Australia's difficult trading conditions are continuing to undermine the willingness of businesses to invest and employ, the April 2014 Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) Survey of Investor Confidence showed on Monday.
The survey found that Australia's indices for sales and profits declined in the March quarter, sinking further into negative territory, with expected investment and employment slumping badly, once again deep below the neutral 50 level after recording considerable improvements in more recent quarters.
The overall assessment by business of their Own Business Conditions edged back below the neutral level after managing to climb marginally above 50 in the previous three quarters.
The index of Own Business Conditions also sagged to 49.0 from 50.6 in the previous quarter, with the seasonally adjusted index suggesting an even larger downward movement may be in prospect in the coming quarter.
In addition, the findings also showed that poor sales and profit results see businesses expecting to reduce full-time employment and anticipating that labor market conditions generally will continue to soften.
The assessment of the national economy outlined in the survey is that conditions remain poor but are likely to improve in the coming quarter. Disturbingly, the Climate for Investment index tracked broadly sideways in March at a deeply depressed reading of 40.0, albeit slightly improved over the year. Firms expect inflation to accelerate and interest rates to rise despite also expecting wages growth to moderate and unemployment to worsen.
Burchell Wilson, chief economist (acting) of the ACCI, said on Monday that the evidence in the survey that business conditions deteriorated in early 2014 is concerning, in particular, the downturn in expected investment challenges official forecasts that an upswing in non-mining investment will sustain growth in the year ahead.
"Similarly, the pronounced slump in the index of expected full- time employment shows businesses are looking to consolidate their operations and have a strong focus on cost savings," he added.