Business confidence in Wales rose 14 points during March to nine per cent, the first net positive reading since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, according to research undertaken by Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking.

The data has been released just a week after the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 lockdown.

Companies reported higher confidence in their own business prospects month-on-month, up six points at 15 per cent. When taken alongside their optimism in the economy, up 23 points to 4 per cent , this gives a headline confidence reading of 9 per cent .

Lloyds' 'Business Barometer' questions 1,200 businesses monthly and provides early signals about UK economic trends.

When it comes to jobs, a net balance of six per cent of businesses in Wales expect to increase staff levels over the next year, the same proportion as last month.

Overall UK business confidence rose for a second consecutive month in March. Firms’ confidence increased by 13 points to 15 per cent, the highest reading since February 2020, before coronavirus was confirmed as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.  

UK firms’ economic optimism also increased by 15 points to 17 per cent , while confidence in their own business prospects jumped 10 points to 12 per cent . 

In fact, every UK region and nation reported an increase in overall confidence during March, with most reporting a double-digit rise month-on-month. The North East (1 per cent  to 26 per cent ), West Midlands (3 per cent  to 27 per cent) and East of England (-8 per cent  to 12 per cent ) reported the largest increases. Scotland was the only area to remain in net negative territory despite an increase in confidence, giving a reading of -2 per cent .

Amanda Dorel, regional director for Wales at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “Businesses in Wales are undoubtedly more optimistic following the end of stay-at-home restrictions and the reopening of non-essential retail. However, uncertainty still lingers, particularly for those in the hospitality and leisure sector who remain unable to trade."

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In the sectors, manufacturing and retail recorded the highest confidence levels, both at 25 per cent , while services and construction rose to 11 per cent  and 12 per cent  respectively

Hann-Ju Ho, Senior Economist, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “It’s been a year since the first lockdown and the surge in confidence this month tells us firms are increasingly confident about economic recovery.

“The broadly positive outlook is driven by steady vaccine deployment, the roadmap out of lockdown and the extension of government support measures. It will be interesting to see whether the momentum for stronger business optimism is sustained in the months ahead.”