Singapore SMEs among gloomiest in world: Poll

Singapore's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are some of the gloomiest in the world, according to a new poll.

It found that 79 per cent of senior executives at SMEs here "have concerns about the global economy", compared with a worldwide average of 65 per cent. At the top of their concerns was the political situation in the United States, which is worrying 31 per cent here - a sentiment in line with that of SMEs around the world.

But in a sign of Singapore's global exposure, 19 per cent cited slowing growth in China as a worry and another 15 per cent fretted over a decline in international trade.

This was in contrast with worldwide sentiment, which pegged the "Brexit" departure from the European Union, as well as wars, conflicts and terrorism, as key fears.

The outlook comes from a survey of management at 150 SMEs here in June and July, as well as businesses with fewer than 250 employees in another 10 countries and territories. In all, more than 1,600 firms in sectors such as manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, construction and transport were interviewed via phone in a survey commissioned by global financial services firm Bibby Financial Services Group.

Singaporean firms tended to despair more than their counterparts: 19 per cent thought the Singapore economy was faring badly and only 34 per cent would say that it was doing well.

Across the globe, meanwhile, 15 per cent of companies were glum about their domestic economies while 54 per cent gave their prospects the thumbs up.

Singapore was also near the bottom of the charts when it came to how business has been over the past year - squeaking just ahead of Hong Kong, the worst performer.

In Singapore, only 29 per cent of SMEs reported growth while 39 per cent posted a decline, against growth for 49 per cent of small companies worldwide and a slide for just 22 per cent of them.

But even in spite of the higher-than-average pessimism, all was not doom and gloom, as 40 per cent of SMEs polled said that they thought the Singapore economy would grow in the next 12 months and 43 per cent felt positive sales growth was on the cards. Singapore firms were also the most upbeat about venturing abroad, with 22 per cent citing possible new market segments as a growth opportunity - well ahead of the global average of 12 per cent with such plans, as businesses elsewhere eyed other avenues such as domestic expansion.

SMEs here are "generally confident of the local economy and friendly government policies available", said Mr Alan Wong, managing director of Bibby Financial Services Group's Singapore branch.

He added: "Overall, there are signs that the challenges in the economy are related to challenges in local demand, rather than any dearth in support for enterprise.

"Exports continue to be a strong area for the economy and it is unsurprising that the Government is pushing SMEs to internationalise."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2017, with the headline 'Singapore SMEs among gloomiest in world: Poll'. Print Edition | Subscribe