North West business confidence rises to pre-pandemic high

Martyn Kendrick

Business confidence in the North West rose 13 points during March to 26%, the highest level since February 2020, according to the latest Business Barometer from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking.

The data has been released just a week after the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 lockdown.

Companies reported higher confidence in their own business prospects month-on-month, up five points at 15%.

When taken alongside their optimism in the economy, up 20 points to 36%, this gives a headline confidence reading of 26%.

The Business Barometer questions 1,200 businesses monthly and provides early signals about UK economic trends both regionally and nationwide.

When it comes to jobs, a net balance of three per cent of firms in the region expect to increase staff levels over the next year, up eight points on last month.

Overall UK business confidence rose for a second consecutive month in March.

Firms’ confidence increased by 13 points to 15%, the highest reading since February 2020, before coronavirus was confirmed as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

UK firms’ economic optimism also increased by 15 points to 17%, while confidence in their own business prospects jumped 10 points to 12%.

In fact, every UK region and nation reported an increase in overall confidence during March, with most reporting a double-digit rise month-on-month.

The North East (one per cent to 26%), West Midlands (three per cent to 27%) and East of England (minus eight per cent to 12%) reported the largest increases. Scotland was the only area to remain in net negative territory, despite an increase in confidence, giving a reading of minus two per cent.

Martyn Kendrick, regional director for the North West at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “Business confidence has risen for the fourth consecutive month in the North West, and as we mark the first anniversary of lockdown, it’s encouraging to see firms feeling more optimistic now that the end of restrictions is in sight.”

In the sectors, manufacturing and retail recorded the highest confidence levels, both at 25%, while services and construction rose to 11% and 12%, respectively

Hann-Ju Ho, senior economist, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “It’s been a year since the first lockdown and the surge in confidence this month tells us firms are increasingly confident about economic recovery.

“The broadly positive outlook is driven by steady vaccine deployment, the roadmap out of lockdown and the extension of government support measures. It will be interesting to see whether the momentum for stronger business optimism is sustained in the months ahead.”

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