Belgian firms and the COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 crisis has had a severe impact on business life, with stringent health measures, disruption of working conditions and the forced closure of certain activities. This article reveals that, for almost three-quarters of firms, sales performance was below that in a normal year, with sometimes very substantial falls recorded. However, for one in four firms, the results during the crisis were comparable to those in a normal year. 

This article puts the contrasting situation of firms into perspective by using nine stylised facts, each illustrating one aspect of the crisis, such as month-by-month developments, the sectors worst affected, a comparison between regions and provinces, and the impact on employment and investment.

It also presents a mixed picture by comparing the trend in sales figures and costs (input purchases and wages). After one year of the crisis, 48 % of firms remained in the green zone with sales rising by more than costs. Conversely, 36 % of firms moved into the orange zone with margins remaining positive despite an adverse trend in sales compared to their costs. Finally, 16 % of firms are in the red zone, with bigger cost increases and ultimately a negative margin.

In terms of economic policy, while there was every justification for providing massive, unconditional support for all firms at the start of the crisis, the diverse situations today call for support targeting the firms most affected.