Sunday, February 7, 2010

Emerging markets - SME confidence higher than in developed economies

Emerging markets have been making headlines in all publications globally. The global recovery is led by emerging economies and this is a fundamental fact bound to stay long term.

I receive an average of 3-4 business delegations a month here in Ras Al Khaimah. Delegations come from all corner of the worlds since our free zone has investors from 120 different countries. While meeting businessmen part of a delegation may not be a statistically viable sample to determine the trends in a specific country, it is nonetheless a good viewpoint to develop a perspective about so many different economies. Over time, over many delegations, consistent trends tend to set in.

I was therefore very happy when on February 2nd, HSBC has published the results of the its most recent research on SME Confidence (20 markets were surveyed). The primary data was gathered last October and November 2009.
I have now the statistical confirmation of the trends I have been collecting over the past year: not only emerging markets are leading the economic recovery but SMEs are going to play a leading role in the recovery.

The report also confirmed a wide differential in confidence levels between the so called highly industrialized economies (G7++) and the emerging markets.
Emerging markets are significantly more confident than developed markets. With an index of 100 as neutral emerging markets have scored an aggregate of 121 and developed markets an aggregate of 106 (France registers below 100 at 96).

Nicholas Levitt, Regional Head of Business Banking at HSBC said: "Confidence levels appear to be back to pre-financial crisis level. The Middle East outlook correlates strongly to the global emerging market outlook, and as a major international trading hub, the region is well-placed for future growth."

From the survey we learn that the Middle East is the second most optimistic area after India.
I can related personally to this finding since every month I receive one or two business delegations from India. During my presentation on emerging markets with them I always ask: "How is business during these challenging times?", invariably I receive feedback about how the impact goes from mild to negligible.

In the Middle East the SME survey confirms:

  • 47% plans to increase capital expenditures;
  • 41% commits to current levels of capital expense;
  • 11% are planning capital expense reductions;
  • 36% is committed to increase staffing;
  • 58% will keep the same staffing levels;
SMEs were also asked about their propensity to engage more in international business and the survey has confirmed the role of the Middle East as an international trading hub.
  • 72% of the SMEs in Qatar planned to grow their business internationally within the next 2 years;
  • 28% in Egypt;
  • 19% in Saudi Arabia;
The top international locations for business for the Middle East are China, South East Asia and Europe.
While this research presents gaps[1] in its approach to define the geographical footprint, it highlights something that is at the core of the economic global shift currently underway. 

In order to validate the aspirations for internationalization of many SMEs both in the Middle East and other emerging markets it is necessary for local governments to support the development of a solid and more sophisticated banking system specifically tailored to support trade and investment.
As Dr. Butcha, vice president and managing director at A.T. Kearney Middle East, said in a recent article “A.T. Kearney has worked with governments across the world to improve the SME sector. SMEs are the backbone of any successful and sustainable economy, they are the blood cells behind successfully diversified economies and large corporations. Successful long term economic growth plans for the GCC can only succeed with strong support to SMEs...”. A.T. Kearney research in emerging markets shows that successful SMEs create jobs at a rate which is four times faster than the rate of larger corporations and create revenues and GDP at a rate which is six times faster than large corporations. This is largely due to the fact that successful SMEs tend to grow more exponentially than large blue chip and established business (more at:

It is because of the essential role of SMEs in the global economy that we at Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone have created a business environment specically designed to facilitate SME business. Especially the newly created "valued added services" for RAK FTZ clients are focused on reducing the "incubation" period of new companies and to put them in the condition to generate successful business in the region in the fastest and most cost effective way.

[1] the survey did not include the United Arab Emirates in the emerging markets, developed markets surveyed included only US, Canada, UK & France, results in confidence in the developed economies would have been slightly different if Spain, Greece, Italy would be included.

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