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Index reports six quarter high in business confidence

A resurgence in economic confidence was experienced by credit professionals in the final quarter of 2016, according to the UK’s latest Credit Managers’ Index (CMI). Yet bad debt remains a risk with only 13% of credit managers expecting a decline in 2017.

Full results from the quarterly barometer of the Chartered Institute of Credit Management (CICM) have now been released; the CMI’s headline Index closed up 0.5 points to 59.8, ending a successive three-quarter fall. It is the highest result since Q2 2015 and only the fifth time in the CMI’s seven-year history it has climbed above 59.0.

The Index measures confidence in manufacturing (up 6.2 points to 61.2) and services (up 3.6 points to 59.0), in what Philip King, Chief Executive of the CICM, highlights as rising optimism from credit professionals across the board:

“What is also good to see is the Index is back on its historical tracking of the FTSE All Share, following the brief and negative divergence in Q3 2016,” he says.

The CMI retracted by 1.4% in Q3 while the All Share rose 2.3%. “This compares to the CMI’s 8.1% and All Share’s 3.1% rises in Q4,” Mr King adds. “Which means the CMI has easily mitigated its Q3 losses, and is now back on track with one of the UK’s most important measures of economic confidence.”

The CMI, sponsored by trade credit risk management experts Tinubu Square, is important because it gauges nationwide levels of credit being sought and granted by credit managers across the UK and acts as a primary indicator of actual levels of business being conducted. It consistently maps the FTSE All Share Index and the EU Economic Sentiment Indicator.

The survey also found 32% of respondents saw bad debts increase across 2016, with only 13% expecting bad debts to drop in 2017. 20% expect debts to continue rising, but most worryingly a further 28% remain unsure about how debts will change, and are budgeting for rises.

Michael Feldwick, Head of Tinubu Square UK, said: “The findings reflect conversations we are having across sectors, where there is a general concern about debt continuing to rise. Some seem more concerned than others however, such as the construction industry. It particularly highlights the need to monitor and manage trade credit risks closely, some customers are telling us that trade credit insurers appear to be slowly becoming more cautious as their loss ratio and cost ratio increases.”

Further analysis of the results show regional differentiation – Wales, Northern Ireland and Yorkshire and Humber have all dipped below a 52-point threshold; six regions including the North West, South West and East Midlands are reporting scores of over 60.0 points; and London (which fell to a concerning 50.2 in Q3 2016) has risen over the threshold to close at 59.0.

“It is very important for London as the driving force of the UKs economy to display positive results, and it is good news to see that its decrease was only short-term,” Mr King adds.

Of the 19 sectors measured in the CMI, 16 have a CMI score above the 52-point threshold. Only Personal and Household Goods (44.0), Automobiles and Parts (45.0) and Banks (47.0) reported lower than hoped-for results.

“Meanwhile, volatility levels are continuing to stabilise and that may signal a positive future in terms of economic confidence and the outlook for growth,” Mr King continues. “But the uncertain geo-political circumstances surrounding the new US administration and Brexit have the ability to do lasting damage to our economic indicators.”

The CMI is a diffusion Index, producing scores of between one and 100 (typically in a range of 40 – 60). Ten equally weighted factors are included – three favourable and seven unfavourable and the Index is calculated on a simple average of the 10 factors.

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