The number of small to medium-sized exporters that expect to continue growing their overseas sales has fallen following the EU Referendum, according to Lloyds Bank.

The latest Business in Britain report revealed a net balance of plus 20% of exporters now expect their total overseas sales to increase in the next six months, compared to 33% in January 2016.

A net balance of 11% of businesses expect exports in Europe to improve during the next six months, compared to 19% in January 2016, whilst the number of businesses expecting their competitiveness overseas to improve has also dropped from 35% in January to just 18%.

Despite this, the overall prospects are still positive and export experiences over the last six months have improved, with the US and Canada the areas that businesses believe will be most attractive to trade with going forward, according to the report.

In the first six months of the year, the number of UK businesses that did export rose from 37% to 44% and those that were already exporting also sold more goods overseas, with 43% of sales coming from exports in the first six months of the year, compared with 37% in the last six months of 2015.

The Business in Britain report, now in its 24th year, gathers the views of 1,500 UK companies, predominantly small to medium sized businesses, tracking opinion on a range of important performance and confidence measures.

Adrian Walker, managing director, head of global transaction banking at Lloyds Bank, said: “Although overall expectations for the next six months are less optimistic than they were at the start of the year, overall businesses remain positive about the months ahead.

“There has been a decline in the number of firms that expect exports to grow over the next six months, compared to January, but more businesses still expect exports to grow than to contract.

“Considering the uncertainty that has been caused by the outcome of the EU Referendum, the fact that so many businesses have not been put off by the economic and political uncertainty over the summer is encouraging.

“However, when you consider their performance in the early half of this year, it’s not entirely surprising.

“More businesses are now choosing to export, and those that do are selling more of their goods and services overseas, showing that there are opportunities out there for those who choose to pursue them.”

Trade opportunities

The report found that four in 10 exporters (41%) said that their overseas sales had improved in the past six months, compared with just 17% whose foreign sales had decreased.

Looking forward, businesses now expect exports to the US and Canada to improve most during the next six months, with a net balance of 17% of firms expecting sales to north America to increase, compared with a balance of 11% that expect sales to Europe to improve.

In contrast, more than two-thirds (68%) of businesses that would like to start exporting want to begin selling to Western Europe, with 42% wanting to target the US or Canada.

As part of their SME Charter, Lloyds Bank have committed to help 5,000 businesses export for the first time, from now until 2020.

Mr. Walker added: “Although there is uncertainty ahead, the fall in the price of the pound since July has made a lot of British exports more attractive overseas. Starting to export may still be daunting, but with the right support and with the right partners alongside them, businesses can continue to prosper on an international stage.

“The fact that almost half of businesses are now exporting is hugely positive, and businesses should continue to think about their future trading plans as negotiations to leave the EU develop.”