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Johannesburg - Trade activity was restrained but steady in March as the Trade Activity Index (TAI) measured 54, the same as February, the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) said on Tuesday.

In March last year the TAI recorded 56.

“The seasonally adjusted TAI declined slightly by one index point to 50 in March 2014 and was down from 52 in March 2013,” Sacci said in a statement.

“The marginally improved business climate in March 2014 helped to keep trade conditions in positive territory despite tighter overall financial conditions and the financial stresses experienced by the consumer.”

Loans and advances by financial institutions to private businesses increased by 12.7 percent in February.

The sales volumes index increased from 55 in February to 59 in March while the new orders index remained at 57.

“Consistency of new orders confirms the relatively positive outlook for trade activity in the next few months,” it said.

Stock levels remained almost unchanged as the inventory index stood at 48 in March.

The sales and input price indices remained high in March at 67

and 80 respectively.

Sacci said this suggested continuing inflationary pressures in the trade environment.

The rand exchange rate continued to improve in March.

“Higher costs, as a consequence of the depreciation of the rand, will remain in the supply chain over the medium term,” said Sacci.

“Price expectations (sales and input) therefore remained high with the expectations indices at 73 and 81 in March 2014.”

The seasonally adjusted trade expectations index (TEI) remained at 58 in March for the third consecutive month.

“Current employment conditions deteriorated slightly into negative territory in March as the employment sub-index declined from 50 to 49,” it said.

Prospects for employment in the trade sector improved slightly as the sub-index increased from 52 in February to 54 in March. - Sapa