Singapore firms double down on regional expansion, building supply chain resilience: HSBC survey

Businesses in Singapore are continuing to increase their investment in growth.
Businesses in Singapore are continuing to increase their investment in growth.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Firms in Singapore are doubling down on expanding their business networks in Asia and building resilience in their supply chains in the face of a long recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey.

HSBC Bank's survey, released on Tuesday (Dec 1), also found that local businesses expect a longer recovery from the outbreak than firms in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

Despite this, businesses here are continuing to increase their investment in growth. Some 87 per cent of respondents plan to expand their businesses in the region, compared with 76 per cent of participants globally.

About half or 51 per cent of local firms are immediately investing in overseas expansion, compared with 44 per cent in Asia-Pacific.

This is despite over two-thirds of respondents in Singapore expecting cross-border trade to become more difficult than it was pre-pandemic, noted HSBC.

The survey conducted in September 2020 involved 2,500 businesses worldwide, including 200 in Singapore.

Mr Iain Morrison, head of global trade and receivables finance at HSBC Singapore, said: "There's no doubt that Singapore's businesses have been hard hit; it comes with the territory of being one of the world's most internationally connected trading hubs.

"Yet it's encouraging to see that they're still investing for growth; digging deep to strengthen Asian trade links and seeking open, easier and safer trade."

Almost all respondents  in Singapore expressed concerns about their supply chain, mainly with regard to time spent on management, instability and possible tariffs.

Some 63 per cent said they are looking to include digital tools or technology into their supply chains, compared to the 48 per cent of global firms surveyed.

Commenting on the results of the survey, several firms here explained that the Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the need for more resilient supply chains and more diverse market opportunities.

Ms Lew Ee Ling, director of sanitary ware specialist Eilumina Resources, said that it does not make sense to focus on only the local market, given the small size of Singapore's economy, as it would not be able to reap the advantages of economies of scale.

The South-east Asia market has always been on the radar for the company, she said, adding that the pandemic has halted its ambitions.

"In fact, it helped us to relook our strategies and made us more determined to get our brand across to our markets now that big players are probably dragged down by their high expenditure, and us being small and nimble can change our course and adapt more quickly to ride out this wave," Ms Lew said.

Chee Song Foods director Jeffrey Loh said that the food distributor has been increasing its supply chain distribution by working with digital platforms, such as e-commerce sites, to broaden its customer base.

It has also been expanding across Asia, he said, adding that the company's direction has always been to bring its brand overseas regardless of an economic downturn.

Ms Ellis Eng, managing director of Certact Engineering, said that the company's supply chain was greatly disrupted due to the pandemic, with the lead time for delivery of plastic raw materials from its main supplier in the United States having increased from four to 20 weeks.

The company has since started exploring other material options from other countries like Japan and South Korea, which its customers have been receptive to, she said.

Its capital investment this year has been the highest so far despite the Covid-19 outbreak, Ms Eng said, as it had acquired more machinery and manpower after adding plastic engineering to its capabilities.