The BPIF has released its latest Printing Outlook survey, with uncertainty over government support for energy costs clouding the picture for Q1, despite expectations of a “slightly more positive output balance”.
The survey found that predictions for Q4 2022 had turned out almost exactly as forecast.
Printing Outlook found that one third of printers managed to increase output levels in Q4, while 38% managed to hold output steady. The other 29% reported a decline in output levels, resulting in a balance of +4 compared with a forecast of +3.
A seventh consecutive quarter of positive output growth is very welcome but is of course becoming harder to maintain as we move beyond the sharp Covid-enforced decline in 2020, and the extended recovery period from that, the BPIF reported.
For Q1 2023, “a slightly more positive output balance is expected”.
Output growth is forecast to increase for 35% of companies, 41% predict that they will be able to hold output levels steady, leaving 24% expecting output levels to fall.
While respondents were hopeful that cost inflation may have peaked, uncertainty around the pared-back support in the government’s new Energy Bills Discount Scheme has crimped that sentiment. Further details and guidance about the new scheme will be published by the end of March.
The energy price crisis also influenced future spending plans, with the BPIF asking companies to pinpoint their top three investment targets for the coming year. The top answers were: energy cost reduction; workflow and automation; and net zero initiatives; followed by MIS tied with mailing and fulfilment in fourth spot.
Factors including lingering and extreme cost pressures, economic uncertainty and political instability have “clearly eroded earlier recoveries in confidence”, which fell in Q4 and has returned a negative balance for the first time in two years.
BPIF economist Kyle Jardine said: while the UK printing industry was continuing to recover it was not finding it easy to maintain this recovery. The wider economic landscape has dented industry confidence; and growing industry turnover statistics mask the challenges in a way that paper, board, and ink consumption statistics do not, he said.
Companies are adapting, and many are still looking to grow. The full report shows that investment budgets and priorities for many companies have been re-evaluated in the wake of the current cost crisis – difficulties in recruiting labour have focused investment towards automation and workflow efficiencies, and high energy costs have made net zero and energy efficiencies a much more popular target.
The survey was carried out from 4-23 January. It involved 102 companies employing 5,317 people and a combined turnover of just over £820m.
Prepared on the basis of information from Print Week