East Anglia: Business leaders urged to grasp export opportunities

SENIOR business leaders from across East Anglia gathered to discuss growth opportunities overseas and whether the UK is in fact in the grips of a double dip recession at an event jointly hosted by business advisers Grant Thornton, banking group HSBC Bank and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI).

According to the latest official figures on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) the UK economy has returned to recession after shrinking by 0.2% in the first three months of 2012.

However, Mark Beresford-Smith, head of economics at HSBC, told guests at the “Global Markets” event, held at the Radisson Blu Hotel at Stansted Airport. that one set of figures may not represent the true picture over the coming months and that it is more likely the UK economy is “flat lining”.

Mr Beresford-Smith also commented on the impact negative media headlines about the economy were having on business confidence and that, due to the paying down of debt, both personal and national, demand is not being stimulated.

With the depressed UK economy in mind, guests were offered advice on finding and maximising new opportunities for overseas expansion, particularly in emerging markets, by Grant Thornton and UKTI.

Paul Brown, senior audit manager at Grant Thornton East Anglia, who co-hosted the event, said: “With the historic major markets of the US and Europe stalling, many firms are now more actively looking to develop other markets including China, Africa and India.

“According to our latest research on international expansion, just under half of the privately owned firms polled said their overseas growth was opportunistic rather than strategic.

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“However, of those that did strategically plan expansion, their average profit before tax margin was 10% over two years as opposed to a 6% margin for those that were opportunistic.

“Profits also grew more quickly – 176% per annum over two years compared with 59% – proving that with the right strategy in place, overseas expansion can be a profitable option for UK businesses,” he added.

Guests also heared from Bob Nicolson, managing director of Cambridge-based technology company Aquasium Technology Ltd, who shared his experiences of opening up new markets abroad and overcoming the challenges this brings.