Survey: Firms expecting falling revenues, rising business costs

(From left) Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Sim Ann, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and SCCCI president Roland Ng visiting the Singtel booth demonstrating the use of IoT Thermo Track, a suite of sensors tha
(From left) Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Sim Ann, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and SCCCI president Roland Ng visiting the Singtel booth demonstrating the use of IoT Thermo Track, a suite of sensors that monitors temperature-sensitive goods and environments, at SCCCI's annual SME Conference, Infocomm Commerce Conference and SME Expo 2019 yesterday.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

More Singapore businesses are expecting a drop in their revenue and profit margin as the economy slows, with trade tensions being a top concern among them.

These were findings from a survey of more than 970 respondents released yesterday by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI).

As companies gear up for rising business costs amid policy changes and slowing growth, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a Facebook post that ministers from the Finance Ministry will continue to engage businesses, unions and other stakeholders.

Upcoming changes include a raise in the retirement and re-employment ages, and the Government will develop a support package to help companies with the transition, he said.

While companies are expecting business costs to go up with these changes, the SCCCI's annual business survey this year also found that close to 40 per cent of those polled between May and July foresee a fall in revenue, up from around 27 per cent last year.

About 70 per cent of the firms said they are facing the challenge of rising business costs as well, while around 55 per cent forecast a dip in profits this year, the group's president Roland Ng said at its annual SME Conference yesterday.

"This survey reflects the effects from the slowing down in Singapore's economy," he added.

While 60 per cent of the businesses polled indicated they will retain their present employees, 17 per cent said they will cut back on manpower.

"In such a business environment, the topmost concerns of the respondents are how to grow their revenue, innovation of products and services, attraction and retention of workers, and how to digitalise their businesses," said Mr Ng.

The ongoing trade war is a reminder of the "utmost importance of acquiring technology to build up competitiveness", Mr Ng added.

Smaller companies, for example, can embrace digitalisation and use artificial intelligence to boost operational efficiency.

He urged firms venturing abroad to be more agile amid rising protectionism, saying they can also look at collaborating when stepping overseas, instead of going it alone.

In his Facebook post, Mr Heng said unionists and business leaders shared with him their views on the changes to retirement and re-employment ages when he met them two weeks ago with labour chief Ng Chee Meng and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

He said: "I am glad our tripartite partners are united in enabling workers who want to work longer to do so."

He also wrote about reactions to other announcements made during the National Day Rally last Sunday. He said he was heartened that many Singaporeans understood how vulnerable the country is to the effects of climate change, and glad that many parents will be able to benefit from the additional pre-school subsidies and increase in post-secondary bursaries.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2019, with the headline 'Survey: Firms expecting falling revenues, rising business costs'. Print Edition | Subscribe