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Business Barometer, March 2020

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March 2020 SME business outlook survey results

March 2020 has turned out to be a month unlike any other in Canada's economic history--and the downward path of small business confidence puts it clearly in perspective. With spreading infections, social distancing measures and resultant severe business interruptions, CFIB's Business Barometer® Index fell more than 10 points in our early month reading followed by another 19-point decline in the middle of the month.

The index now stands at a record low 30.8, well under the previous lows near 39 recorded in both the 2008 and 1990 recessions. The scale of the negative perspectives appear pretty consistent across industry groupings, but the provincial picture shows some variation.

Quebec businesses have displayed the most severe reaction to the economic news, pushing their confidence reading down to only 15.7. On the other hand, although down, sentiment in the Maritime Provinces has not fallen to levels as low as in the other regions.

Turns in other business indicators are just as significant. Short-term hiring plans have virtually stopped, while one-in-two firms expect to cut numbers of full-time staff. Capital investment plans have also been slashed across the board, along with reports on the health of new orders and receivables. Only 20 per cent of owners report their businesses are still in good shape, while the proportion in poor shape has surged to 38 per cent.

It is an understatement to say the size and speed of these changes are unprecedented in our data. To give a clearer picture on how businesses perform going forward, therefore, CFIB will be tracking these measures on an accelerated schedule of two reports per month through June. 

Questionnaire

Ted Mallett, vice-president & chief economist, 416 222-8022
Andreea Bourgeois, senior analyst, 506 855-2526
Simon Gaudreault, senior director, national research, 514 861-3234