The ERN/IRN RentalTracker survey for Europe undertaken for the fourth quarter of 2009 shows that Europe's rental sector continues to stabilise although conditions are clearly still difficult.

On each of three key measures - current business conditions , utilisation rates and investment plans for 2010 -the survey shows an improvement in business sentiment from the third quarter, although not a dramatic one.

There remains a -9% negative balance of sentiment on general trading conditions at the end of 2009 (23% see an improvement, 32% continued deterioration, and the rest see no change), although this compares favourably to the -41% balance in the second quarter of the year and -15% in the third quarter.

The findings on utilisation are more promising, with the -25.8% negative balance of opinion in the third quarter falling to an almost neutral -5%. Utilisation seems to have largely stabilised.

As far as investment intentions are concerned, for the first time since starting the survey more companies say they will increase their spending in 2010 than cut investment. It has to be recalled that this is from a low base, and that the majority (67%) will still spend less or the same this year.

Also revealed by the survey is the fact that for many companies - 71% of respondents - the final three months of 2009 were actually worse than the last quarter of 2008. That quarter was the first after the start of the financial crisis (the Lehman collapse was in September 2008). This reflects the fact that many rental companies were benefitting from ongoing projects even as the world entered recession.

The full results of the survey will be published in the March issue of IRN.

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