Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Being in shipshape is the key to prosperity

Taking a break from working through a list of Northern Ireland's biggest 100 companies, it's interesting to hear what's really bugging many of those which make up that list.

The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce's Quarterly economic survey raised a lot of issues which will chime with anyone in business.

Confidence, although improving a little, still seems to be difficult to find among the cross- section of Northern Ireland businesses and that's certainly something which many companies here can relate to.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, is the fact that we're still lagging behind the rest of the UK.

Although such a fact is difficult to hear, it shouldn't be taken as too much of a slur on our economy because in this case, all good things come to those who wait.

We have always lagged behind the UK economy as a whole and, unless the balance of financial power shifts from London to Belfast, we always will.

We shouldn't worry too much that we're one of the worst laggards in the UK but should get ready to share the prosperity which other regions are already enjoying.

That means making sure we're in the best shape possible and also trying to break into those markets via export, another area which yesterday's report looked at.

Again that's an area which is getting better but is still struggling, partly because of fluctuating foreign exchange rates, particularly the slide in the value of sterling against the euro. That makes it more expensive for our products to compete in the eurozone and obviously has a big impact here given most of our exports head across the border.

Managing this type of currency volatility might seem like a big ask but it can be done through hedging and other methods which mean profit margins can be locked in for exporters with no fear of fluctuation.

That takes away another risk for exporters and should help persuade the 22% of non-exporters surveyed who believe they have the right products and services for the export market.

If we can boost our exports and break into new markets then the lag with the rest of the UK will be slimmed down considerably.

Certainly a quick look at the evolving Top 100 Northern Ireland companies list suggests its exporters that make it big.

But who's at the top?

To find that out you'll have to wait until publication on April 24.

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