In the current climate, it is difficult to over-state the importance of improving our understanding of the economic impact of uncertainty. While it is widely accepted that uncertainty depresses economic activity, there is scarce quantitative evidence, particularly at the firm-level, to examine this relationship. This paper exploits a new data source on business-level expectations – the Management and Expectations Survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in collaboration with the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE) – to give insight into British firms’ expectations and uncertainty concerning their turnover, expenditure, investment and employment growth for 2017 and 2018, as well as real UK GDP growth for 2018.
Our results suggest that firms’ expectations of UK GDP growth for 2018 are more pessimistic, compared with recent trends and professional forecasters. We find that younger businesses and those with more structured management practices are more optimistic of their future turnover growth, while foreign-owned firms are more pessimistic than domestically-owned firms. We measure the uncertainty that businesses have around these expectations, and find that firms that are smaller, younger, domestically-owned, family- owned-and-family-managed and less productive display higher levels of uncertainty. We also identify a relationship between firms’ micro- and macro-economic expectations: firms that are more optimistic of future GDP growth are also more optimistic of their own future performance, and firms that are more uncertain of future GDP growth are also more uncertain of their own future performance. We establish a relationship between firms’ past experiences and their uncertainty for the future: firms that operate in industries with typically volatile growth are more uncertain of their future growth.