Scottish business confidence drops but wider economic outlook still positive

Scottish business confidence drops but wider economic outlook still positive

Business confidence in Scotland fell nine points during December to 15% but overall economic positivity has increased, according to the latest Business Barometer from Bank of Scotland Commercial Banking.

Companies in Scotland reported lower confidence in their own business prospects month-on-month, down five points at 25%. When taken alongside their optimism in the economy, down 10 points to 6% this gives a headline confidence reading of 15%.

Scottish businesses identified their top target areas for growth in the next six months as evolving their offer (36%), investing in their teams (31%) and entering new markets (25%).

The Business Barometer, which surveys 1,200 businesses monthly, provides early signals about UK economic trends both regionally and nationwide.

A net balance of 11% of businesses in the region expect to increase staff levels over the next year, up three points on last month.

Overall UK business confidence rose seven points during December to 17%. The proportion of businesses that felt positive about the wider economy was up 10 points month-on-month to 8%, while their outlook on their own future trading prospects increased by two points to 27%. Businesses also remained optimistic about job creation, with 16% of firms planning to hire more staff in the next 12 months – up two points on November.

All UK regions and nations reported a positive confidence reading in December, for the first time since July, with eight out of 11 recording a month-on-month increase in confidence. Of those, the North West (up 31 points to 40%), North East (up 24 points to 34%) and South East (up 23 points to 14%) saw the largest monthly increases, with the North West now the most optimistic overall.

Chris Lawrie, area director for Scotland at Bank of Scotland Commercial Banking, said: “Although business confidence has dipped it’s encouraging to see it remain in positive territory, which is testament to the resilience of the business community here in Scotland.

“After a turbulent few months many companies are now looking at shoring up their investment plans for the year ahead. Those planning to invest in their teams and export into new markets will do well to keep a close eye on cash flow to ensure they’re ready to capitalise on opportunities as they arise.”

The manufacturing sector reversed a six-month trend of falling confidence, with a nine-point rise to 13%. Confidence in construction and services also increased by nine points to 29% and 18% respectively. However, retail confidence fell slightly, by two points to 13%.

Paul Gordon, managing director for SME and mid corporates, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “It’s encouraging to see the confidence of most regions and nations rallying as we end the year. This has been a tough time for businesses with rising costs and much uncertainty, but some firms are becoming more confident as we head in to 2023.

“While wage expectations start to temper, prices continue to rise and keeping a close watch on cash flow remains a priority for businesses, no matter what industry you operate in. For those who are in need of support or are looking for advice, especially into the festive season and new year, at Lloyds Bank we are by your side in times of uncertainty.”

Hann-Ju Ho, senior economist for Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “Business confidence has received a boost in the run up to Christmas as firms anticipate a better festive trading period than last year. While firms report being hopeful for a more successful 2023, inflation and the risk of an economic downturn remain the biggest concerns for businesses, with rising costs evidenced by the number of firms expecting to raise prices.

“Wage growth is expected to remain high for now as retaining existing staff and attracting new talent will continue to be priorities for many businesses going into next year.”

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