OTTAWA - Canadian firms are cautiously optimistic that the new year will bring better prospects than the bleak one just drawing to a close, but their brighter outlook is tempered by the expectation of additional challenges, a new business survey suggests.
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters end-of-year survey of 688 firms found CEOs seeing a light at the end of the dark tunnel that was 2009, but also struggling to adapt to the post-recession economy.
"The lesson of 2009 is that business as usual is not an option," said CME president Jayson Myers. "We have to hit the reset button and now we have to define the new normal."
The new normal includes a loonie that could reach and perhaps surpass parity, coupled with the need to expand to new foreign markets and improve productivity.
Myers said firms need not only look beyond traditional markets like the U.S., but also diversify their products to attract new customers.
The survey found 43 per cent of firms saying they anticipate new orders to increase in the first quarter of the new year, as opposed to 16 per cent who thought they would decrease further.
As well, 27 per cent of firms surveyed said they plan to take on more employees, compared to 17 per cent who believed they will be trimming their workforces in the next three months.
Although not strong numbers, they are a significant improvement over 2009.
Myers said 62 per cent of the firms surveyed said they laid off workers this year, as opposed to only 18 per cent that increased their workforce.
It was a year in which manufacturing sales fell 20 per cent, exports to the U.S. fell 30 per cent and 200,000 manufacturing jobs disappeared, the CME estimated.
Next year will be a better one for Canadian manufacturers and exporters, Myers said.
"In reality, could it be any worse? I don't think so," he said.