Business Confidence in the Face of Uncertainty, a Record High?

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“If there’s one thing that’s certain in business, it’s uncertainty” – Stephen Covey, US author. You’ve probably heard this a few times in your life. Here Ed Thorne, UKI Managing Director at Dun and Bradstreet, talks Finance Monthly through the current situation in the UK, the uncertainty that looms, and the confidence that is being pushed throughout.

We are without doubt a nation sitting in a world in flux. Business confidence is shaky, as recent geopolitical and economic issues have created an uncertain business landscape. For the UK, the vote to leave the European Union has created a volatile UK market; with the pound’s value dropping, inflation is at its highest point since September 2013, and reports that the cost of some imports could rise by eight per cent after the UK finally leaves the EU. But where does this leave businesses?

A recent survey by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry found that business confidence is actually growing despite increasing cost pressures (including raw materials and oil prices) and the devaluation of the sterling still lingering. It’s also been reported that business confidence among the UK private sector is now at its strongest level since mid-2015, thanks to a strong economic backdrop and improving client demand.

There are businesses that are thriving in the UK despite the uncertainty; in the past few months, the tourism and manufacturing industries are experiencing an all-time high. The Office of National Statistics revealed that tourism to the UK has increased by 13% from November to January year-on-year. The reduced cost of visiting the UK for American and Eurozone tourists, appears to have caused tourism to skyrocket. The same applies for British manufacturing; CIPS’ latest figures from February reported solid growth of output and new orders. These factors suggest that many UK businesses are actually doing well at the moment, despite Brexit.

It might not all be plain sailing, though. UK businesses need to keep one eye on the global currency; as the pound fell precipitously after the Brexit vote and the dollar could very well strengthen. If this does happen, it could affect the fortune of both net importers and exporters – so definitely something to watch closely!

And it’s important to remember that the UK hasn’t fully left the EU yet, and much is yet to be worked through before the June 2018 deadline. Failure to negotiate a good trade deal, or indeed any deal, with the EU could have a significant impact on business confidence. Our Dun & Bradstreet economists have advocated a calm and cautious approach for businesses, recommending continued monitoring of developments rather than responding too quickly. The impact of Brexit on migration, interest rates, house prices and even food prices, could have considerable effects on business confidence in both the short and long term.

Business confidence in the UK is not solely centred on national companies. For decades, the EU has simplified trade regulations to allow labour, capital, goods and services to move freely across borders. Companies across the world that rely on the UK as a base for business in Europe can no longer take these benefits for granted when Brexit is set in motion. This could certainly impact the growth potential for UK businesses and stall opportunity for those companies looking to expand. Global companies operating in the UK and Europe also face greater compliance and regulatory challenges, as uncertainty plays an increasing role in the market.

Stephen Covey’s words about business uncertainty ring louder right now than any time in recent memory. Although risk and uncertainty is an accepted part of our increasingly complex global environment, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with for the modern business. Against a backdrop of uncertainty, companies doing business with or in the UK can use data and analytics to stay abreast of market trends, and effectively manage relationships with customers, suppliers and partners to minimise risk.  Business confidence in the UK is likely to continue on a rocky road for the foreseeable future and companies need the right tools and information to help them stay ahead and navigate to success.

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