HSBC survey shows trade optimism lives on despite geopolitical risks

EXPORTERS are currently facing a whole host of problems, from conflicts in the Middle East to the US-China trade war and Brexit, plus mounting pressure from consumers around sustainability

08 November 2019 - 19:00

EXPORTERS are currently facing a whole host of problems, from conflicts in the Middle East to the US-China trade war and Brexit, plus mounting pressure from consumers around sustainability.

That said, HSBC?s Navigator survey of 9,000 firms across 35 territories conducted between August and September shows that 47 per cent of companies polled are more optimistic about growth than a year ago and 22 per cent - the high-growth firms - are extremely positive, expecting growth in excess of 15 per cent in the next 12 months.

The survey found that overall, 64 per cent of global firms are affected by geopolitical risks, with this figure increasing sharply in certain regions, up to 76 per cent in North America and 77 per cent in the Middle East and North Africa region (Mean).

'The biggest surprise to me is just the overwhelming optimism,' global head of client network banking at HSBC Stuart Invasion told Global Trade Review. 'We didn't expect to find firstly the level of optimism and secondly that almost half the companies were more optimistic than they were a year ago.'

Some 79 per cent of respondents said they expect an increase in sales in the next year, with 81 per cent feeling positive about their international trade possibilities. The main reasons for this, Mr Invasion said, are twofold: new markets, and investment in technology and digitising processes.

The 12 per cent of companies that expect their businesses to shrink are under pressure from external factors, with the single biggest threat being an uncertain political environment followed by rising competition and inability to secure financing.

For Mr Invasion, some countries in Asia are notably upbeat. 'You have got several countries which are benefiting from changes in supply chain structure and they are overwhelmingly positive about growth.

'A very high proportion of firms in countries like Vietnam, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh say they will see an increase in growth over the coming year. Some of the large multinationals are rebalancing parts of their supply chains and those are the countries that are frequently mentioned.'

Optimism around technology investment, meanwhile, is coming as an growing number of companies which have previously sold their goods locally respond to demands from buyers to become more digital.

'They start getting more online orders from regions like France and Vietnam, places they never thought of selling. New markets and technology complement each other,' Mr Invasion pointed out.

While having a sustainable supply chain benefits the environment and society, it also makes a strong business case by improving firms' profitability. The Navigator report revealed the top motivations for implementing sustainable practices, include improving operational efficiency, meeting standards set by regulators, gaining a competitive edge and boosting sales.

He said that businesses need to look at the whole environmental, social and governance (ESG) impact of their supply chains, and this is what will have a 'snowball' effect on firms implementing legitimate sustainable initiatives.

'Trade is being seen as a force for good by the vast majority of companies because it encourages regional development and drives innovation,' Mr Invasion concluded.


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