Businesses in Liverpool city region and across the North West remain upbeat about their prospects despite rising energy costs and the cost of living squeeze, new data shows. Tony McDonough reports
North West business confidence edged up in March, new figures show, despite rising energy costs and the cost of living squeeze – although confidence is lowest among manufacturers.
According to the latest Lloyds Bank Business Barometer, confidence edged up one point during March to 45%. Companies in the region reported higher confidence in their own business prospects month-on-month, up four points to 48%.
When taken alongside their optimism in the economy, down one point to 43%, this gives a headline confidence reading of 45%. They identify top growth opportunities as diversifying into new markets (50%), evolving product and service offerings (41%) and investing in staff (39%).
Overall UK business confidence fell 11 points during the last month to 33%, with eight out of 11 nations and regions recording a lower reading than February. The Business Barometer, which questions 1,200 businesses monthly, provides early signals about economic trends both regionally and nationwide.
A net balance of almost half (49%) of North West businesses expect to increase staff levels over the next year, up three points on last month.
Martyn Kendrick, regional director for the North West at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “It’s encouraging to see that North West businesses are staying resilient in the face of the current geo-political and financial situation, which is creating a constantly evolving economic backdrop.
“There is still appetite for growth, and clear ambition from firms to tap into new markets to build their presence. As ever, we remain by the side of the region’s businesses and are ready to provide the support they need to target new opportunities for expansion.”
From a sector perspective the impact of the war in Ukraine appears to have had the greatest impact on manufacturing and retail firms. Both sectors saw drops in confidence of 19% from February’s highs (to 35% and 28% respectively).
From a manufacturing perspective, confidence levels are now at their lowest since last summer, while retail has fallen to a one-year low. In the other sectors, services dropped by six points (32%) while construction dropped eight points to 43%, but remained higher than at the start of the year.