Irish business sentiment plummets in wake of Covid-19 shock

The economic shock of Covid-19 has seen the Bank of Ireland Economic Pulse reach the lowest reading in its history.

Three-in-five firms expect a further decline in business activity in the coming three months and just over a quarter anticipate having to lay-off staff, according to the latest Bank of Ireland Economic Pulse.

Moreover, three-in-five households indicated that they are holding out on spending because they are not certain which way economic policy is going to go.

“The Covid-19 shock is unprecedented and has resulted in a sudden turnaround in the economy’s fortunes”

The Bank of Ireland Economic Pulse came in at 34.3 in April, the lowest reading in its history. The index, which combines the results of the Consumer and Business Pulses, was down 36.1 on last month and 57.0 lower than a year ago.

Bank of Ireland group chief economist Dr Loretta O’Sullivan said that while necessary from a public health perspective, the school and non-essential business closures and other containment measures the government has taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus have led to large swathes of the economy shutting down.

With households and firms bearing the brunt and uncertain about the future, consumer and business.

“This month’s survey findings are grim in the extreme,” Dr O’Sullivan said. “The Economic Pulse reading is down a whopping 36 points, more than double last month’s drop.

“With the country more or less in full lockdown, job losses soaring and incomes under pressure, consumer and business confidence both tanked in April.

“The Covid-19 shock is unprecedented and has resulted in a sudden turnaround in the economy’s fortunes. Given this and the huge uncertainty about the path of the virus and the depth and duration of the recession, it is no wonder that households and firms are very uneasy.”

Business Pulse

“With the Covid-19 pandemic upending day-to-day commerce, the four sectoral Pulses nosedived in April,” O’Sullivan continued.

The Business Pulse posted a historic low in April 2020, coming in at 29.6. This was down 38.8 on March and 63.7 lower than a year ago. This month’s readings were weak across the board, with seven in ten firms reporting lower business activity in the recent trading period(led by services and retail).

The Covid-19 outbreak and the policy actions being taken at home and overseas to suppress the virus are affecting businesses through a number of channels – demand, supply chains, operations etc. – and mostly negatively, though around three in ten are seeing some new opportunities.”

How Covid-19 is affecting businesses:

  Industry Services Retail Construction
Reduced demand from domestic customers 80pc 83pc 76pc 83pc
Reduced demand from overseas customers 34pc 33pc 25pc 7pc
Supply chain disruptions 62pc 36pc 64pc 73pc
Operational difficulties 75pc 76pc 76pc 84pc
General economic slowdown 79pc 80pc 82pc 90pc
Seeing new opportunities 31pc 31pc 31pc 22pc
No impact 2pc 2pc 1pc 2pc

Consumer Pulse

“With the economy and the labour market going into reverse, consumer confidence tumbled in April,” O’Sullivan said.

The Consumer Pulse stood at 53.2 in April 2020, down 25.3 on last month and 30.3 on a year ago.

Households’ assessment of the economy and their own financial prospects moved deep into the red this month, taking the headline index to an all-time low.

With the COVID-19 pandemic very much to the fore, just 13pc considered it a good time to purchase big ticket items like furniture and electrical goods (down from 31pc last month).

Irish households’ concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic:

Losing own job 30pc
Reduction in own working hours 33pc
Cut to own pay 45pc
General economic slowdown 88pc
Rising unemployment 90pc
Paying mortgage or rent 27pc
None of these 4pc

 

Housing Pulse

“Expectations for house price increases took a battering this month, with buying and especially selling sentiment also softening,” Dr O’Sullivan pointed out.

The Housing Pulse came in at 25.0 in April 2020. This was down 52.4 on last month and marks a fresh low for the series.

Expectations for house price gains over the coming year fell sharply this month, and for the first time since sentiment started to be tracked in January 2016, more households now expect prices to decline (55pc) than go up (one in seven).

The Covid-19 outbreak has imparted a significant shock to the economy and with the government imposing a temporary rent freeze and ban on evictions, households’ expectations for future rent increases also headed into negative territory.

Regional Pulse

Bank of Ireland’s Regional Pulse, which combines the views of households and firms around the country showed that in April 2020 sentiment was down on the month in all four regions.

Three month moving averages:

Dublin Pulse = 59.3 – Down 20.7 points on the previous survey;

Rest of Leinster = 65.5 – Down 15.8 points

Munster = 65.9 – Down 14.5 points

Connacht/Ulster = 64.9 – Down 18.3

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 27 April, 2020