The latest business trends survey released this morning by BDO , the accountancy firm, reveals that business confidence has reached its highest level for four years. This pretty much fits with much of the anecdotal evidence that I have gleaned from clients and contacts over the past few months, and is a welcome antidote to the gloom and doom that has been prevalent for the last year or so.
But anybody who takes this as being the end of the recession and the beginning of a glorious sustained recovery is being a tad naïve. As the survey itself says, much of the boost in output has been down to companies deciding to re-stock after letting their stock levels run down during the recession, and that a significant, and as yet unidentified, increase in private sector investment is needed to keep any recovery on track.
Many businesses that have cut things back to the bone in response to the downturn are now having to get their stock levels back to a least a reasonable level. Building maintenance and basic equipment upgrades can only be postponed for so long. But like the VAT reduction and quantitative easing, these are only going to be one off boosts to economic activity.
UK economic growth is driven by public sector spending, consumer demand, business investment, and export activity. It is the latter two that are likely to lead the way out of this recession, and given the comments above regarding investment and the fact that global demand is still not exciting enough for there to be a strong expansion of exports, the situation remains fragile.
Add to this the fact that businesses are understandably not believing any pre election pledges about what the parties intend to do, and are waiting for the reality of the post election economic situation and the actions that will be necessary to deal with that, you can understand why I am still cautious about the immediate future.
I still believe that it will be up to businesses to make their own recovery in 2010 (and maybe even 2011), and that the basics of business planning and financial management that many companies have had to revisit during the recession will play a key role in any success they hope to achieve. There is still a long way to go.