With the benefit of initial indicators, we now know that the COVID-19 lockdown measures—imposed to save lives and contain the deadly virus—hit the global economy very hard. The world is living through the sharpest and most synchronized downturn since the Great Depression.
But there’s still so much we don’t know about this pandemic’s impact on Canadian businesses. Given the rapidly-changing developments and delays in releasing official economic statistics, EDC conducted an online survey in April 2020 to collect timely insights into the economic challenges facing Canadian exporters due to COVID-19. Of the 114 respondents, we were able to get a better understanding of the initial impacts on their sales in both domestic and international markets, company operations and supply chains.
Here are 10 key findings from our survey:
1. COVID-19 impacts are broadly dispersed throughout the economy.
Few companies are unaffected. Roughly three-quarters of respondents report a negative impact on their sales (both domestic and exports), while a much smaller share have seen a positive result.
2. COVID-19 is having a significant adverse impact on both domestic and international sales.
Our survey responses imply a drop in domestic and export sales of roughly 15% from January to mid-April. The largest negative impacts are concentrated among the more than one-in-three respondents, who reported sales declines of more than 50%.
3. COVID-19 impacts are generally expected to persist into fall 2020 and beyond.
While there are a wide range of estimates on the duration of these impacts, most respondents expect sales impacts to last more than three months, remaining with us into the fall and perhaps even into 2021.
4. Many businesses face acute financing needs, which will become more pressing the longer the lockdowns are in place.
Nearly one-in-five respondents report additional financing needs within 30 days, while 58% report additional financing needs by July.
5. Smaller businesses generally require financing sooner.
The smallest business in the survey (including “micros” and “small” defined as annual sales of less than $2 million, and $2 million to $10 million, respectively) reported more immediate financing needs than larger firms.
6. Business survival is a top concern.
Given these responses, it’s no surprise that more than one-in-five respondents cited COVID-19 as an existential threat, with genuine worries their business may not be operating in the next six months.
7. Companies have taken action to cope with COVID-19 and the physical distancing mandates.
Various actions have been taken, including stopping or reducing production and hours worked, laying off employees, and pivoting to online and in-demand products. Given financing pressures, companies are already reaching out. Almost half of respondents (47%) sought support to minimize the effect of COVID-19 on their business.
8. COVID-19 is causing supply chain adjustments.
Export activity is being hampered by contract cancellations and business delays, cash flow concerns and travel restrictions, among other things. Supply chain concerns cited include delivery date uncertainty, slower shipments, suppliers’ shutdowns and production delays. Some respondents have already changed suppliers (6% domestically; 9% internationally), while roughly twice as many are considering making supply chain adjustments.
9. With physical distancing and lockdowns, it’s necessary for economic activity to shift online, and some companies are better prepared than others.
Most businesses can accomplish at least some of their sales online or by other not-in-person means, with one-quarter able to meet all sales online. Conversely, about one-in-five respondents can’t accomplish any sales online—and these firms are being hit much harder; those with well-developed online capabilities have been able to mitigate sales losses.
10. Even essential services haven’t been spared.
In our survey, 56% of respondents reported being deemed an “essential service” defined by their provincial governments. However, these responses weren’t that different statistically. This suggests that even though these businesses could remain open, the “new normal” of physical distancing is still significantly dampening business.
Additional survey details
This was an online survey of EDC’s Research Panel provided a self-selected sample of 114 respondents who are knowledgeable decision-makers about their company’s activities. The businesses surveyed mirror the overall Canadian business population by firm size, region and sector. Given our sample size, the survey’s margin of error is larger than usual: +/- 9.1% with a 95% confidence interval.
EDC’s survey was conducted from April 9 to April 17, 2020. During that time, various COVID-19 containment measures were in place in Canada and abroad, including restrictions on non-essential business operations, shelter-in-place advisories, school closings and travel restrictions.