Economy: SMEs and VSEs held up well in the first quarter

Chartered accountants are privileged observers of the health of companies. By definition, they have their gaze fixed on the dashboards of all companies, and have a “laser” gaze into the engine of the machine. A national study by the Order of Chartered Accountants entitled “Image PME” was carried out among 500 000 very small companies, which employ fewer than 20 people, and medium-sized companies, which employ fewer than 500 people. Conclusion: between January and March, their turnover increased by 12.5% ​​compared to the 1st quarter of 2021, a period which was already on the rise despite curfews, closure and confinement measures.

Apart from three branches which have seen their turnover stagnate or decline (bakery and pastry, opticians and hairdressers), the indicators are clearly green in accommodation and catering. In this case, the variation is significant with a turnover up by 169%. Then come, with smaller orders of magnitude, the retail trade, construction, automobile maintenance and repair, local freight road transport. The structures of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Île-de-France are at the top of the ranking. Then come Occitanie and Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur. Companies in the regions of the western half of France still record the best results.

What explains this resilience of French VSEs and SMEs in the first quarter? First, an important concept, we must not confuse turnover and profits. The turnover reflects the activity of the company before taxes, payment of taxes and invoices to subcontractors, in particular. Profit is what remains after all these charges have been deducted. Needless to say, the final photo is quite different. But the fact that activity increased over one year proves that it is the French economy itself that has held up well.

It remains to be seen whether this dynamic of the first quarter is sustainable. And now ? War in Ukraine, inflation, low profit margins, prospect of interest rate hikes in July which will weigh on the investment needed to create jobs and on the repayment of debts… fingers crossed. We are in a good dynamic but the situation is likely to become much more difficult.

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