A latest survey of investor confidence by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry ( ACCI) showed that difficult trading conditions continue to undermine the willingness of businesses to invest and employ.
The June survey released by ACCI on Monday indicates that indices for current sales and profits declined in the June quarter and are now entrenched in negative territory, as are measures of expected investment and employment. These indicators have all resumed a downward trend, despite recording considerable improvements in more recent quarters.
In a concerning sign for investment and employment, the indicator of capacity showed that a larger proportion of businesses reported that their capacity was more than sufficient to meet current demand than those who reported it wasn't.
The overall assessment by business of their own business conditions fell sharply and now sits well below the neutral level after managing to climb marginally above 50 during 2013. The index of expected own business conditions remained firm at 56.0 during the June quarter. However, these optimistic expectations are failing to translate into actual performance.
The results for the own sales index also make for concerning reading. The actual own sales index fell further into negative territory in the June quarter. This follows a period of improvement in the indicator between the end of 2012 and the start of 2014, however, the index never reached the neutral 50 benchmark. The profitability index has remained firmly entrenched in negative territory.
The index of expected number of full-time employees has nosedived in excess of five points over the past four quarters and at 42.2, its lowest level since 1992. Indexes related to actual sales and profits compared to expectations six months ago were both below 30, their lowest readings since they started being collected in 1997.
The assessment of the national economy outlined in the survey is that conditions remain poor and are expected to get worse in the coming quarter, experts said.
Disturbingly, the climate for investment index tracked broadly sideways in March at a deeply depressed reading of 40.0, albeit slight improvement over the year. Firms expect the unwelcome combination of slower GDP growth and rising prices.
"The survey reveals that the deterioration in business conditions that began in early 2014 is continuing. This is disturbing as conditions were already challenging and have worsened in the last quarter," said Kate Carnell, ACCI chief executive officer.
"In the Budget, Treasury noted that the predominant source of uncertainty over the economic outlook was the anticipated recovery in non-resources business investment. Based on these survey results, it is unlikely that an upswing in non-mining investment will emerge in the near future.
"Businesses are reporting that their capacity in relation to demand is more than adequate and hence investment and hiring intentions remain suppressed. This is reinforced by the fact that businesses are reporting that actual sales and profits continue to disappoint relative to expectations in the previous six months," she added.
One bright spot in the survey is that expectations for businesses own trading conditions held up reasonably well. However, most of the expectations indicators did moderate somewhat and, in any case, optimistic expectations do not appear to be translating into actual performance.
The survey of 502 respondents, who are mainly from construction and manufacturing industries, covered the three months to June 2014. ACCI is Australia's largest and most representative business association, speaking at a national and international level on behalf of the nation's peak State and Territory Chambers of Commerce and Industry and National Industry Associations from all sectors of the economy.