The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest “business impacts of COVID-19” survey revealed that small and medium-sized enterprises were the most likely to say they were pessimistic about meeting their financial commitments, at 35 per cent and 33 per cent respectively, against 18 per cent of large firms.
The ABS survey was carried out over the week to August 19 after the implementation of Melbourne’s stage-four lockdown and closure of interstate borders.
Aside from the accommodation and food services sector, which in Victoria has again been effectively shut down, the industries most pessimistic about their ability to pay bills over the next few months were transport, postal and warehousing — which includes the devastated aviation industry — at 56 per cent and arts and recreation at 48 per cent.
Amid increasing uncertainty about the pace of the post-COVID economic recovery, almost one-quarter of businesses reported they had decreased or cancelled actual or planned capital expenditure compared to three months earlier, the ABS said.
That came as a separate ABS capital expenditure intentions survey suggested business investment would plunge by as much as 13 per cent in this financial year versus the last, and by 20 per cent among non-mining firms.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief economist Ross Lambie said he expected “a pretty grim second half to the year in terms of confidence and willingness to invest”.
He pointed to the latest survey by ACCI that found about 40 per cent of firms were relying on government support to stay open.
While conditions remain dire for many business owners, the ABS report did show a marginal improvement in operating conditions from the July survey. Fewer businesses reported a decrease in revenue in August (41 per cent) versus July (47 per cent).
The proportion of businesses that expected revenue to decrease in September (28 per cent) was lower compared to the proportion that reported a decrease over the previous month.