4 September 2018
The British Chambers of Commerce, in partnership with DHL, published its latest Quarterly International Trade Outlook on Friday, based on survey and documentation data from UK exporters. The Outlook indicates that many exporters are performing well but economic and political factors are weighing on them.
The survey, of over 2,600 exporters, found that confidence in future operations remains strong, but external economic and political factors are having an impact. The results show 60% of exporting manufacturers were more concerned about exchange rates in the second quarter of the year than in the previous three months. There was also increased concern among 43% of service exporters, highlighting the broad impact of the weakness of the pound.
The findings indicate that price pressures eased slightly on exporters during the second quarter of the year. However, those manufacturers under pressure to raise prices report the cost of raw materials as the leading factor (81%). Service firms believe the cost of raw materials (39%) and other overheads (51%) are the leading sources of cost pressure.
The escalating labour shortage in the UK is also having a serious impact on exporters, with a staggering 69% of recruiting manufacturers struggling to find staff.
Elsewhere, the BCC/DHL Trade Confidence Index, which measures the volume of trade documents issued by accredited Chambers of Commerce for goods shipments, decreased slightly on the quarter (-1.34%), but still stands higher than at the same quarter in the previous year.
The Outlook indicates that many UK exporters are maintaining their competitiveness in foreign markets with healthy sales and order books, but the weakness of the pound is increasing the cost of raw materials imported from abroad. With growing tension around the nature of the future UK-EU trading relationship and escalating trade disputes with key partners such as the US, the government must do all it can to maintain confidence and take unilateral action to improve the domestic business environment wherever possible.
Key findings from the report:
Commenting on the findings, Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:
“These are unusual times, and the escalating political and economic turbulence doesn’t go unnoticed by business. It’s been a summer of trade tensions and endless Brexit bickering, and exporters are particularly exposed to the consequences of that turmoil.
“Companies will always find a way to trade with each other, but messy negotiations and the threat of higher tariffs have implications, and can hit confidence and firms’ bottom lines. While many exporters are making the most of their competitive advantage in foreign markets, the fall of sterling also puts considerable pressure on the cost of imports and the volatility can make it difficult to plan.
“The UK government can’t control currency or the actions of trading partners, but it can take steps to mitigate the level of uncertainty at home. Reaching a pragmatic and business-focused Brexit deal with the EU this autumn would go a long way to reassure markets and business communities. Addressing issues in the domestic environment – most importantly the shortage of skills in the UK – should also be top of the agenda when parliament returns next week.”
Ian Wilson, CEO DHL Express UK and Ireland, said:
“The resilience of UK exporters is highlighted with this quarter’s Trade Confidence Index. Despite being a slight decline on the previous quarter, the index remains up year on year and it is encouraging to see it stands at the fifth highest level on record. This strong performance also reflects what I hear from our customers and, at DHL Express, we continue to support an abundance of energetic, internationally-focussed UK entrepreneurs to take their businesses to the world.
The uncertain climate exporters are operating in and the challenges faced cannot be overlooked, but with all uncertainty comes opportunity - and continuing to trade internationally and expanding your portfolio of markets (and market segments) still provides the best way to spread business risk and ensure long-term revenue and profitability growth.
The growing labour shortage continues to be a very real hurdle that is impacting a vast number of sectors. Amidst challenging and unpredictable times, industry and government must work closely to ensure that we identify and develop UK talent in order to future-proof our businesses for what lies ahead.”