SME investment in export activity rises

Despite concerns about Brexit, the number of small and medium-sized businesses investing in overseas trade has almost doubled over the past 12 months.

The latest SME Confidence Tracker from Bibby Financial Services (BFS) shows that the number of SMEs investing in overseas trade is now at its highest since 2014. Its research reveals that 15% of SMEs invested in export activity in Q3 this year - compared with 8% in Q3 2015.

In addition, more than one in five manufacturers (22%) have invested in exporting in the past three months, up from 15% in Q2 2016.

The report, which tracks SME sales performance, investment intentions and confidence, also found that 37% of SMEs say that the UK's vote to leave the EU has not impacted their businesses and a further 37% believe it's too early to tell.

David Postings, Bibby's global chief executive, said: "It's clear that SMEs want to get back to business after an unsettled first half of the year and it's encouraging to see more SMEs looking overseas to unlock growth."

However, the survey also shows that businesses are concerned about the weak pound, with 51% of UK SMEs reporting that the decreasing value of the pound is a significant threat to their business over the next 12 months, even though a weaker pound provides opportunities for exporters.

"While many SMEs are concerned about the falling pound, we've seen a range of positive data over the summer that show a resilience in the UK economy," said Postings. "Many firms are now taking advantage of the fall in sterling to build their export capability, particularly those who manufacture within the UK."

However most UK firms remain focused solely on domestic trade and Postings says more could be done to support would-be exporters. "While former chancellor George Osborne's ambition of doubling UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020 is highly unlikely, there's more that can be done by both the public and private sector to help SMEs find growth opportunities overseas," he said.

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