Larger Singapore firms putting off foreign forays: Survey

The Central Business District skyline. Larger firms will focus on maintaining their competitive edge locally, according to the survey by global services company American Express.
The Central Business District skyline. Larger firms will focus on maintaining their competitive edge locally, according to the survey by global services company American Express.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Respondents are deterred by political and economic uncertainty abroad

Larger firms in Singapore will be focused on maintaining their competitive edge locally rather than expanding overseas, according to a survey.

It also found that uncertainty over world markets in the wake of events such as Brexit were prompting bosses to put foreign forays on hold.

The poll noted that increased investment to improve returns and the pursuit of innovation were identified as top spending priorities.

The survey by global services company American Express interviewed 30 chief financial officers (CFOs) from companies based in Singapore across a range of industries and with worldwide revenues above US$500 million (S$698 million).

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All but one CFO plan to spend more this year on the back of bullish expectations on economic growth.

But concerns about political and economic uncertainty abroad were cited as key reasons to delay entering new markets, a strategy that was the second priority in last year's survey but further down the list now.

As the survey respondents were interviewed late last year, American Express said that the uncertainties surrounding Brexit as well as the progress of the Chinese economy would have contributed to the wariness of local firms in expanding abroad.

HELP FROM GOVT

The Government has set aside $600 million for the International Partnership Fund and will work with local organisations to expand overseas. It's pleasing to see the Government promoting such initiatives but the priorities for the (larger) firms may have changed.

MR NIGEL FOX, vice-president and general manager of global corporate payments for Singapore at American Express.

Mr Nigel Fox, vice-president and general manager of global corporate payments for Singapore at American Express, noted that the strategy of minimising the risk of entering new markets runs counter to the Government's incentives for companies to enter such markets with grants and funding schemes.

"The Government has set aside $600 million for the International Partnership Fund and will work with local organisations to expand overseas. It's pleasing to see the Government promoting such initiatives but the priorities for the (larger) firms may have changed," said Mr Fox.

ANZ economist Ng Weiwen said that while CFOs may inevitably be concerned about improving cost-efficiency locally, there are many opportunities regionally and globally.

"While Singapore is expecting economic growth of 1 to 3 per cent for the next few years, Asean is expecting over 5 per cent," he noted.

"With regard to global political and economic uncertainty, Singapore, as a small nation, is largely a price-taker. However, despite the chatter of protectionism, most of the trade agreements and supply chains are still intact.

"To some extent, companies need to take some calculated risks."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2017, with the headline 'Larger firms putting off foreign forays: Survey'. Print Edition | Subscribe