Investment lift expected on back of certainty delivered by poll
Australia's biggest lender to business says there are signs companies are taking expansion plans off the back burner and looking to increase investment, after greater certainty delivered by the election.
As a survey pointed to increased business borrowing, National Australia Bank's head of business, Joseph Healy, said discussions with customers in recent weeks suggested companies were "a lot" more confident about expanding.
Mr Healy said it was too early to say if demand for credit had risen since the nation went to the polls on September 7. But he said there had been a clear rise in confidence as a result of the election of a majority government.
"It's very early days but there's no doubt there has been a turnaround," Mr Healy told BusinessDay.
A separate survey by East & Partners and Macquarie also found one in four business customers planned to borrow more as a result of the change in government.
Mr Healy said that in the past two to three years many businesses had lacked the confidence to invest because of the uncertain environment, and in the lead-up to the election many people had opted to "sit on their hands".
Now, with a majority government in place, he said firms were revisiting expansion plans including merger and acquisition opportunities.
"We see more evidence of a willingness now to dust down those files and start to look again at those acquisition opportunities," Mr Healy said.
"The anecdotal feedback that I'm now hearing - quite strongly actually - from our customers, is that they're feeling a lot more confident about pushing ahead."
NAB is Australia's biggest lender to business, with a market share of just under 24 per cent.
The bank's business survey this month showed a rise in sentiment before the election, and Mr Healy said the improvement had flowed into discussions with customers, leading to a "noticeable shift in sentiment".
Expectations are that non-mining investment will play a critical role driving the economy as the resources boom fades.
But official figures show business credit expanding at an anaemic pace of just 1.3 per cent, despite official rates falling to their lowest level in more than half a century.
The ratio of debt to assets at the country's biggest 300 companies' was at its lowest level in 35 years, Mr Healy said, giving them significant headroom to take on more debt once confidence returned.
"With low interest rates and given the [low] financial leverage ... that capacity in mid to larger companies has never been as strong," he said.
A survey of 1000 business customers by East & Partners and Macquarie said 27 per cent of respondents planned to increase their borrowing over the next year as a result of the election outcome.
Macquarie analyst Mike Wiblin said the borrowing intentions of small and medium enterprises had risen most after the election, and NAB was best placed to benefit from the trend.