Since 1954, the National Bank has conducted a monthly business survey using a panel of around 6,000 business leaders in order to find out how they view the economic situation. The results are published around the 21st of each month; they comprise not only overall indicators but also the results for each branch of activity. Survey participants also receive results per product.
In 1954, at the request of the Belgian business organisations, the National Bank set up monthly surveys of business confidence. First devised in the United States in the 1930s and introduced in Europe (Germany) in 1949, these surveys aim to obtain a quick and accurate view of the opinion of business leaders regarding the state of the economy and the developments likely to take place in the short term. They form an extremely valuable tool for economic analysis as the results, available for the current month, predate much of the information obtained from the quantitative indicators.
The business surveys form the subject of a European Commission harmonisation programme, so that the methods used and the results obtained in the various European countries are entirely comparable.
The monthly business survey results are circulated with comments in a brief press release published between the 21st and the 25th of each month. The exact date is announced in a timetable accessible on the website.
Industrial firms are also asked once a quarter about their capacity utilisation rate, and twice a year about their investments. The results of the capacity utilisation survey are incorporated in the monthly press release, whereas the investment survey results are published in a special press release.
The National Bank conducts the survey on a variable sample of 1600 consumers. The results are published around the 19th of each month. The survey, which is harmonised at European level, supplies concise information on consumers’ confidence regarding the progress of the economy.
During the 1970s, the economic information based on the monthly business surveys was supplemented by a consumer confidence indicator obtained from household surveys.
The consumer survey forms the subject of a European Commission harmonisation programme, so that the methods used and the results obtained in the various European countries are entirely comparable.
The results of the monthly consumer surveys are published with comments in a press release issued between the 17th and 20th of each month. The exact date is announced in a timetable accessible on the website.
Bank Lending Survey
Results of a quarterly survey conducted at national level by the Eurosystem central banks, covering the leading credit institutions and concerning credit market developments. Credit institutions are asked to give their opinion on the conditions concerning credit supply and demand in the recent past and in the immediate future. The results are available for both Belgium and the euro area as a whole.
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SAMPLE OF PARTICIPANTS AND QUESTIONNAIRE
Every month, a panel of around 6000 business leaders is contacted. The questions mainly concern the assessment of the current situation and expectations for the next three months.
The qualitative questions concern subjects such as production, order books, employment and prices. They centre on three main aspects. Businesses are first questioned about the latest developments: has there been an increase, a decrease, or no change? Next, businesses are asked to assess each reported change: is it normal, greater than normal or less than normal? Finally, business leaders indicate what trend they expect to see in the next three months.
The business survey is based on a panel. The same representative sample of firms in industry, building, trade and business–related services is questioned in writing each month (by letter, fax or e-mail).
CALCULATION OF THE CONFIDENCE INDICATORS
The weighted individual responses to the business survey are processed to construct indicators. The answers to a series of questions are grouped to form the National Bank’s synthetic business barometer. There is also a seasonally adjusted gross business indicator and a smoothed indicator representing the underlying trend.
The responses of each firm form the basis for calculating, for each question, the percentage of business leaders reporting an improvement (positive responses), the percentage reporting a deterioration (negative responses) and the percentage stating that there has been no change. In calculating these three percentages, account is taken of the relative importance of each firm within each activity covered by the surveys. The results for each firm (individual results) are then aggregated on the basis of the value added of each activity. For each aggregation level, a balance is determined for each question: this is the difference between the percentage of firms reporting an improvement (positive responses) and the percentage reporting a deterioration (negative responses). For example, if the number of positive responses equals the number of negative responses the balance for the question is zero; conversely, a balance of +10 means that positive responses outnumbered negative responses by 10 percentage points.
Each balance is then adjusted for seasonal variations. After that, a synthetic indicator is calculated for each sector and for each branch of activity by finding the arithmetical mean of the seasonally adjusted balances of the responses to all the questions, except those concerning prices. The overall synthetic curve is the weighted average of the synthetic indicators for industry, building and trade. The overall synthetic indicator, which thus sums up the general trend in business confidence, is commonly known in Belgium as the business barometer.
Apart from these gross indicators, available by the end of the reference month, the smoothed indicators are also constructed. Following the elimination of extreme movements by the calculation of a moving average, these smoothed indicators reflect the underlying economic trend with a time lag of several months.
SAMPLE OF PARTICIPANTS AND QUESTIONNAIRE
Every month a different representative sample of 1600 persons is questioned. The questions concern both the overall macroeconomic situation in Belgium and the financial position and spending patterns of the interviewees.
The consumer sample is completely renewed every month. Each month, a representative selection of households resident in Belgium is drawn at random, taking account of geographic, social and demographic dimensions. The survey is conducted by telephone between the 1st and the 15th of the month.
The questionnaire is qualitative in that the interviewee is asked to adopt a positive, neutral or negative position on the changes, assessment and expectations relating to a series of economic variables. Four main topics are addressed: the general economic situation in Belgium, the personal financial position and attitude towards savings, intentions regarding the purchase of consumer durables and, finally, intentions regarding home purchase, construction or improvements.
View of the questionnaire (pdf)
CALCULATION OF THE CONSUMER CONFIDENCE INDICATOR
The individual responses given in the consumer survey are processed to arrive at synthetic indicators. The responses to a series of questions are grouped to form the consumer confidence indicator.
The confidence indicator is based on the responses to a selection of four questions. The first two are macroeconomic questions relating respectively to the economic situation and unemployment in Belgium over the next twelve months. The other two questions, focusing more directly on the interviewee, concern the household’s financial position and savings over the next twelve months.
For each question, calculations are performed to find the percentage of all participating consumers reporting an improvement (positive responses), the percentage reporting a deterioration (negative responses) and the percentage stating that there has been no change. In calculating these three percentages, responses are unweighted and the difference between the “positive” and “negative” percentages constitutes the balance (the response) for the question. For example, if the number of positive responses equals the number of negative responses the balance for the question is zero; conversely, a balance of +10 means that positive responses outnumbered negative responses by 10 percentage points.
Consumer survey methodology (pdf)
Bank Lending Survey
BLS Methodology (Dutch - French)