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THE past 1½ years have been a tough one for businesses, especially smaller firms.

Of particular concern is the estimated RM40.7bil losses suffered by the micro, small and medium enterprises (SME) sector last year as a result of a strict nationwide lockdown imposed by the government to tackle Covid-19, according to the Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives Ministry (Medac).

This is, by far, the biggest ever losses incurred by the sector, says its Minister.

In 2020, SMEs’ gross domestic product (GDP) contracted 7.3% to RM512.8bil. In comparison, Malaysia’s GDP declined 5.6% while non-SMEs’ GDP contracted 4.6%.

Given how the movement control order (MCO) restrictions have disproportionately affected the smaller SMEs, RAM Rating Services Bhd co-head of economic research and senior economist Woon Khai Jhek (pic below) says it should not come as a surprise that the decline in SMEs’ GDP exceeded that of the national GDP.Ram Rating Woon Khai Jhek

“Furthermore, a notably larger portion of SMEs’ GDP is contributed by the services sector which had borne the brunt of the MCO restrictions.

“Services sector constitutes 63.3% of SMEs’ GDP while it is smaller at 57.6% on a national level. This bigger exposure means that the impact from the MCO restrictions will have a larger weight on SMEs’ GDP,” he says.

Businesses are hopeful of a turnaround in 2021, with expectations for a recovery later in the year hinged on a successful vaccination programme.

But Woon notes that the ongoing restrictions will make it a long and tough recovery journey for SMEs.

Note that the second quarter (Q2) 2021 RAM Business Confidence Index had declined to a record low of 33.2 from 38.7 in the preceding quarter. The tumbling of business sentiment highlights the plight of SMEs in trying to survive yet another round of movement restrictions and business closures.

But despite the tough challenges, Woon says around 84% of the surveyed firms held out hope that both the economy and their businesses will recover within a year.CLICK TO ENLARGE

“That said, whether SMEs can survive till that point of economic normalcy remains to be seen. About 16% of surveyed firms responded that they do not believe they will be able to survive and may have to close down for good, with such sentiment particularly more pronounced among smaller firms,” he adds.

Notably, as the vaccination rate ramps up, many have held optimistic views of an economic rebound in Q4.

However, it remains to be seen if the anticipated lift in economic activities towards the end of the year will be enough to buoy businesses. Economists note that the recovery remains uneven and many companies in sectors such as retail, hospitality, tourism and educational enhancement classes may take a while to get back on their feet.

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