South Wales Chamber report reveals a strong outlook for the New Year for businesses

Businesses are starting 2014 in their strongest position for years according to the latest Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) from the South Wales Chamber of Commerce.

The Q4 survey for 2013, released today (7 January 2014), shows that sales are up, exports have increased, advance order books are healthy, and productivity has improved over the last 12 months. It also shows that more businesses are investing in future growth, and that most are expecting to increase their profit margins over the next year.

The results of the Quarterly Economic Survey monitor the performance of businesses in south and mid Wales, and acts as a barometer for the strength of the Welsh economy.

More than three-quarters (85%) of businesses surveyed reported improving or consistent sales in the UK market, an increase of 10 percentage points since the start of the year (75%), while the figure for overseas exports was 84%, up from 76% in Q1 of 2013.

Graham Morgan, director of the South Wales Chamber of Commerce, said: “Our final survey for 2013 is our strongest yet, with sales and export figures in particular at the highest levels we have seen for many years, and order books continuing to track sales upwards. Businesses are no longer simply trying to weather the conditions of the economic storm of the last few years but are actually expecting to increase their profits and grow over the next 12 months.

“We have called consistently for more support for Welsh businesses to help them access markets across the rest of the UK and overseas. There are plenty of businesses producing fantastic products, and delivering outstanding services, that are capable of penetrating markets around the UK and Europe, that would add real value to the Welsh economy.

“These figures show that the time is right to accelerate the support available to businesses to help them reach these markets. A co-ordinated approach is required that incorporates the Welsh tourism industry to increase the flow of visitors from the affluent south east of England and continental Europe that will open up new opportunities for Welsh companies to do business in these regions.”

Despite recruitment levels improving only slightly during 2013, businesses have been achieving more with their existing workforce, with three-quarters (75%) reporting greater levels of productivity, up from 61% in Q1.

Almost all businesses surveyed (96%) maintained or increased their levels of investment in staff training, and more than three quarters (89%) are expecting their businesses to become more profitable over 2014.

Graham Morgan said: “Although there has been a modest rise in businesses recruiting new employees, the numbers are nowhere near where we would like to be seeing them, and this is a reminder that we continue to exist in a difficult economic climate.

“However, businesses have worked hard in recent years to adapt, and to channel their resources where they are most effective. Investment in training and the up-skilling of existing staff has increased, and the value of this is really reflected in the jump in productivity we have seen since the start of 2013.

“Investment is perhaps the most important indicator of businesses confidence and, overall, the numbers of businesses that are maintaining or increasing levels of investment in their future has grown. As always, we can’t be complacent and must recognise that not all businesses will end the year in such a strong position. But, as we move into 2014, the future is certainly looking very positive.”