According to the quarterly Sensis Business Index, which has been running since 1993 and surveyed 1,002 SME operators, most industries are confident in their prospects this year.
However, manufacturing was a stand-out industry, reporting the highest confidence levels since 2008, and easily surpassing the level of overall business confidence among SMEs.
“Manufacturing has enjoyed one of its best quarters for some time and its immediate prospects appear bright,” the report said.
“Confidence is strong in most sectors. Retail Trade, Transport and Storage and Hospitality were the exceptions, but even in those industries the outlook is more positive than otherwise.”
Commenting on the findings, Sensis CEO John Allan labelled the upbeat manufacturing sector “quite remarkable”.
“It is also only the second time in 10 years that manufacturing confidence has outpaced wider business confidence, and the first time we have recorded such a commanding lead,” Mr Allan said.
“At 23 points above wider business confidence, these are levels we simply haven’t seen before.”
On a state level, businesses in Tasmania and the ACT are the most confident, while at the other end of the spectrum, those in the Northern Territory were the least confident, with respondents barely scraping into positive confidence territory.
Despite broadly high levels of confidence, the majority (57 per cent) feel that the national economy is currently at a standstill. Less than a third (30 per cent) believe it is currently posting meaningful growth.
Nevertheless, 42 per cent of those surveyed said their business is not facing any major problems.
Among those that are experiencing problems, a lack of work or sales and struggles finding or retaining staff were the most prominent.