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UK SMEs confident about growth prospects

Half (51%) of SME owners expect their business to grow in 2017, despite not being confident about the UK’s economic outlook for the year ahead, according to the Close Brothers Business Barometer. The quarterly survey questions over 900 UK SME owners and senior management across a range of sectors and regions. Only 10% of businesses expect to contract during 2017, with strong to modest growth predicted by 51%; the remaining 39% expect their prospects to remain the same as 2016.

“Despite the large number of unknowns, the overall sentiment among SME businesses is relatively positive,” said Neil Davies, CEO, Close Brothers Asset Finance. “Generally speaking, the larger the business the more positive they are about 2017, with organisations at the smaller end of the scale expecting their prospects to remain the same this year. Export industries, for example, manufacturing, are the most optimistic, with 64% of businesses in the sector expecting growth this year.”

While businesses may be confident about their growth prospects, only 18% will be investing more than in 2016, with nearly a quarter (23%) investing less. The remaining 59% will be keeping investment levels the same. “This reticence to invest is indicative of many SMEs’ contention that they won’t need to invest in order to grow, and expect growth to be organic,” Davies continued. 

When asked the question ‘have you ever considered growing through acquisition?’ 48% answered ‘no’; 35% ‘unsure’ and 17% ‘yes’. “Growth through acquisition is traditionally the preserve of larger organisations,” said Davies. “And our figures bear this out, which show that only 8% of businesses with turnovers of between £250k to £500k answered in the affirmative. This contrasts with the manufacturing sector, which was again the most likely to see acquisition as a way to grow, with 28% answering ‘yes’.”

Over a third of businesses (35%) said they would accelerate investment to support growth plans if cashflow and funding permitted. “It appears that if businesses were more confident about their access to funding, they would revise their growth ambitions upwards,” said Davies. “This is particularly true of businesses with a turnover of £5m, 46% of who would invest more if funding allowed.”

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