Business expectations among SMEs ease noticeably

Although sentiment weakened slightly this autumn, small and medium-sized enterprises are still in good shape. This was demonstrated by the results of the SME survey we carried out this autumn. 89 percent of the participating companies continue to rate their current business situation as “good” or “very good”. Their equity ratios have also improved again compared with our spring survey, to 28.1 percent of total capitalisation. However, business expectations for the next six months were scaled back considerably, with the balance of responses falling from 32.5 points in spring to “only” 21.2” points.

International risks, such as the trade war between the United States and China and the pending Brexit, are having just as much an impact on the significantly less optimistic expectations as on the shortage of skilled workers, which is meanwhile weighing on four out of five SMEs. Small and medium-sized enterprises therefore continue to drive their personnel recruitment campaign: more than a quarter of SMEs intend to further extend their staff base. They are also looking to raise prices again considerably, with more than a third of companies participating in the survey wanting to increase their prices. This compares with only 27 percent six months ago.

A shortage of skilled workers is not the only major challenge facing SMEs. They are not immune either to the mega trends of digitalisation and globalisation. It is becoming increasingly necessary to make meaningful and opportune use of modern digital technologies to secure long-term success. It is therefore encouraging to see that medium-sized companies have no fear of grasping digitalisation and have already implemented technologies such as the internet of things (IoT) and robotics. They also exhibit an open-minded approach to digital innovations in the financial sector, including the introduction of the new PSD2 payment services directive and instant payment.

At least 54.6 percent of the participating companies currently have operations abroad. However, this share is down slightly compared with the spring survey, reflecting the slowdown in global trade. Nonetheless, the globalisation trajectory does not come to a halt for SMEs either: almost half of the medium sized companies believe it is likely that foreign shareholders are invested in companies in their sector. In fact, 61.8 percent of the participants believe Chinese shareholders are gaining in importance in German SMEs.

The positive signals of our autumn survey prevail overall: small and medium-sized enterprises in Germany are on course for another successful year. The growth momentum will, however, ease.

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