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Sage Business Index by Softline shows local confidence in business prospects remain stable, but confidence in SA economic prospects dips

8th November 2012, Johannesburg: Softline, part of the Sage Group PLC, today released the results of The Sage Business Index – Local and International Business Insights.

The Index is a global measure of confidence across small and medium sized businesses. Nearly 11,000 small and medium sized companies in 15 countries across Europe, North America, Brazil, South Africa and Asia responded to the survey. The Index shows that whilst there is a general decline in confidence in global and local economies, businesses remain cautiously optimistic in their own growth prospects.

In South Africa, confidence in both individual business prospects and the outlook for the global economy remain largely unchanged, down slightly from March 2012 (Index scores: 64.44 to 64.19 and 44.71 to 44.54 respectively). Confidence in South Africa’s own economic prospects has fallen slightly further from 46.11 in March 2012 to 43.03 in September 2012.

South African Index Scores* September 2012 March 2012 September 2011
Global economic confidence 44.54 44.71 45.92
SA’s Country economic confidence 43.03 46.11 44.10
Own business confidence SA 64.19 64.44 62.58

(Below 50 is decline/less confident above 50 is improvement/more confident, 50 is no different)*

The research, which included 1 879 South African small to medium size businesses, was carried out by Populus, a UK based opinion and research consultancy firm.

Economic confidence – local concerns in line with macro-economic trends

All countries, with the exception of Brazil, registered an index score below 50 showing that respondents generally feel that the global economy is continuing to decline. Unsurprisingly, the Eurozone countries feel the most negative, with fears of a “double dip” recession having risen sharply.

In South Africa, businesses surveyed are feeling less confident about the prospects for the local economy, with the index declining from 46.11 to 43.03 over the past 6 months. This, however, is in sharp contrast with how they feel about their own business prospects which scored positively at 64.19.

Commenting at the official results presentation in Johannesburg today, Ivan Epstein, CEO (and co-founder) of Softline and Sage AAMEA (Asia, Australia, Middle East and Africa) said, “Looking at the results against an international backdrop, South Africa scored the second highest index rating of all the countries polled in terms of individual business confidence. Entrepreneurial spirit and business culture is identified by businesses as one of the most important aspects for doing business successfully in South Africa. This endorses my strong belief that South Africa is a fertile environment for successful entrepreneurs and small businesses.”

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Business performance and challenges – revenues maintained, cost challenges

There are some positive signs in the global survey with 63 percent of respondents saying that over the past 6 months revenue has either increased or held steady whilst 82 percent have either increased or maintained employee numbers.

South Africa achieved a similar score with 65 percent of businesses polled showing either steady or increasing revenue and 84 percent of businesses either increasing or maintaining employee numbers.

Rob Wilkie, CFO of Softline and Sage AAMEA commented that “72 percent of South African businesses said that they have adapted to the challenges of the current economic climate. The agility and resilience of businesses in South Africa is testament to a strong entrepreneurial business culture and strength of South Africa as a place to do business”.

Increasing costs are the number one concern of businesses surveyed in South Africa. Wilkie commented that “this was expected given that CPI is on an upward trend with the main drivers being food prices, fuel and electricity. In addition, an inevitable consequence of the recent high wage increases seen in the mining and transport sectors is going to be higher inflation, particularly when decoupled from increased productivity”.

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Government – businesses call on government to do more

All countries participating in the global survey feel that their governments don’t provide sufficient support for business, with the exception of Singapore where 54% of respondents indicated that their Government provides adequate support.

In South Africa businesses are calling for skills development and education (46%), the reduction of bureaucracy and legislation (40%), a reduction in business tax (34%) and currency stability (28%).  Wilkie commented, “in order to enhance its competitiveness, government must address the quality of primary education, particularly in view of a very high unemployment rate. Over-regulation and red tape is a further obstacle, specifically firing and hiring practices, wage determination, public sector tender procedures and enforcement of contracts”.

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Investment for growth – future prospects

In considering the year ahead, 29 percent of South African businesses surveyed said they were looking to diversify into new markets, 28 percent would invest further in marketing and sales within their existing markets and 27 percent would invest in skills development and training.

According to Epstein, “economic and political reforms in Africa have resulted in an improved business environment and offer an attractive opportunity for South African businesses to diversify and expand across their border.”

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In conclusion Epstein said, “ We’ve seen evidence in this research report and others, that small and medium sized business in South Africa require more focused attention from our leaders. The future of the South African economy, and most importantly, the ability to create employment in this country will be dependent the stimulation of more businesses that are sustainable over the long term. Private business and Government have a pivotal role to play in the economic growth and development of small business in South Africa.”

To view the full article, please visit http://businessindex.sage.com/

For more, please follow Softline on Twitter http://twitter.com/SageGroupZA

In September 2011, Softline launched the Sage Business Index in South Africa. Softline joined the Sage Group plc eight years ago and while the group had run the Index a year prior, South Africa did not participate. The Sage Business Index surveys small businesses across Europe, North America, South Africa and Asia, aims to reveal a definitive landscape for small businesses confidence, concerns and challenges on a bi-annual basis.

With the 2012 annual Sage Business Index fast approaching, we took a quick step back to review the results of the half year research conducted in March this year. Polling over 10 000 businesses across four continents, the Index showed that while confidence in the global economic outlook continued to decline, the outlook for local market conditions and businesses was improving. Interestingly, South Africans were slightly more pessimistic than their global counterparts about the outlook for the global economy, with a 1.21 decrease in the Index score, compared to the .52 decrease of the global sample at the time.

In March, CEO of Softline and Sage AAMEA (Africa, Asia, Middle East and Australia), Ivan Epstein said that it was encouraging to see that once again, businesses in South Africa were more confident about their own prospects. He went on to say that companies are focussed on the day-to-day challenge of maintaining and improving their businesses, and Government should do all they can to harness and help the entrepreneurial spirit that already exists.

Epstein said that he was interested in researching the impact of increasing fuel prices on local sentiment. With this week’s additional price hike, it’s clear that business and consumers alike are facing challenges.

The Index scores in March 2012 and September 2011 were as follows:

March ’12 September 11
Index Scores Global SA Global SA
Global economic confidence 43.95 44.71 44.47 45.92
Country Economic Confidence 47.26 46.11 47.11 44.10
Business Outlook 58.86 64.44 57.88 62.58

(Below 50 is decline/less confident above 50 is improvement/more confident, 50 is no different)*

The results in March 2012 also outlined that while local confidence was increasing and the rate of decline in global confidence slowing, there were still a number of challenges facing businesses. Rising inflation and the increasing cost of fuel, energy and raw materials topped the list with all countries citing this as their top concern – with 58% of local businesses listing this as their number one concern. Over a third of South African businesses noted instability or uncertainty in the local economic market as a worry, and a similar proportion (34%) said the same of reduced cash flow in the supply chain.

In anticipation of the upcoming Index, Epstein says that the Index has proven itself as a vital tool for Softline and Sage in the region to take stock of the challenges and worries affecting customers. “I hope that the upcoming results show us that the sentiment amongst businesses remain stable given the current economic climate.”

- A commentary by Rob Wilkie, CFO Softline and Sage AAMEA

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Sage Business Index polls over 10,000 businesses (across Europe, North America, South Africa and Asia) in order to measure the changing mood of business. In South Africa 1,000 businesses were surveyed and the responses show that both business outlook and economic confidence is still improving, albeit at a slower rate since last measured in September 2011.

This is consistent with the views we got from a few leading SA economists. According to them, our real income is growing. This means that we have dutifully been paying down our household debt (made easier with low interest rates). Our household debt to disposable income ratio has therefore fallen. In theory this means that we have more cash available to absorb price rises in food, petrol, tolls and electricity. In addition, banks are once again lending and households are taking on more credit. Not only are we absorbing price increases but we are also buying more with buoyancy recently reported in both retail and the consumer goods sector.

In short, there appears to be some cyclical buoyancy. The next 6 months will hopefully give us a clearer view of its sustainability.  Keep an eye out for price inflation – if it starts to rise faster than disposable income, consumer spending will decline. This is referred to as demand destroying inflation and what always follows is a drop in confidence.

…. and spare a thought for those who have not been in line for pay increases, or retirees reliant on an eroding interest income? Their real income has declined and price increases are already hurting. These households are already under a lot of pressure, a precursor perhaps for what is to come.

85 Percent of small-to-medium sized businesses surveyed opt to host payroll or accounting software on PC’s or local servers rather than in the cloud. This according to the Sage Business Index, which surveyed over 2,000 South African SME’s in late 2011. “The concept of the cloud, and the benefits thereof, are not yet widely understood by small business owners in South Africa,” says Ivan Epstein, CEO of Softline and Sage AAMEA (Asia, Australia, Middle East and Africa).

Nearly half of the Index respondents say that they have some of the organisations software in the cloud, and Epstein says the main factors for the gradual move are broadband penetration and security concerns. “Companies are concerned about losing control when moving their data into the cloud, so it is clear that trust, transparency, understanding of the cloud and the options available, are key education and information points for our customers.”

According to the Sage Business Index, the two biggest reasons for introducing new technology in an organisation would be to help improve efficiency (64 percent) and help provide a better customer service (54 percent). Further to this, 38 percent said they would adopt new technology to save costs. “In any size business there is always a drive to reduce service and infrastructure costs and cloud based products and services offer this benefit. Rising cost pressure might force the hand of some business owners to adopt web-based solutions, but I believe that once they have made the leap they will be pleased with the result,” says Epstein.

In November 2011, the IP EXPO Corporate Cloud Survey 2011[1], a report by World Wide Worx commissioned for the IP EXPO technology trade show, stated that out of 100 large JSE-listed corporations interviewed, just under half (46 percent) were already using cloud computing. Interestingly, almost the same percentage of SME respondents in the Sage Business Index said the same. “Small business is not far behind large enterprise when it comes to technology adoption, but unlike larger companies, the expense to replace existing technology or systems is a barrier for SME’s (53 percent of respondents cited this as the biggest obstacle).”

Epstein says that web strategy is a big focus for Softline and Sage in 2012, “We are pursuing a two-pronged strategy based on ‘Connected services’ and ‘Online business solutions’.  Connected services bring the benefits of the web to existing users of desktop-based products by connecting and extending their desktop software and increasing their lifetime value. “The benefit for SME’s is that the deployment is swift, seamless, affordable and secure,” says Epstein.
‘Online business solutions’ have been developed to address a new way of working, either through new products designed purely for the web or adapting existing products to live online. “The strategy combines best of both worlds by offering the reach and convenience of the web with the richness, control and resilience of desktop solutions. It offers our customers a choice of solutions best suited to their needs,” comments Epstein.


[1] The full results of the IP EXPO Corporate Cloud Survey 2011 and analysis of its findings were presented at the IP EXPO conference on 15 November 2011. The research was conducted with 100 JSE-listed companies each employing 200 people or more. Download the presentation by clicking here.

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