CONFIDENCE among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is now at a two-year low, according to a new survey.
The latest quarterly business trends survey from trade group ISME shows just under 60pc of SMEs believe the overall business environment is "poor" or "very poor" while 48pc of firms expect conditions to get worse over the next year.
Business confidence has now fallen in every quarter this year, which ISME said was indicative of the "huge levels of uncertainty that remain, not only about the domestic economy but also the situation internationally".
The retail sector remains the most pessimistic at -50pc, followed by manufacturing (-36pc), distribution (-27pc), construction (-20pc) and services (-6pc).
The number of companies who have cut jobs during the last three months was down slightly, with a net 13pc of firms reducing headcount compared to 22pc in the previous period.
ISME head of research Jim Curran said the results were to be expected.
"Not surprisingly against the backdrop of the recent Budget, international uncertainty, together with the Government's inability to control its own cost areas and the reluctance of consumers to spend, SME business confidence continues to deteriorate for the fourth quarter running and is now at a two-year low.
"The results highlight the two-speed nature of the Irish economy, which has been very evident over the last 12 months, will continue for the foreseeable future, with domestic demand remaining very weak, and exports continuing to perform positively, albeit at a slower pace of growth," he said.
"The Government must attempt to resuscitate the domestic economy by addressing business concerns, including cost competitiveness, access to finance, late payments and the deteriorating labour market, which are so important to job creation and confidence," Mr Curran added.