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Australian business faces disturbingly low activity levels

The recently released CreditorWatch Business Risk Index (BRI) for October 2023 paints a worrisome picture of the Australian business landscape.

Business activity in the country has hit alarming lows, with the average value of invoices reaching its lowest point since CreditorWatch began tracking this metric in January 2015, indicating a substantial 34% year-on-year decline.

This significant drop in the average value of invoices is indicative of a decline in forward orders, primarily attributed to a contraction in consumer demand. The repercussions are reverberating through the supply chain, creating substantial challenges for businesses across sectors.

Key Indicators and Trends:

B2B Trade Payment Defaults: Another crucial indicator, B2B trade payment defaults, is on an upward trend. While there was a slight retraction from September to October, it consistently remains above pre-COVID levels, acting as a warning sign of potential business failures.

External Administrations: External administrations have surged by 81% year-on-year to October, surpassing pre-COVID levels. This escalation points to heightened challenges faced by businesses, increasing the likelihood of business failures.

Credit Enquiries: Reflecting the broader decline in business activity and a reduction in commercial loan applications, credit enquiries have been on a downward trend since May.

Business Failure Rate Prediction: CreditorWatch forecasts a substantial increase in the business failure rate, anticipating a rise from the current 4.21% to 5.78% over the next 12 months.

Regional and Sectoral Variances:

Capital City CBDs: Melbourne City emerges as the most improved CBD area over the past year, making a six-point leap up the Business Risk Index to 32.8. In contrast, Sydney Inner City lags, experiencing a 4.8-point slide down the index, making it the worst-performing capital at 24.1.

Regional Risk: Western Sydney and South-East Queensland dominate the list of highest-risk regions due to their susceptibility to interest rate changes, owing to relatively high levels of debt among businesses and households, coupled with lower-than-average incomes.

Best Performing Regions: Regional areas in Victoria, inner-city Adelaide, and North Queensland constitute the top-performing regions, characterized by below-average property and rent prices, along with above-average incomes.

Insights and Projections:

Consumer Demand Impact: CreditorWatch CEO, Patrick Coghlan, attributes the challenges to the Reserve Bank of Australia’s attempts to curb inflation through interest rate increases, impacting businesses as consumers cut back on spending.

Leading Indicators: Key indicators, such as the average value of invoices and B2B payment defaults, illustrate a clear picture of businesses grappling with dropping order values, declining revenues, and squeezed margins due to inflation.

Rising Interest Rates Impact: CreditorWatch Chief Economist, Anneke Thompson, notes that higher interest rates are impacting smaller businesses first, given their susceptibility to changes in demand.

Outlook for Retail Sector: The upcoming Christmas period is expected to be challenging for the retail sector, with reduced corporate discretionary spending impacting the hospitality industry. Consumers are anticipated to be more modest and selective in their Christmas purchasing.

Domestic Travel Upside: Despite economic challenges, domestic travel may see an increase as holidaymakers prefer domestic holidays to avoid the higher costs associated with international travel, as observed during the COVID pandemic.

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