SME sentiment takes a hit as lockdowns bite

The reimposition of lockdowns to control the spike of COVID cases in many parts of the country has seen the positive outlook among SMEs go into reverse, with the latest COVID-19 SME Tracker by ACA Research revealing that the proportion of SMEs reporting lower revenues than before the pandemic increased to 54 per cent compared to 46 per cent last month.

Despite growing confidence in the global economy, the latest local challenges have also impacted expectations regarding short and long-term revenue growth, capital expenditure and marketing spend.

There were some positive developments, however. The proportion of SMEs now hiring continues to rise with 27 per cent now looking for new employees, though 85 per cent of these businesses are claiming that it is difficult to fill vacant roles.

In addressing the current situation, 23 per cent of SME decision makers believe the Government should immediately relax restrictions on labour migration to allow access to more skilled workers. Nevertheless, the report notes that the recent upturn in cases makes it unlikely that the Government will change their stance until most of the population is vaccinated.

The demand for a vaccination continues to grow amongst SME decision makers, with 79 per cent indicating they will get vaccinated. Well over half, 60 per cent, are encouraging their staff members to get immunised, including 18 per cent who intend to make that compulsory for their team members.

“Sentiment amongst SMEs is again softer and expected to worsen,” ACA Research, Managing Director James Organ said. “With many SMEs still adjusting to the end of JobKeeper, the latest outbreaks and lockdowns will be very difficult to navigate.

“It is imperative that these latest outbreaks are contained quickly and the lockdowns now in place in NSW, QLD, WA and NT are lifted quickly to ensure no further long-term impact on SMEs,” Organ added. “It is also evident that the ongoing mismanagement of the quarantine and vaccination programs is now likely to overshadow the positive sentiment felt by Australian SMEs towards Federal and State Governments earlier in the pandemic.”