By Matthew Henry

BRISBANE: Despite the recent rate rise and a report by Sensis revealing a six-year low in small business confidence, Betta Stores Retail (BSR) is predicting strong Christmas trading in its Betta Electrical stores following a promising start to the festive season.

In a media statement today, BSR Australia general manager, Ian Brown, was upbeat about the Betta Electrical franchisor’s prospects for the Christmas selling period.

“The increase in official interest rates earlier this month has not dented consumer confidence in the areas in which we operate,” Brown said.

“If anything, we’ve actually enjoyed an early start to the gift-giving season this year and sales are gaining momentum nicely as we head towards Christmas.

“Our like-for-like sales have increased every month since April and we would expect our Christmas trading to continue that trend,” he said.

Brown said the trend was consistent across all states and attributed the group’s buoyant November trading to well-pitched promotions, a 600-day interest-free offer in the current catalogue and the “unique position of Betta Electrical and Chandlers stores in metropolitan and regional markets around the country”.

However, Telstra-owned Sensis today published quarterly figures revealing a 16 percentage point drop in small business confidence — the largest quarterly drop in 14 years —  due to uncertainty surrounding a change in government.

“We have never seen such a dramatic one-quarter fall in confidence in the 14 years Sensis has been tracking small businesses,” said the Sensis Business Index report’s author, Christena Singh.

“And this takes business confidence to the lowest we’ve seen in six years.”

Singh said trading conditions had generally declined for small businesses in the past 12 months, reversing any recent gains.

Profitability also fell marginally, with the indicator down one percentage point to 11 per cent, the same level as 12 months ago.

Singh said small to medium businesses are generally expecting poorer trading conditions in the short to medium future, which could also be influenced next year if the Reserve Bank of Australia rises the official interest rate — a move which is expected around March 2008.