22 January 2016

Large enterprises pull back, small businesses stay upbeat for 2016 in China

While business sentiment among China's largest companies has pulled back marginally at the beginning of 2016, according to the latest MNI China Business Sentiment Survey, smaller businesses are upbeat, reports CPA Australia in separate research announced the same day.

The MNI China Business Sentiment Indicator, a gauge of current business confidence, slipped to 52.3 in January from 52.7 in December. While confidence remained in expansionary territory for the second consecutive month, it was the first month-to-month decline in sentiment since November. Firms have also revised their expectations downward for the future, with the Future Expectations Indicator down 0.9% to 52.6 in January.

The slight moderation in overall sentiment belied some improvement in other key metrics in the survey. Most notably, Production and New Orders both picked up in January, following a fall in December. Both indicators have lost some momentum through 2015 on the back of weak demand and continued spare capacity in certain sectors. Firms were relatively more upbeat about the coming quarter with both expectations indicators expanding at a faster rate.

The cumulative effect of monetary easing to date appears to be continuing to flow through, with businesses reporting that the interest rates they paid fell further in January to the lowest since March 2009, while the Availability of Credit Indicator edged a little further into expansion. Despite the easier lending environment, disinflationary pressures intensified with the Prices Received Indicator below the 50 breakeven level for the 18th straight month at 41.6 in January.

Firms have also been helped by the recent depreciation in the yuan. The January survey showed that most firms were satisfied with the impact of the exchange rate on their business operations with the Effect of the Yuan Exchange Rate Indicator rising for the second consecutive month to 53.6 in January from 52.7 in December.

The Employment Indicator fell to 49.3 in January from 50 in December. The decline was seen in both the manufacturing and service sector, with the latter showing a more marked fall.

"Volatility in financial markets has once again centred attention on China with a renewed lack of confidence in the ability of Chinese policymakers to contain some of the growing risks including capital outflows. While there are heightened risks, overall sentiment among businesses remained relatively resilient in January, with output and orders measures actually ticking higher. Alongside more positive readings from our consumer survey, it points to a more optimistic, or at least less pessimistic outlook, than current doom laden headlines," said Philip Uglow, Chief Economist of MNI Indicators.

The CPA Australia Asia-Pacific Small Business Survey, on the other handshows China's small business sector is maintaining a positive economic outlook, with a strong focus on innovation, e-commerce and social media - all key drivers of economic growth.

The findings, from CPA Australia's annual Asia-Pacific Small Business Survey,  provides insights into the views of small businesses across the region and forms part of a longitudinal study that began in 2009. The new results follow extensive surveying of nearly 3,000 small business operators in Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and mainland China.

CPA Australia chief executive Alex Malley says the survey results show there is real strength in the small business sector in China, with confidence higher than it was last year and appearing set to continue for some time.

"We surveyed small business operators in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing. The results show that China's small businesses have had a successful 12 months, with 77% of respondents reporting that they grew over this period," Malley said.

"Looking to 2016, the results are even more positive, with 78% of small businesses expecting to grow in the year ahead. Confidence in China's economy is also very high, with 71% of respondents expecting the economy to grow in 2016."

Malley added that the positive outlook is translating into jobs, with 43% of China's small business sector reporting that they increased employee numbers in the past 12 months. "China's small businesses are the second most likely of the markets surveyed to innovate, with 32% of respondents definitely expecting to innovate through the introduction of a new product, service or process in the next 12 months that is unique to China or the world. This result is well above the survey average of 22%.

"Small businesses across China are also taking advantage of the large and growing online marketplace and with their nearly universal uptake of social media, are well-placed to out-compete less nimble and tech savvy competitors," he said.

"The range of initiatives China's government has implemented or is implementing to encourage growth and innovation, such as the Belt and Road initiative, the promotion of mass entrepreneurship and innovation, and the Made in China 2025 plan should further inculcate a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship amongst China's small businesses. Such a culture should help drive the next phase of China's economic growth story."

Key findings from the survey for China include:
  • Nearly all - 97% - per cent of respondents use social media for business purposes, compared with the survey average of 81%
  • Roughly a third (36%) of respondents expect to grow their e-commerce presence to a large extent, compared with the survey average of 32%
  • A high proportion (90%) of respondents earned revenue from online sales, compared with the survey average of 69%