The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises organisation ( ISME) says Irish business confidence is improving despite exceptionally difficult trading conditions.
In its latest quarterly survey of business trends released today, ISME said employment continues to deteriorate and 83% of companies are reporting a decline in sales.
However for the second quarter in succession business confidence, while still negative overall, has improved with a net 37% of SMEs less optimistic about prospects in comparison to a net 56% who were less optimistic in the previous quarter.
The current business environment is viewed as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ by 69% of respondents, down slightly from 74% in the previous quarter.
Some 23% expect business conditions to improve over the next 12 months, the same as in the previous quarter, with 44% anticipating a deterioration.
Almost two thirds of businesses (64%) outlined that the viability of their businesses was under threat over the next 12 months, if present conditions remain.
There is a slight improvement in employment prospects, albeit from record lows, with 39% of companies expecting to let people go over the next 12 months, in comparison to 43% in the previous quarter.
While only 9% anticipate increasing employment this is up from the 7% who reported employment creation in the previous quarter.
The survey attracted a response from over 500 companies.
"The results of the latest survey confirm that the current business environment continues to be extremely testing for the SME sector, with only a marginal improvement in trading conditions since the last quarter," said ISME Head of Research Jim Curran.
"While business confidence has improved there is still a significant amount of concern and fear over what lies ahead."
“Overall the outlook is for a tough 12 months ahead with expectations that there will be a continued improvement in trading conditions, but at an extremely slow pace.
"The key areas of concern remain economic uncertainty, access to finance and government inaction. Until these issues are addressed the economic landscape will remain relatively bleak,” concluded Curran