Mid-market businesses prepare for expansion as confidence surges
29th March 2012: Mid-market companies are increasingly looking to expand their operations despite uncertain economic conditions, with capital expenditure and staffing levels both set to rise, according to the latest Commonwealth Bank Future Business Index.
The second edition of the Index rose markedly to a score of 9.3 over the six month period, up from -0.3 in September 2011, with companies recording a far more confident outlook for business conditions over the next six months and citing strong expectations for increases in revenue.
The Index is a bi-annual analysis of the views of financial decision makers in companies with a turnover of $10m - $100m, measuring their outlook for business conditions, investment plans, business challenges, projected revenue and how prepared they are to navigate future volatile conditions.
Consistent with recent reports, performance across sectors and States remains patchy however all areas recorded positive increase from the September Index. Business services (20.0) and Health & Education (18.7) were found to be the strongest sectors, with Manufacturing (-1.7), Retail (-1.0) and Wholesale Trade (5.7) posting the weakest results. On a State view, WA’s results further strengthened, ranking first with an Index score of 14.7 (up from 5.7), followed by NSW which saw a large jump to 14.0 from 0.0 in September. VIC/TAS was the weakest performer, however moved to positive territory, also registering a noticeable increase to 4.0 from -7.0 six months ago.
According to Symon Brewis-Weston, Commonwealth Bank’s Executive General Manager of Corporate Financial Services, the latest findings were a clear sign that confidence was returning to the market.
“We’ve been on wobbly ground for some time, however businesses are showing us that it’s not all doom and gloom and are adopting a much more bullish attitude than has been seen previously,” said Mr Brewis-Weston.
“Appetite for investment is on the way up; the fact that businesses are looking at this over a six month time horizon also shows they have more conviction about the direction they want to take. This shift in attitude comes against the backdrop of continuing change in financial markets and at a time when cost pressures remain relatively high.”
“What this means is they are prepared to look at expansion despite the challenges that are still confronting them. Many mid-market companies have been sitting on sizeable cash reserves for some time and it’s clear they are now re-visiting original investment plans that had been put on hold.”
Almost half (49%) of businesses expect their revenue to increase over the coming six months, with a similar figure (44%) indicating this will flow on to an associated increase in profits. On net balance, both revenue and profit expectations were up 8% since September. Over one-third (38%) said they expected to increase capital expenditure, up 12% on net balance, with roughly one-third (31%) saying they expected to take on new staff over the next six months, up 5% on net balance.
Despite seeing a 6% drop from September 2011, rising energy costs (69%) remained the biggest factor impacting organisations, followed by fuel costs (65%) and rising wages (59%). Increased domestic competition was also front of mind, with almost half (47% - an 8% rise) of businesses saying this will impact their organisation over the next six months.
Organisations continue to remain wary of the impact from any economic slowdown in Asia, with over half (51% - an increase of 3%) believing this was the biggest factor to affect their organisation over the coming six months. The impact from the debt crisis in Europe is of equal concern (50% - an increase of 8%), however more are now optimistic about economic conditions in the US, with a 9% drop in those businesses which felt it was a key factor likely to impact them (45%).
Attitudes towards risk management stayed consistent with September figures, with less than half (43%) of organisations claiming they were well prepared for fluctuations in business conditions over the next six months. Of those that were well prepared, there were 22% that said this was due to a strong financial position. Almost one-fifth (17%) of these organisations also said they were well prepared due to forecasting in place to anticipate future conditions.
Interestingly, over two-thirds of businesses (70%) said they had implemented initiatives to enhance efficiency and/or productivity in the last six months. Companies identified the main driver (44%) as the need to consolidate their financial position, followed by 19% which said it was to strengthen their position in the market and 15% which did so to measure against market uncertainty.
“This piece on productivity is extremely important and it’s clear that businesses are getting smart when it comes to counteracting outside market forces,” said Mr Brewis-Weston.
“The Index also shows a slight increase in those businesses looking to diversify their strategy. This, combined with efficiency and productivity, will be key moving forwards. In the face of slower market conditions it is these sorts of companies that will set themselves apart from the broader market and continue to thrive.”
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About the Future Business Index
The Commonwealth Bank Future Business Index is based on a detailed quantitative survey of 437 financial decision-makers in public and private companies throughout Australia with turnover between $10 million and $100 million, completed on 15th February 2012. Conducted by ACA Research*, the Future Business Index is an indicator of what the business landscape will look like over the next six months, based on business confidence, predicted future activity and an organisation’s ability to manage fluctuating business conditions. The survey sample includes businesses from a range of sectors including Retail, Business Services, Construction, Health & Education, Information Media and Telecommunications, Manufacturing, Mining, Transport and Logistics and Wholesale Trade. The data has been weighted to reflect the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics Business Counts.
The Index seeks to identify:
- The level of confidence in business conditions over the next six months
- The challenges and threats businesses face over the next six months
- How prepared businesses are to navigate volatile conditions
- The use of financial facilities and risk planning
- Expected sources of growth and opportunities
How the Index is calculated
- The Commonwealth Bank Future Business Index has been calculated by taking a net balance of future business conditions, net revenue and risk as indicated by businesses with an annual turnover of $10 to $100 million.
- Net Business Conditions is a net balance of those that indicated that business conditions will improve minus those who see business conditions will decline.
- Net Revenue is calculated by those that see an increase in revenue of the next six months minus those that foresee a decline.
- Net Well Preparedness is a net balance of those that are Well Prepared minus those that are Somewhat and Not Well Prepared.
About ACA Research
ACA Research is a full-service market research consultancy, with particular expertise in customised business-to-business thought leadership, executive research and syndicated multi-client studies throughout Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Through a high level of business and research experience, industry expertise and focus on high-quality outputs, ACA Research effectively supports business thought leaders in their decision-making activities.