The heavy consequences of the coronavirus crisis on Belgian firms has led to huge delays in investment

The coronavirus crisis is forcing many Belgian firms to reconsider their investment plans and the vast majority of them are postponing them. This is the main conclusion to emerge from the latest weekly survey carried out under the EMRG. Companies surveyed said the drop in turnover as well as solvency and liquidity problems had remained at about the same level for the last three weeks. As regards perception of the risk of bankruptcy, the sectoral disparity is widening, with some branches of activity (such as the arts, entertainment and recreation sector) notably mentioning even higher risks than in the previous weeks.

For the third week in a row, a survey was carried out by a number of federations of enterprises and the self-employed (BECI, SNI, UNIZO, UWE and VOKA). This initiative is being coordinated by the NBB and the FEB/VBO. The objective is to assesses the impact of the coronavirus crisis on economic activity in Belgium and on the financial health of Belgian companies week by week. In all, 5 005 enterprises and self-employed people replied to this week’s survey[1].  

Table 1:    Impact of the coronavirus crisis on company turnover1

                 (in %, weighted average based on turnover and aggregated by branch of activity)


27 March – 2 April

3 April – 9 April

10 April – 16 April





Flemish Region




Brussels-Capital Region




Walloon Region
















Sources: BECI, Boerenbond, NSZ, UNIZO, UWE, FEB/VBO, VOKA, NBB.

1   Representation of the various branches in the sample varies between Regions. For the purposes of this calculation, it is assumed that the impact of the crisis by branch of activity does not vary depending on the Region. It should also be noted that the figures may still differ a little from the previous publication because of data received later and because the data analysis is constantly being refined.



Regional disparities remain small, but are getting wider at sectoral level

The drop-in turnover reported by the companies surveyed remains very significant and is in line with the average observed over the previous three weeks. Taking account of company turnover and the weight of the branches of activity in the Belgian economy, the perception of drop in turnover is on average 34 %. Once again, the estimated impact is very similar between Regions, even though it is slightly lower in the Brussels-Capital Region owing to the higher share that the financial and insurance sector, which has been relatively spared, accounts for in the Brussels economy’s value added.

The proportion of surveyed firms facing cash-flow problems has remained of a similar magnitude to last week’s, falling back from 46 to 41 %, a figure that is still high in absolute terms. In the survey conducted this week, 9 % of the firms questioned said they would not be able to maintain their liquidity position over the next four weeks and this proportion shoots up to 38 % if a three-month horizon is considered.

The proportion of surveyed firms indicating a high risk of bankruptcy (in other words, bankruptcy considered “likely” or “very likely”) has also remained more or less constant, dropping from 8 to 7 %. However, replies vary considerably from one branch of activity to another. While the perception of the risk of bankruptcy is relatively low in most branches of activity, firms from accommodation and food service activities and the arts, entertainment and recreation sector[2] are still indicating a risk of bankruptcy that is much higher on average.



[1] Participation in the survey by some federations whose members operate in a specific sector of activity may lead to sampling errors. For instance, companies from one by branch of activity could be strongly represented in our sample but not actually have much weight in the economy as a whole. The sample by branch of activity is therefore stratified depending on the weight in value added in Belgium.

[2] Note that the survey is conducted via employers’ and self-employed workers’ federations, which is why public services activities like museums and cultural centres are not included here. Their activities currently seem to be more or less equally affected.


Generally speaking, the perception of the negative impact is more evident for small-scale businesses, whether taking into consideration liquidity problems, risk of bankruptcy, the fall in turnover or the degree of concern. By way of example, in our sample, 10 % of firms surveyed that employ less than ten people consider that bankruptcy is likely or very likely, compare with less than 1 % for enterprises with more than 250 employees. This observation can of course not be seen in isolation from the branches of activity in which these companies mainly operate.

More than one in every two questions questioned are now resorting to temporary lay-offs and the proportion has gone up by about 5 percentage points compared with last week. Accommodation and food services is the sector most affected by temporary lay-offs as three in every four firms questioned are currently resorting to this. Moreover, the proportion of surveyed firms active in industry (excluding construction) has also risen considerably over the last four weeks, rising gradually from 59 % in the first round of this survey (27 March – 2 April) to 65 % over the last week.

The vast majority of investment plans have been postponed

The level of concern among surveyed firms is not weakening in relation to the previous survey. On a scale of 1 (not very concerned) to 10 (very concerned), the firms questioned put their level of concern at 7.2, compared with 7.1 last week and 7.0 two weeks ago. The latent uncertainty has probably had the effect of forcing companies to delay some of their investment plans. In particular, one-third of the firms surveyed have put off their original investment plans until later in 2020 or 2021 and one-third of firms questioned have put off their investment plans to a later (as yet unknown) date. In our sample, only one in eight firms questioned has stuck to its investment plans.