While George Osborne has been tireless in damping down expectations of a recovery in domestic demand and investment spend any time soon, he has been assiduous in trumpeting the importance of exports in the UK recovery.
The weak pound combined with the attractiveness of economies that have avoided the worst of the downturn has combined to offer a life raft for UK businesses.
Some finance directors have concentrated efforts in markets where they believe there are premium rates of growth. The BRICs are now emerged markets, but other markets are ripe for expansion. Take Turkey. Its economic progress in the last decade has demonstrated its enormous potential, as discussions about joining the European Union continue. Figures from the OECD show that by the end of 2006 the UK was the second largest foreign direct investor in Turkey after the Netherlands.
Alun Jones is FD at Faun Trackways, a manufacturer of temporary roadways for military purposes working in Turkey. “We had a large contract there which involved us doubling the size of our business for a year,” he explains. “We had to finance the purchase of a lot of equipment, so that involved working with our bank to make sure we
had the right financing structures in place to meet the terms.”
In Faun’s case, the customer provided some of the payment up front in order to help the UK business meet its working capital demands. Faun also had to provide an €8m bond.
Turkey does offer opportunities, but there are hoops you need to jump through, according to Jones. In order to prepare for dealing with a different business style, Faun used an agent, something that made the FD’s job easier. “It really helped,” says Jones.
“In my experience you have to choose an agent that is well connected and who really understands your market. That’s doubly true for the defence industry. The issue of trust is paramount there.”
Garry Clarke is CFO at Triumph Motorcycles, which currently derives 82 percent of its revenues from exports. He agrees with Faun FD Jones that working closely with partners on the ground can remove risk and improve performance.
Cost of entry
“We operate through selling subsidiaries in nine countries, mainly in Europe. We also use third-party distributors, which has reduced the cost of entry to the markets,” he says. “It also allows us to share a degree of the risk and test our product in the field. Once you go for it and establish yourself, you can start to
While Europe and the US have provided the lion’s share of sales at Triumph, the FD clearly sees opportunities beyond the established markets. “Triumph will certainly look to consider other emerging markets and use the benefit of experience to judge if the cost of entry, balanced with the risk of return, makes it viable,” he says.
However, it is not all exponential growth. Colin Day, FD of Reckitt Benckiser, urges a cautious approach. “There is a danger you can squeeze these markets too hard and too fast, perhaps under-invest for short-term performance and burn them out quickly,” he says.
Day cites the fact that, 10 years ago, developing markets would have accounted for less than 10 percent of revenues and were net lossmakers. Since then it has turned to 25 percent of revenues and a significant contributor to Reckitt’s bottom line.
FDs must seek to balance caution with the opportunities abroad now.
The next growth nations
Often seen as the poor relation in the Nafta block, the UK is a significant investor in Mexico, and was the fifth largest investor in Mexico over the period 1999–2009, behind
the US, Canada, Holland and Spain. Opportunities abound there.
The main investors today include AstraZeneca, BAT, BPAmoco, Diageo, GKN, GlaxoSmithKline, HSBC, Shell and Unilever.
What does Mexico offer? Despite its well-publicised problems with crime, internal security has improved, while investment in infrastructure has continued to grow. Indeed, recent figures from UK Trade and Invest reveal the country has committed itself, under President Calderon’s National Infrastructure Programme 2007-2012, to spend an estimated $226bn on airports, railways, ports and the road network. It is actively seeking to look beyond its trading relationship with the US to other markets, principally the Eurozone.
The UK’s second largest market in sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa, Nigeria’s oil wealth and growing middle class have made it arguably the most lucrative market for UK businesses on the continent. The value of UK exports there has increased steadily from £535m in 2000 to £1.3bn in 2009. Main areas of investment are financial services, oil and gas, education, power, construction, healthcare and security.
The economy has held up well during the downturn, with one UK FD remarking recently: “Nigeria’s our biggest emerging market because there’s no consumer credit there. As a result, there’s been no issue in the recession. The debt issue is much less of a worry in those markets, so we can exploit it.”
The UK is one of the largest investors in Nigeria, with cumulative investment of several
billion pounds by Shell, British Gas and Centrica in the oil and gas sector.
Other large British companies active in Nigeria include Guinness, Unilever, PZ Cussons, AstraZeneca, Cadbury, BAT, GlaxoSmithKline, JCB, Jaguar, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
As international pressure makes headway on human rights abuse issues, Indonesia’s population is growing in wealth and offers enormous opportunities for UK businesses. Educational standards are improving and with that comes a growing middle class. Indonesia has also recently liberalised its trading arrangements.
According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, many large UK businesses have tapped into the Indonesian success story, including Unilever, Jardine Matheson Group, Standard Chartered Bank, Premier Oil and BAT.
Real GDP grew by 6.1 percent in 2008, pushing the country into a leading position in south-east Asian markets and the government has welcomed investment from Europe.
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