Investec Asset Finance – For most, 2016 will be remembered as a year of disruption. Political shocks and market dislocations will be the abiding memories for many of us as we look back. We sympathise with those who have seen their business activities disrupted by the year’s events, but for us at least, 2016 has been a bumper year – as it has for many of our partners in the intralogistics industry.
Materials Handling has been bucking a general trend of negative sentiment since before the first of this year’s major political events – June’s Brexit vote in the referendum on continued UK membership of the EU.
In May, we surveyed a number of Materials Handling introducers from across the UK, asking them for their take on the year ahead. Of these, an overwhelming 93% said they expected business sales volumes to increase, a majority of them also predicting that they would use finance for their truck sales – a further indication that they expected economic conditions to stabilise as the year progressed.
This, of course, was before the referendum. Like many, we were concerned that the inevitable period of uncertainty that would follow a “leave” vote would have a direct impact on activity in our industry. Materials Handling is at the forefront of the “real economy” and it was a reasonable assumption that it would register a negative impact.
Thankfully, those concerns proved to be ill-founded as during a period when all of us were thirsting for genuine economic indicators of the true impact of the poll, July turned out to be a record month. This was reassuring, but we still had concerns over the sustainability of this activity – businesses and brokers plan their pipeline of business, so it was possible that July’s numbers were merely a reflection of the sentiment that existed before the referendum.
Subsequent months, however, have shown steady momentum: September was our second-busiest month after July, and October – the most recent month for which we had full figures before going to press – was our best ever both for proposals and for payout on agreements.
This picture, of course, just relates to our experience as we cannot speak for other lenders and it may be the case that we are simply growing our share of the available market. This, however, would be at odds with the positive atmosphere at the IMHX event in September, of which we were very pleased to be the headline sponsor. 2016 was the best-attended IMHX ever, with 409 exhibitors and more than 16,000 visitors.
The people we spoke to were highly aware of the potential for disruption presented by the referendum result but they were not in despair. Instead, they were keen to discuss ways to mitigate risks and continue to target growth, rather than accept an inevitable period of retrenchment. We took colleagues from our Treasury division, which helps clients manage risks such as their foreign exchange exposures and fuel costs. They fielded questions from many visitors to the event, leaving us in no doubt as to the industry’s increasing sophistication – especially when confronted with unexpected developments.
We are deeply conscious of the role that lenders have to play in helping the industry grow, despite the economic headwinds. Our UK-wide network of dealers and manufacturers requires a fast and efficient service and we attribute our strong growth, throughout the year, to the efforts we have made to provide just that. Back in May, 85% of the introducers we surveyed said they were using our Materials Handling app, which allows them to quickly provide quotes at point of sale, even for more complicated deals. We hope to see that increase. We are also aware that dealers and manufacturers are keen to see an expansion in the range of funded assets, and we are committed to fulfilling that need without compromising our own high standards as a credit provider.
For the industry to keep growing, and for finance to remain relevant, lenders need to be responsive. Whether it’s helping introducers meet their customer’s requirement for flexibility in funding, for example stage payments or foreign exchange, we have worked very hard throughout the year to meet their individual needs rather than provide a generic service.
We began this piece by highlighting the positive sentiment that has defined the sector for much of the year. As an industry we have been fortunate – and it’s great to see our own introducer base continue to expand – but there are almost certainly shocks to come, which will be a challenge to dealers and manufacturers alike. We can’t promise political and market certainty as we look towards 2017, but we can promise a responsive service from Investec as events continue to unfold.
Andrew Woodward is Head of Materials Handling at Investec Asset Finance