NAB Quarterly SME Business Survey: Q2 2016



Key points:

  • The NAB SME Survey revealed very strong results across a wide range of indicators in Q2, suggesting that the non-mining recovery is broadening to include smaller businesses.
  • Business conditions for SMEs gained further traction in Q2, rising by 2 points to +6 index points, a level not seen since 2010 and comfortably above the long-run average of +4. It is especially encouraging that low and mid-tier firms reported notable improvements in conditions and confidence in the quarter. In particular, low-tier firms reported positive business conditions for the first time in 2 years.
  • All three components of business conditions rose in the quarter. Trading and profitability conditions surged ahead, reaching levels not seen since 2009. Employment conditions however remain lacklustre.
  • SME business confidence rebounded to +5, above the long-term average of +2 index points and more than reversing the fall in the previous quarter.
  • In level terms, all SME industries except for construction reported positive business conditions in Q2.
  • All states, except for WA, reported better business conditions in Q2, with QLD showing the biggest improvement again (up 10 points to +11).
  • Leading indicators were stronger in the quarter, with capacity utilisation rising to levels last seen in 2011, while capex reached the highest level since 2007.
  • Overall, SME input price indicators point to relatively contained price pressures, while easing price growth for retailers is consistent with the subdued inflation outlook.

According to NAB Group Chief Economist Alan Oster, “This survey provides more evidence that the positive effects of the broadening non-mining recovery are spilling over into smaller businesses.

“While SMEs have continued to lag behind the broader business community, the gap between them has narrowed. However, strong trading and profitability conditions have had limited impact on SME labour demand so far.

“Also encouraging is that better conditions were recorded by most industries. While tertiary services such as health, business and financial services etc. have performed well for some time, intermediate services such as wholesale have been playing catch-up in the last two quarters as well,” said Mr Oster.

Wholesale conditions, in particular, have picked up strongly, supported by more favourable profitability and trading conditions.

“The effects of higher import costs borne by the wholesale sector on the back of a low AUD appears to be ameliorating, both through a slower pace of growth in purchase costs and greater pass-through to retailers,” said Mr Oster.

Meanwhile, health businesses reported the strongest conditions in the quarter.

“Better conditions by industry have translated into stronger conditions in most states in the quarter, except for WA,” said Mr Oster.

As in the previous quarter, QLD again showed the biggest improvement (up 10 points to +11) to be the second strongest state after NSW, while WA reported the weakest conditions.

“We continue to see NSW and VIC outperforming other states, while WA has lagged further behind, which is consistent with the difficult conditions in the mining sector. Encouragingly, however, all states were more confident in the quarter, with VIC being the standout, while WA was the least confident and the only state to report negative confidence,” said Mr Oster.

SME business confidence improved in the quarter to +5, exceeding its long-term average of +2.

According to Mr Oster, “The improvement in SME confidence in Q2 is likely to reflect the improvement in conditions. It is worth pointing out that the survey was conducted prior to the Brexit decision and federal election and therefore does not reflect the possible shifts in sentiment due to these political events.

“However, our latest monthly NAB Business survey for June, which was polled during Brexit but before the election, did not show an adverse impact on confidence.”

The full Survey is available at



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NAB Group Chief Economist Alan Oster on improvements in business conditions for SMEs

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SME business confidence improves to +5 above the long-run average, driven by the changes businesses themselves make

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Micro businesses have recorded a positive reading for the first time in two years

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