Business debt stress continued to worsen in the second quarter of 2017, an index showed on Wednesday.

The Experian business debt index improved slightly but remained below the neutral zero level — rising to minus 0.22 from minus 0.32.

The index is an indicator of the health of businesses based on their debt settlement.

The zero line distinguishes between improving and deteriorating business debt-stress levels.

The first-quarter figure, which was revised down, was the weakest since the financial crisis in 2008-09, as the recession in SA affected businesses.

Experian SA MD Simon Russell said although there was a marginal improvement, the reading remaining in negative territory "indicates business debt conditions continued to deteriorate in SA — albeit at a slower pace than in the first quarter".

Russell expects growth in the second quarter to be positive.

The retail sales figures out later today should provide a further indication of how the economy performed in the second quarter. Mining and manufacturing data last week offered hope that SA would exit recession.

"Although the economy remains relatively weak and the second-quarter business debt index is in negative territory, businesses are maintaining a fairly stable financial position, with many continuing to undertake a good measure of precaution in their decision-making and day-to-day activities," said Russell.

The index could show a marginal improvement in the third and fourth quarters of 2017, based on the stronger currency, lower inflation and the recent interest rate cut.

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