In the latest survey of the level of business confidence of chemical and pharmaceutical businesses, respondees reported strong recent growth in sales and exports. This good news has been reflected in a similar positive outlook for 2018, with the economies of China, Europe and the US all growing simultaneously, to the benefit of an export-intensive industry.
The quarterly survey which is run by the Chemical Industries Association showed that a balance of +35% of companies grew export sales and a balance of +23% more grew overall sales. A balance is the difference between those companies reporting an increase, minus those reporting a decrease. Looking ahead, the industry is more optimistic than at the time of the last survey in October 2017. A balance of +39% of companies seeing growth in overall sales and a balance of +42% expecting growth in exports volume.
Steve Elliott, Chief Executive of the Chemical Industries Association, said “the chemical industry is in reasonably optimistic mood, with the economies of China, Europe and the US all growing simultaneously, to the benefit of an export-intensive industry such as ours. However, like many other sectors of the UK economy we are increasingly worried by the ongoing uncertainty with regard to our future relationship with Europe. Minimal disruption to chemicals trade and investment flows would represent a very positive outcome from the negotiations for UK chemical businesses, but there remain many challenges in achieving that outcome”.
Elliott continued “We do see continued strong growth in capital investment (+32%), and while we have growth in R&D spending (+16%), it has reduced a little since our last survey. There are also reports of jobs growth to help meet growing demand in 2018. Weak sterling and strong European growth is expected to be key drivers for 2018. Expanding markets in Asia and North America are also seen as opportunities in 2018. However we cannot escape Brexit uncertainty, with 48% of companies reporting this as a worry. The higher oil price and the weak exchange rate have also elevated concerns over rising raw material costs and energy costs - both critical to an energy-intensive manufacturing sector”
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• The chemical and pharmaceutical industry adds £18 billion of value to the UK economy every year from total annual turnover of £50 billion. This represents around 11% of the value added by the whole of UK manufacturing.
• In addition to gross value added, the sector also contributes to the UK economy in its position at the head of many supply chains within manufacturing and its employment of a well remunerated, high-skilled workforce. Chemical manufacturing adds £9 billion in gross value added annually and pharmaceutical manufacturing £9 billion.
• The wider chemical and pharmaceutical sector (manufacturing plus distribution) is the largest exporter of manufactured goods with annual exports of close to £50 billion. The export of motor vehicle, trailers and semi-trailers is the sector with next highest exports of £35 billion.
• 63% of companies in the sector export what they make to the world, the highest proportion of any goods manufacturing sector in the UK economy. 60% of our exports go to the European Union and 75% of our imports and raw materials come from the European Union.
• Our latest quarterly survey was conducted in January 2018 and asked about performance in Q4 2017 compared with Q3 2017 and expectations for 2018. 31 companies responded.