North West business confidence jumps in February

Latest Business Barometer from Lloyds shows confidence is returning to businesses in Merseyside and across the North West as the road map out of COVID-19 is published. Tony McDonough reports

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Business confidence is returning with a full reopening of the economy now on the horizon


Confidence among North West firms is rising again for the first time in almost a year.

Last week Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out his four-stage road map to getting the UK back to normal with COVID-19 cases now falling and the vaccine rollout exceeding expectations. Depending on the data, all restrictions could be lifted by June 21.

And now the latest Business Barometer from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking shows confidence is returning to businesses in Merseyside and across the North West. Overall confidence of firms in the North West rose 18 points in February to 13%.

The Business Barometer questions 1,200 businesses monthly and provides early signals about UK economic trends both regionally and nationwide. It revealed companies in the North West reported higher confidence in their own prospects month-on-month, up 13 points at 10%.

When taken alongside their views of the economy, up 23 points to 16%, this gives a headline confidence reading of 13%. When it comes to jobs, a net balance of 5% of businesses in the region expect to reduce staff levels over the next year, down five points on last month.

Across the UK, overall business confidence rose in February. Confidence increased by nine points to 2%, the first net positive reading since March 2020. Firms’ economic optimism also jumped 12 points month-on-month to 2%.

Martyn Kendrick, regional director for the North West at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “Confidence levels recorded in the North West are the highest we’ve seen in 11 months. Increasing economic optimism and an improved outlook on jobs also point to an increasingly hopeful business community here in our region.

“Businesses in the North West have proven their resilience throughout this crisis, and we’ll continue to stand by their side, providing the guidance and support needed to recover from COVID-19.”

READ MORE: Blueprint to revive Liverpool’s £3.3bn visitor economy 

Confidence increased across all four broad industry sectors to the highest levels since March 2020. After a soft start to the year, manufacturing jumped by fourteen points to 5%, while construction rose eight points to 7%. Confidence in retail extended nine points to 3%, while services advanced by ten points to 1%, led by broad-based improvements in the subsectors.

Hann-Ju Ho, senior economist, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, added: “The uplift in business confidence and its entry into positive territory after nearly a year suggests that firms are cautiously pinning their hopes on economic revival in the future and the continued success of the vaccine rollout.

“In the coming weeks, announcements in the Budget and prospects of an easing of lockdown restrictions will hopefully help to bolster the recovery in business confidence as the economy starts to reopen.”

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