Survey reports output surge among manufacturers

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A new survey from Make UK points to a surge in output by manufacturers as they plan for 2024.

The survey found that Britain’s manufacturers saw output surge three times faster than orders in the last quarter, while business confidence indicators are starting to show the first signs of a more stable economic backdrop after years of uncertainty.

The Q4 Manufacturing Outlook survey published by Make UK and business advisory firm BDO shows that output has surged much faster than orders, which is extremely rare. The last time was when companies were stockpiling ahead of a potential ‘no deal’ scenario at the end of 2019.

The survey also found that export orders had surpassed domestic orders for the first time in four years, suggesting that companies are taking advantage of new or faster growing markets in contrast to an anaemic UK economy.

Recruitment intentions have also rebounded after the blip in the last quarter and are especially strong looking forward. Meanwhile, capital investment plans weakened although they remain at reasonable levels historically.

Commenting Fhaheen Khan, Senior Economist at Make UK, said, “After the economic and political shocks of the last few years, there is some semblance of stability returning for manufacturers. While growth is not exactly supercharged, the positive announcements in the Autumn Statement can at least allow them to plan with more certainty without having to constantly fight fires.”

Richard Austin, Head of Manufacturing at BDO, added, “Manufacturers have been calling on the Government to provide targeted support to help stimulate growth and investment for some time, and it feels like some headway was made in last month’s Autumn Statement.

“Firms are ending the year on a relatively stable footing with some certainty at least in the tax environment to support their long-term investments in the UK. The hope now is that the sector can pick up the baton and drive growth.”

Looking at the figures, the balance on output increased to +20% in Q4 from just +3% in Q3, and is expected to remain at a similar level in the next quarter (+15%). Total orders also increased to +7% from a negative balance of -1% in Q3.

The increase may be indicating re-stocking or stockpiling ahead of next year.

In the last quarter, export orders increased to +10% from a negative balance in Q3 of -3%, while UK orders remained flat at +0%. This is the first-time export orders have exceeded UK orders since before the pandemic in Q4 2019.

Looking forward, export and UK orders are expected to balance out at +7% and +8% respectively.

Recruitment plans have also ramped up. After a negative balance of -1% last quarter, firms’ recruitment intentions have increased to +6% and are set to grow further in 2024 to +19% in the first quarter – an elevated balance by historic standards.