Firms expect slower near-term sales as costs, labor woes persist: survey

OTTAWA — Businesses expect subdued sales in the near term as they face continued cost and labor pressures, despite slowing inflation, according to a survey by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber’s Business Data Lab released the results of its first-quarter survey on business conditions on Thursday, which found that a third of businesses expect to raise prices next quarter.

The retail, accommodation and food service sectors, along with the wholesale trade, construction and manufacturing sectors, reported feeling the most affected by ongoing price pressures.

Businesses said they expect inflation to remain the biggest obstacle over the next three months at 58 percent, followed by input costs at 46 percent and interest and debt costs at 40 percent.

Inflation fell to 5.9 per cent. in January, down from 6.3 per cent. the month before. Statistics Canada is expected to release February’s inflation rate next Tuesday.

Most companies with at least five employees said they are still concerned about labor challenges, which companies plan to address through higher wages, more flexible work arrangements and improved training, according to the survey.

About three-quarters of companies with recruitment and retention challenges believed that this will hamper their production.

While the business outlook weakened slightly from the previous quarter, 68 percent of respondents reported still feeling optimistic about their business over the next 12 months, compared to 19 percent who said they felt pessimistic.

Measured by census metropolitan area, Ottawa business saw the biggest bump in optimism since last quarter’s survey, and the highest level of optimism overall, up 12 percentage points to 80 per cent. Toronto businesses were the least optimistic, at 58 per cent, down 12 points.

Business optimism was on the rise in Western Canada, led by Winnipeg at 70 per cent, followed by Saskatoon and Edmonton at 67 per cent, Vancouver at 65 per cent and Calgary at 63 per cent.

Almost 16,000 companies responded to the survey between 3 January and 6 February.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 16, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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