Export Growth Slows in the Face of Global Headwinds

26th February 2016

Export sales and orders across both manufacturing and services sectors fell significantly in the last quarter of 2015, according to the latest Quarterly International Trade Outlook.

The survey’s Trade Confidence Index, measuring the volume of trade documentation issued, fell by 2.5% on Q4 2014 to stand at 114.46 in Q4 2015 - a decline of 0.9% on Q3 2015.

Among manufacturers, the balance of firms reporting improvements in export sales over the previous three months fell from +10% in Q3 to just +1% - the lowest level since Q3 2009 – while export orders dropped from +10% to +1%.

Export growth also dipped in the services sector, where the sales balance fell three points to +15%, and export orders fell to +9% from +16% - the lowest level since Q4 2011.

The key findings from the report are:

  • The Trade Confidence Index, a measure of the volume of trade documentation issued nationally, fell by 0.9% on Q3 2015, and by 2.5% on Q4 2014 - the index now stands at 114.46
  • The largest increases in export document volumes were in the North East (7.07%), Scotland (5.76%), and Northern Ireland (5.11%)
  • The biggest declines in export document volumes were in the West Midlands (-7.46%), the North West (-6.24%), and the East Midlands (-4.18%)
  • From the BCC’s survey, the balance of manufacturers reporting improved export sales fell markedly to +1% in Q4 2015 from +10% the previous quarter, and export orders growth fell to +1% in Q4 2015 from +10% in Q3 2015
  • The balance of services firms reporting improved export sales over the past three months fell to +15% in Q4 2015 from +18% in Q3 2015, and export orders growth fell to +9% in Q4 2015 from +16% in Q3 2015

John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

“British exporters have faced considerable challenges in recent months. Slowing growth in China and the US, along with the continued weakness in the Eurozone, have made it harder for firms to build momentum.

“While the rate of growth has dropped significantly, exports are continuing to grow - a testament to British businesses, particularly in the face of such global uncertainty.

“However, if we are to reverse our longstanding trade deficit then British firms need greater practical support – access to finance, a skilled workforce and good infrastructure connections – if they are to successfully break into new export markets, and this needs to be a national priority for the UK otherwise we risk being left behind in the global race.”

Phil Couchman, CEO, DHL Express UK, said:

“Some areas of the UK – in particular Scotland, the North East and Northern Ireland – are showing strong growth in export volumes. However, with most regions experiencing declining volumes and the UK’s trade gap recently reaching an all-time high, it’s more important than ever that we concentrate on supporting more British businesses to export.

“The UK’s relentless demand for imported goods means that we need to work hard to significantly boost exports and strike the right balance.

“As the UK focuses its efforts on exporting as a way of securing the future of our economy, DHL will continue to support businesses and ensure that more and more organisations feel comfortable in taking that first step overseas.”

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