Trade intensity falls in first quarter 2023

Reading Time 5 minutes | Written by Anne de Geus | April 28, 2023

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Brussels, April 28, 2023 - The relative intensity with which Belgian companies traded fell 4 percent in the first quarter of 2023, compared with the period October to December 2022. That is according to analysis by Altares Dun & Bradstreet. The business data specialist saw that the Belgian economy landed at 85.5 points of intensity after the first quarter compared to Q4 2022, when it was 89.1 points.

The March 2023 86.1 index is up about 2 percent from the end of January (84.2). Altares Dun & Bradstreet analyzes, among other things, the size and number of invoice flows between companies to arrive at this figure. A year ago, companies traded more than they do now. As recently as March 2022, the index stood at 88.7.

Government revives

The largest increase compared to Q1 2022, was within the government sector. Government sectors traded at 5.4 percent more than the first quarter of last year. Compared to March 2022, this even amounts to some 6.9 percent. In second place with the most intensified trade comes the banking and insurance sector, with 3 percent more compared to Q1 2022. Rounding out the top three is the manufacturing sector. There, trade intensity increased by 2.7 percent compared to Q1 last year. 

Largest contraction in hospitality sector

The sector that took the hardest hit versus last year is that of the hospitality industry. When the lockdowns ended in early 2022, trade intensity rose sharply - only to return afterwards to levels just above those seen during the pandemic. Whereas the trade intensity of restaurants and cafes was still at 83.5 in Q1 2022, it currently fell to 75.1 spread over the January to March period - a difference of 10 percent intensity. Restaurants and cafes also show less intensity on a monthly basis. March 2023 shows 16 percent less trade than March 2022.

In addition, hotels are also doing less well, with a 2.8 percent drop in trade intensity compared to January-March 2022. Comparing March intensity, it is also down 8 percent from March 2022.

Stability in retail

Like the hospitality industry, the sector experienced a steep decline in trade intensity due to imposed lockdowns. Stores closed their doors and became dependent on government support. Yet stability is evident in the sector, with only a slight increase of 0.15 percent from Q1 2022. Perhaps this is where we see the balance between the challenges facing urban retail in Belgium and the large "job stores" that are then doing well. 

Joris Peeters, Chief Data Analyst at Altares Dun & Bradstreet: The overall slightly declining intensity confirms what we also see in the analysis of bankruptcies. When the latter rise, it is often an indication of an intensifying trade environment. These are signs of a healthy economy, although we cannot ignore the lingering energy crisis and indexation since January. Companies appear to be more cautious in repackaging their business, delaying a rebound in intensity for longer than expected.”

View the full report (in Dutch) here.

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