More SMEs expect lower turnover in 2018: Poll

The 2018 SME Development Survey found that 15 per cent of SMEs projected negative turnover growth for this year.
The 2018 SME Development Survey found that 15 per cent of SMEs projected negative turnover growth for this year.PHOTO: ST FILE

Challenging business environment cited as main factor behind gloomier outlook

More small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore are expecting a decline in turnover this year, citing the challenging business environment as the main culprit for the dampened outlook, partly weighed down by the US-China trade tensions.

The 2018 SME Development Survey by DP Info found that 15 per cent of SMEs projected negative turnover growth for this year, up from 11 per cent last year and 12 per cent in 2016. Only two in five expect turnover growth this year.

The survey, now in its 16th edition, had 2,557 SME respondents and was conducted between June and August.

About one in five said it has been affected by the ongoing trade conflict between the United States and China, according to the report.

Of the number, 54 per cent said it has affected the competitiveness of exports, while 40 per cent said it reduced overseas sales.

Some 28 per cent of SMEs said it has affected or delayed their internationalisation plans.

Despite the trade headwinds, SMEs are still looking to expand abroad. Asia continues to be a focal point in their search for new markets, with greater interest seen in Asean, especially in the Philippines and Thailand this year, said the report.

Cash flow remains a pertinent concern of SMEs. While one in three firms faced external finance-related issues, a ratio that was similar to last year, there was an increase in those facing delayed payments from customers.

High manpower costs continue to be the top concern for 36 per cent of SMEs, followed by increased domestic competition at 32 per cent.

Findings also reflected a rise in labour-related issues, with more firms citing difficulty in hiring staff (28 per cent) and retaining staff (11 per cent) compared with last year.

Cash flow also remains a pertinent concern of SMEs. While one in three firms faced external finance-related issues, a ratio that was similar to last year, there was an increase in those facing delayed payments from customers.

Delayed payments from customers - the top finance-related issue faced by SMEs - went up from 81 per cent last year to 84 per cent this year.

As a result, this had an impact on how SMEs manage their finances. Some 44 per cent of firms said they face internal difficulties managing their finances.

  • 1 in 5

  • Proportion of the 2,557 SME respondents surveyed who say they have been affected by the ongoing trade conflict between the United States and China. 

This year, half of SMEs said their top concern on this front was the difficulty in managing cash flow, liquidity and credit risk - up significantly from 38 per cent last year.

Mr James Gothard, general manager of credit services and strategy, South-east Asia, at Experian, DP Info's parent group, noted that SMEs are "facing tough and challenging times on multiple fronts", and that more can be done to increase opportunities for Singapore, such as to resolve their finance-related concerns.

But he said he was heartened to see that firms are "proactively driving productivity improvements and business transformation", and heeding calls of the Government and industry leaders to take advantage of Singapore's digital economy push.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2018, with the headline 'More SMEs expect lower turnover in 2018: Poll'. Print Edition | Subscribe