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Survey or crystal ball: Surveys and economic forecasting

By Andrew Dalglish -

My friends think I’m odd.  It’s unusual, they say, to become animated when talking about business.  It was with a resigned sigh then that they accepted my invitation for an ‘end of recession’ celebration drink in our local.  There was also grumbling at the last minute nature of the invite.  A sensible precaution I thought.  The October celebration was hastily repositioned as a commiseration drink when GDP figures failed to back up economists’ estimates of an early exit from recession.  I suspect you, the reader, are also starting to think I’m a little odd so I’ll cut to the chase.

At this celebration I was asked an interesting question.  Can a survey forecast the beginning or end of a recession?

There are many variables which can cause recession some of which are unforeseen such as hidden ‘toxic debt’.   This means that there can never be a clear cut predictor (as October’s experience illustrates).  However, surveys are a useful indicator.

Economies are based on confidence.  Banks lend to companies if they’re confident the loan will be repaid with interest.  Companies invest in assets, employees and marketing if they’re confident that profitable sales can be made.  Consumers spend if they’re confident their job and home are safe.  Remove confidence and you remove economic growth.  Surveys are good at measuring confidence which makes them good predictors of economic health.  Take the Nationwide Consumer Confidence Index.  If the results of this survey are mapped against actual GDP figures the picture is interesting.  Typically, negative GDP growth is preceded by several months decline in confidence as measured by the survey.  The same holds true for positive growth.

An economy can also be seen as a number of microcosms defined by industry sector or specialism within an industry.  B2B marketing is one such microcosm and we have our own confidence survey in the form of the B2B Barometer conducted by Circle Research, The IDM and ABBA.  Good news is that the latest findings are positive:

  • 73% of client-side B2B marketers expect their marketing spend to increase over the next 12 months (up from 48% last wave)
  • 45% of B2B marketing agencies report revenue decline in the last 12 months but 79% anticipate growth over the next 12 months

Time to plan the next party perhaps…

Find out more about Circle Research’s B2B research services here.

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