The latest quarterly Business Monitor Report (October to December 2015) shows that for the first time since 2013 almost 9 out of 10 (89%) firms are stable or growing, although the momentum of growth is showing signs of diminishing and being replaced by stability.
Growth steady across NI
41% of companies from Northern Ireland are reporting growth but this figure drops to 37% for Co Antrim based companies, perhaps a reflection on several recent high profile closures in the area. In spite of global pressures, the strongest sector is manufacturing with almost half of firms questioned reporting growth. However, the leisure, hotels and catering sector was weakest with less than a quarter (23%) anticipating an increase in trade.
Competition tops business concerns
More than half of businesses are citing competition and discounting by competitors (both at 54%) as a key issue for their business. While this is not ideal for individual firms, it is a sign of a relatively healthy market. When coupled with cashflow worries at 49%, it is indicative of business conditions with low margins in a competitive market.
3/4 of firms close to or at full capacity
68% of firms were reporting to be quite profitable or very profitable which can perhaps be linked to increases in business efficiency. Companies are ‘running lean’ with 77% close to or at full capacity and encouragingly this picture is fairly consistent across all company sizes and sectors.
Companies which export are forging ahead
Trends are showing that businesses which export are forging ahead of those solely focussed on their home markets. 54% of companies with cross-border sales are experiencing growth compared to 30% which don’t. This is particularly dominant in companies with more than 50 employees where 70% of those that export are experiencing growth compared to 51% of SMEs and 35% of micro companies.
Employment has remained fairly static this quarter with most gains in those firms with 50 or more employees where 40% increased their workforce compared to just 5% for small or micro companies. Encouragingly 17% of companies are expecting to increase their employees over the coming months, with only 3% concerned about any shortage of skills.
Perceived concerns of borrowing
With the lack of inflationary pressures in the marketplace the immediate threat of an increase in interest rates appears to have abated again for the present. We asked companies what they felt the effect would be in terms of borrowing or debt if rates were to increase in the future. Two fifths (39%) of businesses felt that there would be consequences for them with 15% of those with more than 50 employees feeling this would have a lot of impact, presumably as borrowing and leverage is higher in these firms.
Almost half of companies (45%) felt that they were in a good position to apply for funding although this appears to be along the tried and tested avenues which may be less economically advantageous and not viable for a sustained period. 77% of companies had no knowledge of other options open to them including crowd funding, private equity, trade credit, peer to peer lending and mezzanine finance. InterTradeIreland’s upcoming Meet the Funder events in Belfast and Dublin will seek to address this knowledge gap for many firms on the island.
InterTradeIreland’s Business Monitor
InterTradeIreland’s quarterly Business Monitor survey is the largest and most comprehensive business survey on the island and is based on the views of more than 750 business managers across Northern Ireland and Ireland. It differs from other surveys in that it is seen to be the ‘voice of local businesses’ feeding directly from telephone interviews conducted with a robust sample of firms of all sizes from across a range of sectors to track all-island economic indicators such as sales, employment, business outlook and other specific topical research areas on a quarter by quarter basis.
For more information on InterTradeIreland and its business support programmes, please visit www.intertradeireland.com. A copy of the 2015 Q4 InterTradeIreland Business Monitor Executive Summary can be viewed at: www.intertradeireland.com/researchandpublications/business_monitor