shown by movements in the simple aggregation of the positive and negative responses.

 

The aggregate net balance indexes are shown in the charts at the bottom of pages seven to 11.

 

About Dun & Bradstreet

 

Established in 1887, Dun & Bradstreet is Australia and New Zealand's oldest credit information bureau. Backed by its extensive financial database, D&B helps businesses to make informed credit decisions, and consumers to access personal credit information.

D&B works across the entire credit lifecycle to deliver data-driven solutions in sales and marketing, credit reporting and debt management.

 

Through analysis of financial and behavioural information, D&B also provides current and predictive assessments of the economy, business conditions and credit activity.


Sales outlook

(Quarterly Net Index) (32.7 points, down from 38.0)

The positive and negative components of the D&B net indexes are shown in the adjacent chart.

 

Expectations

The March quarter 2016 Sales Expectations Index is 32.7 points, down from 38.0 points in the previous quarter and 38.7 points in the year prior.


The index is now 19 points above its 10-year average of 13.7 points.

 

45.6 per cent of businesses expect an increase in their sales, while 12.9 per cent forecast a decrease, compared to the same time last year.

 

Actual performance

The Actual Sales Index for the third quarter of 2015 is 19.1 points, up from 19.0 points in the previous quarter and 17.3 points a year earlier.

 

38.9 per cent of firms reported increased sales in the September quarter and 19.7 per cent had decreased sales compared to the previous year.

 





Profits outlook

(Quarterly Net Index) (18.5 points, down from 22.9)

The positive and negative components of the D&B net indexes are shown in the adjacent chart.

 

Expectations

The outlook for profits in the March 2016 quarter is an index of 18.5 points, down from 22.9 points in the previous quarter and 25.9 points last year.

 

The outlook for profits is 13 points above the 10-year average index of 5.5 points.

 

35.3 per cent of businesses expect an increase in their profits during the quarter ahead, while 16.8 per cent forecast a decrease, compared to last year.

 

Actual performance

The actual profits index for the September 2015 quarter is 8.5 points, up from 7.3 points in the previous quarter and above the 7.8 points recorded a year earlier.

29.4 per cent of businesses increased their profits, while 20.8 per cent experienced a decrease.

 

 




Employment outlook

(Quarterly Net Index) (12.0 points, down from 14.5)

The positive and negative components of the D&B net indexes are shown in the adjacent chart.

 

Expectations

The employment outlook for the March quarter 2016 has decreased to 12.0 points, down from 14.5 points in the previous quarter and 16.1 points a year earlier.

 

The outlook for employment is 10 points above the 10-year average index of 2.0 points.

 

Some 24.1 per cent of executives expect to employ more staff compared to a year ago, while 12.1 per cent expect to decrease their staff numbers.

 

Actual performance

In the September quarter 2015, 23.2 per cent of businesses hired new staff, compared to the 17.6 per cent that reduced their employment levels.

 

At 5.5 points, the actual employment index down slightly from the 5.6 points last quarter and down from the 8.5 points recorded at the same time last year.

 

 

 



Capital Investment outlook

(Quarterly Net Index) (12.6 points, up from 11.9)

The positive and negative components of the D&B indexes are shown in the adjacent chart.

 

Expectations

The capital investment outlook for the March quarter 2016 is 12.6 points, up from 11.9 in the previous quarter but down from 14.9 points last year

 

The outlook for capital investment is 6.6 points above the 10-year average index of 6.0 points.

 

While 23.1 per cent of businesses expect an increase in their investment level, 10.5 per cent forecast a decrease compared with a year earlier.

 

Actual performance

For the September quarter 2015, the actual index for investment is 10.8 points, up from 8.3 in the previous quarter and 10.2 a year ago.

 

20.4 per cent of firms increased their capital investment in the September quarter, while 9.6 per cent decreased capital spending.

 

 





Selling Prices outlook

(Quarterly Net Index) (15.1 points, down from 16.2)

The positive and negative components of the D&B net indexes are shown in the adjacent chart.

 

Expectations

The Selling Prices Expectations Index for the March quarter 2016 is 15.1 points, down from 16.2 points in the previous quarter and down from the 26.3 points recorded a year earlier.

 

The outlook for selling prices is 12.9 points lower than the 10-year average of 28 points.


The proportion of firms expecting to have higher selling prices in the quarter ahead is 25.6 per cent, with 10.5 per cent expecting to have lower prices.

 

Actual performance

At 13.3 points, the actual Selling Prices Index for the September 2015 quarter is up from 8.9 points in the previous quarter but down from 16.9 points last year.

 

24.4 per cent of businesses increased the level of their selling prices, while 11.1 per cent had decreased, compared to the same time the previous year.