ABS survey shows improved outlook, but Australian businesses are still just hanging on

ABS survey shows improved outlook, but Australian businesses are still just hanging on

The latest survey from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows fewer businesses are reporting revenue declines compared to July, but the proportion recording rising income remains flat along with cash on hand levels.

Almost half of the businesses interviewed reported revenue declines in July, but that has since improved to just under a third at 31 per cent. 

The percentage of respondents who have kept revenue steady month-over-month has risen substantially to 49 per cent, but the share of businesses actually seeing better results remains unchanged at 16 per cent. 

Two key signs of recovery in the data include a one percentage point lift in the share of companies with more employees (7 per cent), and a large jump in revenue expectations for the month ahead compared to sentiments back in July.

The ABS reports 18 per cent of businesses expected improved revenue in November, compared to just 11 per cent in July when they were looking ahead to August.

Additionally, the proportion of businesses expecting revenue to remain the same rose by seven percentage points to 56 per cent.

Another encouraging sign is that many more businesses actually took the ABS' calls, at 63 per cent of its 2,000-strong sample compared to just half in July. 

The statistics agency clarifies that estimates of the prevalence of adversely affected businesses may be an underestimate if they have typically not responded due to negative impacts from COVID-19.

The ABS surveys randomise the selection while accounting for small, medium and large businesses across a diversity of sectors, but the headline numbers don't reveal the significant disparity between different business sizes.

Medium and large businesses have a much higher proportion of respondents reporting new hires at 22 per cent and 19 per cent respectively, and SMEs are much more likely to have seen declining revenue than larger companies.

But small businesses have also been less likely to seek out additional funds, at 21 per cent compared to 24 per cent for large businesses and 27 per cent for medium businesses. 

The ABS reports similar responses in terms of the amount of cash on hand, with 8 per cent of businesses having enough for less than a month, 21 per cent with enough for under three months, 13 per cent to last up to six months and 38 per cent with sufficient funds to continue for more than six months.

The survey results align well with a recent report from the Australian Banking Association (ABA) that showed repayments had resumed for almost half the nation's deferred loans.

The ABS survey showed the share of businesses deferring loan repayments had fallen by more than half since May, from 16 per cent to 7 per cent, although some industries are suffering more than others such as accommodation and food services, wholesale trade and manufacturing.

Updated at 3:05pm AEDT on 22 October 2020.

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