Confidence drops as economic uncertainty weighs on firms

Jamie Lane of Smith & Williamson in Southampton

A bellwether survey of business sentiment in the South today indicated that firms still have hiring intentions despite global economic jitters.

The closely-followed Smith & Williamson Enterprise Index, published quarterly following feedback from 200-plus business leaders and entrepreneurs, showed that 64% planned to increase headcount over the next three months.

Despite turbulence in the financial markets, the Enterprise Index remained strong, up one point at 115.4, having started with a benchmark of 100 in January 2013; it peaked at 119.4 in the second quarter of 2015.

Jamie Lane, an associate director at the South Coast office of Smith & Williamson, the accountancy, tax and investment services firm, said: “The Enterprise Index points to companies being confident about taking on new staff, with a high not seen in our survey since the end of 2013.”

Half of respondents also felt there is a growing talent pool, another high not seen since that time.

However, Jamie, from assurance and business services, cautioned: “Expectations that the economy will improve over the next 12 months are substantially down from previous highs of 80% in the last quarter.

“Confidence fell 11 points as respondents reacted to on-going global economic instability and two successive statements from George Osborne which were less than friendly to small-to-medium sized enterprises.

“Optimism, among respondents, for their own prospects over the next 12 months declined by 8 points to 74% and there is little support for an interest rate rise.”

Jamie, who works out of the Southampton office, added: “Uncertainty over UK interest rates, economic troubles in China, a potential Brexit and upcoming US political instability will continue to trouble financial markets throughout this year and so this declining confidence could be a sign of things to come.

“With optimism surrounding recruitment normally reaching its peak at the start of the calendar year, it will be fascinating to see whether the Enterprise Index can maintain its strong reading if this early-year hopefulness recedes.”

The Enterprise Index was based on the final quarter of 2015.