Scotland business

'Sharp declines' in Scottish exports, HMRC says

Shipping containers Image copyright PA

Scotland's manufacturing sector has seen sharp declines in exports, according to HM Revenue and Customs.

Overseas sales in the "manufactured goods" category were down by more than 9%. These represent an eighth of Scotland's exports of goods.

The machinery and transport category, which accounts for a third of Scottish goods exports, was down by 5%, or £319m at £5.8bn.

That was a sharper fall than the UK declines registered in the data.

The UK figure for machinery and transport was barely down, at just below £108bn.

UK exports of manufactured goods were down by 6% on 2014, to less than £26.9bn.

The new figures do not include overseas sales of services such as banking, insurance, technical and professional skills or tourism.

Worldwide slowdown

The figures reflect a worldwide slowdown in trade, and also the problems exporters faced from the strength of sterling.

The other big sector in export of Scottish manufactured goods is whisky. That dominates the "beverages and tobacco" classification, which saw a continued slide of 4.4% in exports, to just under £4.5bn.

While exports fell, imports rose, according to the HMRC's latest "regional" trade figures.

Image copyright Scotch Whisky Association
Image caption Whisky dominates the "beverages and tobacco" classification, which saw a continued slide of 4.4% in exports

The machinery and transport category of imports, which grew to account for half of all goods imported from overseas to Scotland, grew by £886m, or 16% during last year.

Total exports of goods from Scotland fell by 11% last year, while the UK as a whole saw a fall in the overseas sale of goods of 2.7%.

Exports of goods from Scotland to the European Union were down 20% in only one year - by 17% to Germany and by 23% to the Netherlands.

The USA remained the biggest single export market, with a one-seventh share, but the total value was down 3.5%.

Slightly improved figures

The quarterly survey of companies by the Scottish Engineering trade grouping, just published, also reflected slides in both output and exports.

The figures were slightly improved on the final quarter of 2015. While 29% of companies in the survey said orders were up, 40% said they were down. Machine shops were particularly negative on orders.

On exports, there was a six-point gap between fallers and risers, making it the tenth negative quarter. The electronics sector, however, saw strongly positive signs of exports picking up.

Image copyright Thinkstock

Output volume has been negative for five quarters, with 27% reporting a rise, and 36% falling.

There was a balance of 26% of respondents saying they were shedding staff, and the same proportion reporting they were taking on more workers. The quarterly survey was also slightly negative on recruitment throughout last year.

One of the larger engineering-based companies based in Scotland, Aggreko, has produced full year results that reflect a wide range of changes in the world economy over the past year.

The provider of temporary power generation was hit by the fall in oil and gas prices, where it had been a provider of power on fracking projects, though it has partly offset that by doing better in petrochemicals and refining.

Mining sector

The company reported the impact of a slowdown in the growth of power demand in emerging economies.

The weakness of the mining sector hit operations in Australia, Brazil, Peru and Chile, while power shortages in South Africa helped grow orders.

The Glasgow-based company, which makes diesel and gas generators at its Dumbarton plant was badly affected by a gas contract in Bangladesh that required re-negotiation, and slower payments from clients, notably in Venezuela and Yemen.

It warned of security concerns in Iraq, and instability in Yemen, Venezuela and Libya.

It renewed a contract to supply temporary power in Japan, which began following the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.

And although it has pulled out of bidding for the Olympics in Brazil this summer, it provided power to the first European Games in Baku and to the ICC World Cup in New Zealand, where it also put power generators in place following cyclone damage.

Aggreko had revenue of £1.5bn in 2015, and pre-tax profits fell by 13% to £252m.

Despite that fall in profits, and a warning that the 2016 pre-tax profit will be slightly lower than 2015, the share price was boosted 13% after publication of the annual results.

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