Surveys are showing mixed messages over business confidence making it difficult to predict investment trends.

In the UK, for example, Lloyds bank said that business confidence was up by 23 per cent at the beginning of 2023. The jump in economic optimism was greater at 47 per cent. These results reflect the growing belief that any recession will be short lived among services firms and manufacturers. Retailers, on the other hand, felt more pessimistic about the future than at any time during the past two years.

Wider economy

“Firms are clearly more optimistic about the wider economy and this is driving the increase, helped by precursory signs that wage and other cost pressures may be easing,” Hann-Ju Ho, senior economist Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said. “It is still a tough environment for businesses, with high energy bills remaining a concern during the winter months, but there are grounds for optimism for 2023 if inflation starts to trend lower.” 

The International Trade Council painted a glummer picture. Only about a quarter (26 per cent) of respondents said the global economy would improve in 2023. One third said it would get worse and 30 per cent said it would stay the same.

Businesses said they would struggle to source products and services (45 per cent) and find new customers (35 per cent). Only 14 per cent planned to open new offices, the survey said. About 40 per cent said the war in Ukraine had negatively affected their businesses.

Recruitment

Despite uncertain messages from businesses about their confidence in the economy and in their trading, a global recruitment drive continues. S&P Global Market Intelligence said that in contrast with other economic downturns, recruitment has remained buoyant.

“Our PMI Comment Trackers suggest companies are reluctant to lay off their workers due to the difficulties they anticipate in rehiring, a possible legacy of the pandemic,” it said. “Regional trends show that resilience is particularly pronounced in the eurozone and other developed economies, where firms appear to have been hoarding labour, although in other parts of the world we see employment trends behaving more normally.”