Key indicators of corporate activity show that companies have risen to the highest level in five years, ahead of the relaxation of Covid-19 lockout restrictions and a rebound in sales in 2021.
Companies are also preparing to increase exports and employment in the second half of the year with clear signs that they expect the economic outlook to strengthen after successful vaccinations.
The Corporate Confidence Index, surveyed by the ICAEW Accounting Agency of 1,000 companies, showed a year-long confidence increase from -19 in the fourth quarter of 2020 to +10 in the first quarter of 2021.
However, the rebound will be set against a weaker economic background than last year after hitting sales in the first three months of 2021, which forced more companies to cut production and jobs, mostly as a result of the third blockade.
Last week, British Retail Consortium and Barclaycard said that January spending was weakest since May, as booming online activity did not fully compensate for store closures.
ICAEW Chief Executive Officer Michael Izza said companies reported the fastest decline in employment in a decade as companies struggle to cope with the decline in sales. More than half of the companies operated under production capacity.
Confidence recovery was much weaker than in 2009, when the index, which started in 2003, rose to 25.8 in the aftermath of the banking collapse.
According to official statistics last week, the UK saw the largest drop in annual GDP over 300 years in 2020. The 9.9% decline was mostly felt in the spring and summer, but there was a modest 1% recovery in the last quarter of this year.
Izza said that 2020 is an unparalleled struggle for business, but the mass launch of the vaccine and the Brexit deal provided the foundation for a recovery in 2021.
Growing confidence among businesses is an encouraging sign of what’s going to happen, and the expected increase in employment is good news for those who lost their jobs last year, he said.
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As we look to spring and summer, we believe that the Minister will use the upcoming budget to provide a bridge for a sustainable and resilient economic recovery, bring people back to work, help exporters, and invest in digital technology. Our business is the 21st century economy.
The ICAEW barometer is based on a survey asking respondents to rate their confidence level as +100 to show much more and to show much less with -100. A point of 0 indicates that the outlook is the same as in the previous quarter.
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