TRADE conditions improved slightly in February as sales volumes, new orders and selling prices rose, an index showed on Thursday.

The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (Sacci’s) seasonally adjusted trade conditions survey rose to 41 from 39 in January.

Despite the improvement, the 41 was well below the 48 recorded in February last year. Overall, constraining economic conditions, the sociopolitical environment and the business climate were cited by respondents as the main inhibiting factors.

Input prices continued their upward trend, forcing some traders to reduce staff. At 75 points, the input price subindex was six index points higher than in February 2015.

Trade expectations for the next six months improved, rising slightly to 44 from 41 in January as traders expected higher sales volumes and new orders.

Traders expect input costs to ease slightly but to remain high. "Respondents regard the present drought conditions and the weak rand as major contributors to higher prices in the next six months," Sacci economist Richard Downing said.

Traders also forecast selling prices to remain high.