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Record profits for Singapore's top 1,000 companies

Big firms gain from efforts to raise productivity and invest in technology; SMEs are emerging from a difficult period

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As big companies' bottomlines improve, they are likely to raise spending on investments, wages and new hires. The increased spending of larger firms also creates opportunities for smaller firms to supply their goods and services.

FOR more than three decades the Singapore 1000 (S1000) has ranked the nation's largest 1,000 companies by their financial performance. Now in its 31st year, it is ranked alongside the Singapore SME 1000 (SME1000) and Singapore International 100 rankings (SI100).

The current 2018 rankings (based on financials from June 1, 2016 - May 31, 2017) confirm the strength of Singapore's corporate sector. The top 1,000 companies in Singapore delivered a record combined profit S$182.8 billion, an increase of 10.5 per cent compared to last year.

This record result comes at the end of a five-year period during which the combined profits of the top 1,000 companies increased by a healthy S$36.0 billion.

A remarkable aspect of this year's record profit result is that it was achieved on the back of a largely flat turnover performance. The combined turnover of the S1000 companies increased by just 1.1 per cent to S$2.79 trillion in the 2018 rankings.

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The average profit margin of the S1000 companies grew from 10.3 per cent in 2017 to 11.4 per cent this year, which suggests companies are benefiting from their efforts to raise productivity and by investing in technology which allows them to reduce costs by using resources more efficiently.

Unlike previous years, the improvement in profitably was not limited to just one or two sectors. Profits were up in most industries which is a sign of an improved business environment and a strengthening economy.

Having strong and profitable corporations has a flow-on effect to the wider Singapore economy. As large companies see their bottomlines improve, they are more likely to increase spending on investments such as wages and new hires.

The increased spending of larger firms also creates opportunities for smaller firms to supply their goods and services.

A CHALLENGING YEAR FOR SINGAPORE SMES

While the largest companies in Singapore delivered a strong financial performance in the 2018 rankings, the same could not be said for the top 1,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

This year the combined turnover of Singapore's top 1,000 SMEs (SME1000) fell 11.8 per cent to S$26.7 billion. There was also a drop in combined profits of 17.1 per cent to S$2.9 billion.

SMEs are emerging from a difficult period. Many have struggled against factors beyond their control such as slow GDP growth, weak global trade and the need to spend on technology and productivity improvements in response to manpower challenges and increasing competition.

However, there were some bright spots within the performance of the SME1000 companies. The hospitality/food and beverage sector was the best performing industry with a 12.1 per cent increase in combined turnover leading to a 6.7 per cent improvement in combined profits. The lower Singapore dollar during the ranking period helped attract more foreign visitors to Singapore, driving up economic activity in this sector.

Another encouraging aspect of the SME1000 is the performance of the commerce-retail, construction and manufacturing sectors. These three sectors were among the most affected by restrictions to foreign labour and they were forced to improve their productivity.

Each of these three sectors achieved higher profits compared to last year despite having lower turnover. This is a sign that they have adjusted to the tighter labour market and have found ways to become more efficient.

INNOVATING TO GROW

Singapore is conveniently located at the heart of emerging and developing Asia, which is the fastest growing regional economy in the world. But while Asia's growth offers opportunities, it also means greater competition for Singapore firms.

The importance of embracing digitalisation and innovation to stay competitive has become a priority for Singapore companies. Singapore, like the rest of the world, is entering a phase in its economy where growth is increasingly innovation-driven. Companies not only need to search for growth opportunities outside of Singapore but also to transform themselves from within. And for SMEs, innovation is essential if they want to compete with larger companies as well as international competitors.

This stimulus is also similar for the larger S1000 companies, for if they are to achieve sustained performance to achieve yet another record year in combined profit, larger corporates will need to embrace innovation and business transformation and execute with confidence and alacrity.

  • This article is contributed by DP Information Group, ranking body and producer of the Singapore 1000 family of rankings. www.dpgroup.com.sg/s1000