Quarterly Economic Survery - Q1 2015
Home sales grow as export sector regains ground
The first Quarterly Economic Survey of businesses in 2015 saw home sales continue their upward trajectory and an optimistic start to the year for the exports sector.
Building on the increases seen in the last quarter, the survey carried out by the Hull & Humber Chamber of Commerce saw home sales grow by another three points, with the balance figure maintaining the 10 point increase seen the last quarter.
Home orders also showed an encouraging increase, with the balance figure rising to 38 points, with more companies reporting a rise in orders and advance bookings. After something of a dip in the last quarter of 2014, export sales and orders bounced back strongly despite concerns about the Eurozone, with Export Sales and Orders heading back towards the levels we saw throughout most of 2014, although there is still some way to go to reach those previous heights.
There was also positive news on employment, reflecting the encouraging feedback given in the State of Trade reports at the Chamber’s recent Area Council meetings, with an eight point increase in the number of firms increasing their staffing levels, with fewer firms losing staff, leading to an increase in the balance figure of 12 points.
The survey said more firms are considering taking on staff in the next three months, with the balance figure rising by 11 points to 26, with 11 per cent more firms looking to recruit.
With that positive news in mind, six percent more businesses tried to recruit staff in the last three months, with a rise in full-time permanent vacancies this quarter, but with fewer part-time temporary roles on offer.
There were also fewer management positions available this quarter, with a similar figure as Q4 in 2014 for skilled manual roles. The biggest increase this time was for clerical positions, up 11 per cent, while unskilled and semi-skilled jobs saw a slight three point fall.
Cashflow remained fairly steady in the last three months, with more firms reporting a consistent picture, up from 47 points in Quarter 4 of last year, to 57 points this quarter.
There was an increase in the number of businesses planning to invest in training and plant and machinery, with the former reclaiming lost ground at the end of last year, and the latter also improving to similar levels seen at this time around a year ago.
However, more firms are working at full capacity, with a rise of 12 per cent claiming they are fully committed.
There was a nine point rise in the number of firms who said they expected their prices to remain constant, which saw the balance figure drop from 38 to 31 points, but it’s still well ahead of previous quarterly results.
There was little change in turnover expectations, with the balance figure dropping two points to 41.
Profit expectations also fell slightly, as more companies predict consistent profit levels for the next 12 months, with the balance figure dropping by six points.
The New Year saw a small increase in concerns over price pressures and finances, while raw material costs and other overheads were less of a worry this time.
Increasing competition and inflation were the main external concerns this quarter, while business rates and exchange rates were also grabbing attention in some quarters, but interest rates and tax were less so.
The Chamber’s Chief Executive, Dr Ian Kelly, says:
“After a slight dip towards the end of last year, it’s encouraging to see the home sales and orders sectors maintaining their good progress and exports getting back on track in the Humber after a noticeable dip, despite continuing concerns about the Eurozone.
Our members at our Area Council meetings continue to be more positive about the outlook for their businesses in our State of Trade sessions.
With a slight rise in the number of businesses looking to invest in new equipment and training, it’s been a positive start to 2015, but there is still some way to go yet before uncertainties surrounding the likes of the General Election are overcome”.
Q1 2015 - Key QES results from Hull & Humber Chamber of Commerce
Sales and orders:
- 47% of companies reported an increase in domestic sales, 4% up on the last quarter.
- 4% reported a decrease, up 4%.
- 16% increased their domestic orders, up 16 points. 9% reported a decrease.
- 58% increased their export sales. 8% reported a decrease.
For the next 3 months:
- 35% of companies expect to increase their workforce, up 11%. 9% expect to decrease it, the same as the last quarter.
- 34% of companies expect to increase their prices, down 8% on the last quarter. 3% expect to decrease them, down 1%.
In the last 3 months:
- The proportion of businesses which recruited was 57%, up 6%.
- 20% reported an increase in cashflow and 23% a decrease.
- 35% increased their investment plans for plant & machinery, up 15%. 43% of respondents increased their investment plans for training, up 15%.
For the next 12 months:
- 59% expect to increase their turnover, down 1%; 18% expect it to decrease, up 1% on the last quarter.
- 53% expect their profitability to improve, 18% think it will worsen, down 4 points on the last quarter.
- Pay settlements were the biggest concern this time around (+4%), followed by finance (19%), raw material costs (17%) and other overheads (33%).
- Inflation (64%), competition (17%), business rates (22%) and exchange rates (19%) top businesses’ list of external concerns.
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