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Press Release

Mid-market optimism reaches pre-COVID record highs

Optimism among mid-market business leaders has rebounded to pre-COVID levels, with a record 71% of leaders optimistic about the next 12 months (up five points from Q1 2024), according to Grant Thornton's latest International Business Report (IBR). 

The latest IBR data highlights the resilience of the global economy, despite the ongoing and uncertain geopolitical landscape. The rise in optimism appears to be driven by a strong US economy and global inflation becoming largely under control. 

Improving macroeconomic conditions have seen a record number of business leaders expecting to see increased profitability over the next 12 months – up four points to 66%. Rising profit expectations are in line with those expecting to see revenues increase (up three points to 64%), suggesting profit growth expectations are driven by volume, margin and not just cost efficiency. A record number of business leaders are also planning to increase their selling prices over the next 12 months (up two points to 55%).  

In terms of where the revenue comes from, a record number of businesses expect to increase exports (up six points to 53%), a record 49% (up seven points) expect to increase the numbers of countries they sell to and 48% expect to increase revenue from non-domestic markets (up three points).  

Investment intentions 

Falling inflation, an improving economic outlook, and rising revenues and profits mean companies expect to have more cash at their disposal which is translating into unprecedented levels of investment intentions.  

Investment in information technology remains a top priority for business leaders, with 67% planning to increase spending in this area (up one point). Research and development has seen a significant boost, with a record 60% of respondents expecting to increase investment (up five points), mirroring the global race to innovate and stay competitive in an AI-driven landscape.  

Investment in people follows closely, with 59% planning increases (up one point), highlighting that businesses recognise that AI cannot exist in isolation and requires a skilled workforce. Instead of replacing people with machines, a record 55% of business leaders plan to increase employment over the next 12 months (up six points). 

Sustainable initiatives are also gaining traction, with 58% of leaders planning to increase investment in this area (up four points). Brand investment closely follows, with 57% planning increases (up three points). 

The most substantial increases in investment intentions are seen in new buildings and plant and machinery, both jumping to 52% (up seven points and six points respectively). 

Business constraints

Economic uncertainty remains the primary concern for business leaders, cited by 55% of respondents, though down one point from the previous quarter.  

Energy costs are once again becoming a major issue, with concerns rising three points to 54%, which aligns with those expecting to see an increase in the cost of raw materials (up five points to 52%).  

Elsewhere, cybersecurity continues to be a priority for business leaders, with 50% citing it as a concern. 

Although still high, worries about labour costs have eased somewhat dropping by two points to 51%, while concerns over the availability of skilled workers decreased three points to 50%. 

The most significant increase in business constraints cited by business leaders was, however, in a perceived scarcity of natural resources, jumping six points to 47%. This was closely followed by a record number of business leaders concerned over geopolitical disruption (up five points to 49%), although, as noted above this has not impacted optimism overall.  

Despite improving costs of capital, 45% of business leaders cited shortage of finance as a concern, (up five points).  

Peter Bodin, CEO of Grant Thornton International Limited commented: "Our latest IBR findings reveal a remarkable resurgence in mid-market optimism, reaching pre-COVID levels despite ongoing global challenges. This resilience, particularly driven by strong performance in markets like the US, underscores the adaptability and potential of mid-market businesses worldwide. 

The surge in international sales expectations and unprecedented investment intentions, especially in technology and R&D, signals a decisive shift from the caution we observed in the previous quarter. Businesses are now focused on strategic growth, boosted by higher profitability expectations and a more favourable economic environment. 

However, this optimism is balanced by concerns such as resource scarcity, geopolitical uncertainties, and complex operational challenges. It's clear that while businesses are ready to invest, they're doing so with a measured approach, carefully balancing growth ambitions with operational and financial prudence. 

As we navigate this complex landscape, agility and forward-thinking are crucial. The green transition and technological advancements, particularly AI, will be pivotal in shaping economic prospects. Our data suggests that mid-market businesses are strategically positioning themselves to harness these opportunities, recognising the need to equip their workforce alongside technological investments.” 

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