The annual Japan External Trade Relations Organisation (JETRO) survey of Japanese companies in Europe reveals that over 70% of Japanese companies expect their European operations to be profitable for the fifth year running, but concerns over an economic downturn in the region are higher than in previous years. Brexit came top of the list of management worries – selected by 56.5% of Japanese companies in Europe.
31% say Brexit has had a negative impact on their business so far, and 37.7% are expecting a negative impact in the future. 3.7% felt Brexit has had a positive impact on their business both now and will do in the future. A negative impact was felt by 54% of Japanese companies in the UK both now and in the future, with 2.1% of Japanese companies saying Brexit has had a positive impact and only 0.5% expecting it to have a positive impact in the future.
More than half of the 842 companies who responded cited Brexit as their biggest management concern, outstripping the perennial headache of recruiting and retaining employees. Unsurprisingly the group that was most worried was the manufacturing sector in the UK – but the services sector in Ireland and the UK also ranked Brexit highly as a concern. Nearly 70% of Japanese companies in Poland and Portugal picked Brexit as a key issue – significantly higher than the average for Japanese companies across Europe.
54% of Germany based Japanese manufacturers chose Brexit as their primary concern, but interestingly, the non-manufacturing sector in Germany was even more concerned by Brexit (59%). For all groups, the short term disruption from a no deal Brexit was the main reason for concern and the second biggest issue was the future relationship of the UK and the EU.
Japanese companies in the UK were worried about the impact Brexit would have on the UK economy, a cheapening £ making imports more expensive, changes to the UK regulatory and legal environment and exports to non-UK EU. Japanese companies in non-UK EU countries were most worried about exports to the UK, but also the impact of Brexit on the UK economy and on the EU economy.
Around 90% of Japanese companies were concerned about disruption to logistics and customs processes between EU and UK, considerably higher than concerns about tariffs being imposed (65%).
Japanese companies in the UK focused on freedom of movement of their employees
The worries about UK regulatory and legal changes were mostly focused on changes to the freedom of movement of people between the UK and EU. Over 50% of Japanese companies in the UK said this was their main concern, particularly those in the services sector.
In terms of countermeasures – 22% said they had either implemented or were implementing their contingency plans – particularly regarding regulatory and legal changes. Compliance with the REACH regulations for the chemicals industry and setting up a new operation were most cited as steps taken. Around 12% of UK based Japanese companies have or are in the middle of reorganising their supply chain and logistics and 4.4% have or are in the middle of reviewing their manufacturing organisation and 2.4% have or are reviewing their R&D structure. The most frequently cited measure taken by Japanese companies in non-UK EU was to secure financial passporting into non-UK EU.
Relocation from UK to EU (but some purchasing functions coming to UK)
In terms of moving out of the UK, the survey found that 3 companies had moved their EU regional HQ completely out of the UK, to Germany, and 10 had partially moved out – 5 to Germany, 3 to the Netherlands and 2 to Luxembourg. In 2015 19 companies said they wanted to expand their regional coordination function in the UK, compared to only 2 in 2019. More companies were expanding their regional HQs in Germany, Netherlands, France and Spain.
3 companies had moved their sales coordination out of the UK, to Germany, Czech Republic and Poland, 4 had partially shifted it, to Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. 2 companies had moved all their manufacturing out of the UK – 1 to Poland and one to Japan. 1 had partially moved their manufacturing to Hungary. Only 1 company had moved their R&D out of the UK, to Switzerland. 4 companies had moved their procurement function from the UK to Czech Republic, Italy, Spain and one company had moved their procurement function to the UK, from Asia.
4 companies are investigating moving their regional HQ from the UK to Germany and Italy, 2 partially moving their HQ to France and Czech Republic. 3 companies are considering moving their sales coordination to Germany and Italy or partially to Germany, France or Belgium.
1 company is considering moving all manufacturing to Japan, and 9 companies are considering partial relocation to Hungary, Germany, Czech Republic, Romania, Japan or elsewhere in Europe. 2 companies are considering wholly or partially moving their R&D to Germany or elsewhere in Europe.
14 companies in the UK are expecting to expand their high value added manufacturing in the UK, down from 25 in 2015 whereas 32 Japanese companies in Germany are expanding their high value added manufacturing. The Netherlands has become the third main host for Japanese high end manufacturing – 12 are expecting to expand their manufacturing there compared to only 2 in 2015.
12 companies are considering moving their procurement to Poland, Italy, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Asia or elsewhere in the EU. 3 companies are considering moving procurement to the UK from the EU, Poland, Portugal. 3 other companies are looking to move their procurement entirely out of Europe to countries such as South Korea or China.
The EPA is encouraging Japanese imports to EU
65.5% of Japanese companies who were importing from Japan to the EU and 53.1% of Japanese companies exporting to Japan from the EU said they were taking advantage of the EPA. Particularly notable were 80% of Japanese companies based in Italy (both importers and exporters) and 70% of Japanese companies in Spain. 62% of UK based Japanese companies were using the EPA to import from Japan (a lower proportion than Italy, Czech Republic, Spain, Poland, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany).
100% of Japanese companies in the logistics/warehousing, plastic components, rubber products sectors say they are using the EPA and over 70% of Japanese companies in the metal products, textiles, automotive parts, wholesalers, food and seafood processing sectors are using the EPA to import from Japan.
Sectors most making use of the EPA to export from the EU to Japan were the logistics/warehousing, automotive parts and wholesale sectors.
Overall, Japanese companies in the EU are importing 32.6% of their parts and raw materials (by value) from Japan, 1.2% up on the previous year – Japanese companies in Germany were importing the highest share of their procurement from Japan by value – 46.6%. Over 23% of Japanese companies in the EU expect to expand their procurement from Japan, particularly the services sector with 47.8% of wholesale and retail companies saying they will increase their purchases from Japan.
Economic outlook for Europe
Japanese manufacturers are however more pessimistic about prospects for 2020 than they were in 2019, with 36.7% expecting their profitability to worsen, compared to 26.6% expecting their profitability to improve. The causes differ from Western Europe to Eastern Europe – manufacturers in Western Europe expect falling demand to be the key factor whereas in Eastern Europe the primary concern is rising labour costs.
Around a third of Japanese companies are optimistic about the economic prospects in 2020 for the countries they are operating in, which is considerably down on the 57% who were optimistic for 2019 – this pessimism was particularly strong for Western European based manufacturing.
Hiring and retaining workers continues to be a headache for Japanese companies. This is especially an issue in Central and Eastern Europe and particularly at management level in Western Europe and at factory worker level in Central and Eastern Europe.
Around 50-55% of Japanese companies in Europe have or expect to maintain current employee levels – over a third have or expect to increase their workforce. 16% cut their workforce in the past year but only 11.3% expect to do so in 2020.
Strengthening selling to EU as a region
JETRO also sees evidence that Japanese companies are strengthening their approach to selling to the EU as a region, rather than individual countries. For the first time in their surveys, “The EU” outstripped Germany and Poland as the market that Japanese companies saw as the most promising for sales. Maybe this is another – psychological rather than regulatory – impact of the EPA.
Japanese companies say that strengthening their company’s brand, developing and strengthening the technical skills of their employees (particularly in Eastern Europe) and investing further in research and development are key to increasing sales in Europe.
So, as I have often said, Japanese companies are having to find ways to retain their integrity in a Europe and a world which is also dis-integrating, and Brexit is accelerating that process.
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