Not a lot to cheer about.

I suppose it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that business confidence has fallen to its lowest level in 21 years (according to a new survey), re-igniting fears that the economy will fall into a third recession since 2007.

The BDO Optimism Index, which predicts economic activity during the next two quarters, dropped from 90.3 in December to 88.9 in January.

This index has shown a consistent trend over the last few years and points to a truly worrying phenomenon; a permanent loss of faith in the future by many of our nation’s business owners.

When this financial crisis started it was a shock to us all, but there was a general sense that things would get better after we had worked the mess out of the system. Most business owners had been through at least one recession in the past and many had survived through several cyclical downturns and become stronger for it.

Throughout 2009 and 2010 there were numerous sightings of the proverbial “green shoots” of a recovery; we were waiting to get going again and just needed that little shove.

But here we are in 2013 and the much heralded recovery still hasn’t materialised. We seem to lurch from one crisis to another with an alarming lack of urgency. The stifling inertia giving us all a sense that the Government is just waiting this thing out.

But how long can this go on? Banks (often the villain of this tale) maintain that many businesses just aren’t borrowing as much as they once did. If this is the case it may well be a sense of prudence, an unwillingness to use too much debt to finance operations.

However, and the BDO survey gives us a hint of this, many businesses owners may simply be getting ready to throw in the towel. Fed up with the prospect of several more difficult and gloomy years ahead, they are simply deciding to re-adjust their businesses into smaller, more self-sufficient entities and wait for any appropriate moment to get out with whatever they can.

It’s not encouraging.