Manufacturing growth remains steady, but exports weaken

Posted on 27 Jul 2015 by Jonny Williamson

Manufacturing growth continued in the three months to July, but pressure by the stronger sterling is likely to see exports weaken, according to the latest CBI Quarterly Industrial Trends Survey.

The survey of 445 firms reported slower growth in total new orders in the quarter to July, though it remained above average.

Growth in total new orders, output and numbers employed are projected to remain firm over the next quarter.

According to the survey, the volume of new export orders rose slightly, but the outlook for the next quarter is gloomier.

Survey respondents continue to report sharp falls in competitiveness in the EU, likely linked to Sterling rises earlier in the year.

Political and economic conditions abroad were also seen as a constraint on orders by a significant number of firms.

Investment intentions remain broadly similar to the last quarter, staying above their long term averages, with plans for spending on building and plant and machinery improving slightly.

Katja Hall, Deputy Director General, CBI.
Katja Hall, Deputy Director General, CBI.

CBI deputy director-general, Katja Hall commented: “Manufacturers are continuing to feel the pressure from the stronger pound.

“Greater buoyancy in exports remains a missing element from the UK’s recovery. Nevertheless we’re encouraged by the Government’s commitment to take steps to address this as part of its recently announced productivity plan.”

Hall added: “The EU remains our largest trading partner, so while the UK economy’s direct exposure to Greece is minimal, we must encourage all leaders to act decisively to preserve growth and stability throughout the Eurozone.

“Despite Sterling pressures and the challenging global backdrop, investment intentions remain above average, particularly in innovation and training.”

Key findings:

  • 33% of businesses reported an increase in total new order books, and 24% a decrease, giving a balance of +9%. This remains above the long-run average (-1%).
  • The balance for domestic orders (+12%) was also well above the long-run average (-5%) and the same as the previous quarter.
  • The balance for export orders (+6%) was broadly unchanged from that in the previous two quarterly surveys (both +4%), but is above the historical average (-7%).
  • 25% of manufacturers said employment numbers were up, and 15% said they were down, giving a balance of +10%, up from +5% in April.
  • 28% of firms reported a rise in output volumes, and 16% a decrease, giving a rounded balance of +12%, well above the average of +1%.
  • Manufacturers’ investment intentions compared to the previous twelve months rose slightly for buildings (to -14%, from -19%) and plant and machinery (to -3%, from -6%), but dipped slightly for product and process innovation (to +17%, from +18%) and training and retraining (to +22%, from +25%).
  • Manufacturers believe their competitiveness in the EU continues to fall sharply (-21%).
  • Firms with present capacity at least adequate to meet expected demand fell (+85%) below the long-run average (+89%).
  • Optimism about the business situation increased a little (+8%), whilst sentiment about export prospects for the year ahead fell slightly (-5%).
  • The number of firms citing political/economic conditions abroad as a constraint on export orders in the coming three months grew (to 34%, from 28%).
  • 60% of manufacturers said orders or sales was a factor likely to constrain activity over the next quarter, the lowest since October 1988 (56%).

Key findings – next quarter:

  • 26% of manufacturers expect total new orders to increase, and 18% expect them to decrease, giving a balance of +8%, the lowest since October 2012 (+8%).
  • A balance of +9% expect domestic orders to rise (26% expect an increase, and 17% a fall), and -7% expect new export orders to rise (21% expect an increase, and 28% a fall), the lowest since October 2011 (-14%).
  • 30% of firms anticipate a rise in output volumes, and 16% a fall, giving a rounded balance of 15%.
  • 22% expect employment to increase, and 15% expect it to decrease, giving a balance of +7%. This is well above the long-run average (-12%).

Separately, the CBI published monthly figures for July, which showed that total order books for manufacturers (-10%) were the lowest since July 2013 (-12%).

Export orders were broadly in line with their long-run average (-17% against an average of -20%).