Business: Business Confidence Remains Surprisingly Resilient
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The SARB has responded quite aggressively, cutting its repo rate at five meetings since December 2008 by a cumulative 450 basis points; in February the Minister of Finance also announced an expansionary budget for the 2009/10 fiscal year. The global economic situation also stabilised from March this year, and equity and commodity markets have recovered, though much uncertainty remains.
Business confidence has declined from a level of 83 index points at the end of 2007 to 26 in the latest survey. It is important to note that the local economic downturn was already well established when the sharp contraction in global economic activity and the associated financial volatility hit during the third quarter of 2008 â?? business confidence declined by 11 index points in that quarter and a surprisingly small 8 index points subsequently. The relatively insignificant impact on business confidence following the global economic crisis thus far reflects a domestic resilience, and the fact that we did not suffer a banking crisis, unlike many developed economies.
A heartening aspect of the latest survey result is the resilience in the _retail and wholesale sectors_, where business confidence (47 and 36 index points respectively) is well above that in the other sectors surveyed, which suggests pockets of strength on the demand side of the economy. In particular, non-durable goods and semi-durable goods retailers report comparatively better business conditions. However, it is worrying that even in these sectors the underlying business volume indicators paint a darker picture compared to what confidence levels suggest. Furthermore, the dire retailing conditions in the durable goods and motor vehicle trade sectors persisted or worsened further.
The _manufacturing sector_ has also been hit hard â?? business confidence collapsed from an already low 30 index points in the third quarter of last year to 11 in the latest reading. This reading equals that at the trough of the 1997-99 business cycle downswing; however, the business volume indicators reflect the worst recessionary conditions in the sector since at least the mid-1970s.
Building contractors confidence made a big downward adjustment in the second quarter (from 68 to 47) and a further sharp downward adjustment during the first half of 2009 (another 24 index points to a level of 23). This deterioration points to weaker fixed investment spending in the broader economy.
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