Welcome to the SWMAS Summer 2018-19 (Q1) national Manufacturing Barometer report. More than 250 decision makers responded to questions on sales, profits, investment and job creation to provide a vital snapshot of the UK SME manufacturing sector’s performance in the last six months and forecast for the next six months.
With export and international trade very much in the news, and manufacturers expressing in last quarter’s Barometer their interest in seeking new markets, we also decided to explore the sector’s export intentions in our Special Focus.
We took a closer look at whether manufacturers believe they can increase export sales, and what needs to happen in their businesses to achieve their growth goals.
THE CORE TRENDS
Last six months
While profits remain on a relatively even keel, it seems that this might have been at the expense of sales generated, investment and staff recruited.
An increase in sales was reported by 54% of respondents, and whilst still positive and indicating overall growth, this is lower than the 60% around which figures have hovered since Q4 2016.
Those investing in new machinery and premises dropped to 41%, down 7% from the 48% seen last quarter, which was the highest investment figure seen in the last two years.
While 41% saw an increase in those recruited, nearly a fifth of manufacturers reported a reduction in staff numbers.
This period’s figures generally reflect those last seen in the 2016/17 financial year and into the first quarter of 2017.
Next six months
The number of manufacturers anticipating an increase in sales continues the downward trend since the leap in confidence we saw in Q3 2017, and those wanting to recruit drops to 46% (down from the 53% seen last quarter).
More encouragingly, the number of manufacturers wanting to invest in new machinery and premises in the coming months is on the rise, breaking the 50% barrier.
Looking at the figures and patterns that have emerged in the current two-year window, we see striking similarities between the views recorded in the 2016/17 Barometer, taken at the time of the Brexit referendum, and those seen now at a time of ongoing uncertainties around the Brexit negotiations and impending deal announcements.
Brexit is certainly foremost in UK SME manufacturers minds. We asked about their business aspirations, and while the longer-term view is growth, many here linked to their concerns around a current uncertain climate. You will see in respondents quotes a commonly shared focus on consolidating and maximising current opportunities. This is balanced by optimism fuelled by making the most of this challenging time to invest in capital equipment, staff development and new products.
SPECIAL FOCUS: EXPORT INTENTIONS
Nearly 70% of all respondents currently export, and another 10% have plans to start exporting (some by working with other companies who export their goods). We looked at by how much these 80% of respondents expect to have increased their export sales in 12 months, and what the picture will look like two years from now.
Those who already export report an anticipated average increase in turnover of 2.1% generated by export sales in 12 months, and more optimistically they expect this figure will be close to 12% in 24 months. From their standing start, those planning to start exporting expect more ambitious average increase of 16.9% and 31.9% respectively. Combined, this translates as an average increase in turnover as generated by export sales of 3.9% in 12 months and 14.3% in 24 months compared to the situation today.
The export growth forecast supports a wider medium to long term view of growth and this is backed by businesses aspirations, which remain staunchly around growth and increased sales. However, the trends and commentary suggest that UK SME manufacturers expect that we are in for a bumpy ride as we finalise Brexit negotiations and actually go through the process of leaving the EU.
We are therefore not surprised to see manufacturers combining their focus on stabilising and consolidating with investing in new machinery, products and their staff to help steady and ready themselves ahead of a period of uncertainty.
UK SME manufacturers are encouraged to actively look for opportunities and support to help them maintain their drive for growth through this time.
Download the full Summer 2018-19 Q1 National Manufacturing Barometer report: