For those who may not be aware, the United Kingdom held a referendum vote on its relationship to the EU back in 2016. With virtual guarantees that the United Kingdom would remain in the EU – it came as a shock that by a slim margin, more of the public had voted ‘leave’ by a majority of 52% to 48%. The impact of the surprise vote caused lots of uncertainty with UK citizens and has caused industries to become very challenged. The United Kingdom left the European Union on Jan. 31, 2020, only 10 months after its initially scheduled departure which has caused a major geopolitical shift. This caused many UK companies to panic buy their stock to prevent uncertain access taxes and border gridlocks. However, with COVID-19 newly circulating the globe, the organisations who stockpiled from Brexit may be in favour.
Many organisations stockpiled their products during the time of the referendum to ensure they were well equipped for whatever financial storm was going to hit them. AO World, the online electronics retailer, stockpiled around £15m of its most popular products in the latest move by a UK company to brace for a potentially chaotic Brexit, according to Financial Times. A quote from BBC, the UK manufacturing sector contracted in May for the first time since July 2016 as stockpiling eased ahead of Brexit, an influential survey shows. The research, by IHS Markit/CIPS, said firms found difficulty convincing clients to commit to new contracts. However, it is not just the electronics industry which is affected. The problem is that the UK currently imports around 40% of its food of which a third is from the EU. This resulted in a large quantity of the food retail industry to work with their suppliers to plan and avoid any disruption caused by Brexit.
Over the last few years in the UK, Brexit has been the most talked about topic due to the uncertainty and frustration of what the future holds. However, more recently there has been a global virus outbreak causing a pandemic to evolve, causing even more disruption and delay on the Brexit deal.
It was January 30th, 2020 when the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “public health emergency”. The virus first broke out in Wuhan late December 2019 which spread like wildfire – causing over 848K casualties in less than ten months. The virus has now been confirmed in over 188 countries and has infected almost 3 million people worldwide. Things have not got much better – on March 11th, 2020, World Health Organization confirmed the Coronavirus a pandemic which is the term used for a disease which is spreading between multiple people and counties at the same time. For the thousands of UK companies who stockpiled due to Brexit, they are likely in a more fortunate position than other companies. This is because COVID19 has caused lengthy delays and potential halt of production on many overseas electronics. The virus has already caused many knock-on effects for the global economy. From lengthy manufacturing time frames to fewer sales, there is global fear of the economy slowing down to a halt. According to City A.M, Bank of England governor Mark Carney has said the economic shock from coronavirus “could prove large” but sought to reassure the public that it will “ultimately be temporary”. Stated by Economic Times, coronavirus could cost world $1 trillion. The worrying prospect that the Covid-19 outbreak could become the first truly disruptive pandemic of the globalisation era is renewing doubts over the stability of the world economy. Many workers are already facing disruptions to their daily routines as schools, companies and local governments implement precautions to curb the coronavirus outbreak. Already, many organisations have restricted travel along with home based working arrangements. On the 11th March, Trump stated that he has suspended all travel from Europe to the US – excluding UK. However, he included the UK in this ban a few days after.
Stockpiling prior to COVID-19 would have been a coincidentally clever move due to the lengthy delays and shortages of products which occurred from the virus. Many factories in China had to temporarily close due to COVID-19 which created substantial lead times of around six weeks globally. Within an article from IPC published earlier on this year – electronics manufacturers anticipate at least a five-week product shipment delay from suppliers due to the coronavirus epidemic, according to a survey conducted by IPC, a global electronics manufacturing association. The group says shipping delays from China and other countries where the virus has spread are already having negative impacts on manufacturers. Roughly 65 percent of manufacturers report their suppliers expect, on average, a three-week delay. However, electronics manufacturers expect delays to be longer than what their suppliers are currently quoting. On average, executives expect shipment delays to be at least five weeks. “The delays will likely have ripple effects for the rest of the year,” said John Mitchell, IPC’s president, and CEO. “The longer China is affected by the epidemic, and the more it spreads to other parts of the world, the supply chain will experience more and varied strains and disruptions.”
According to the Guardian, UK manufacturers’ stockpiling for no-deal Brexit hit record levels. This is because there was a high concern that there would be border gridlock which would slow down the process of transportation of goods globally. The concern of border gridlock was caused by no-deal Brexit which led British manufacturers to increase their stockpiling efforts. Another quote from The Guardian, ‘Britons have spent £4bn stockpiling goods in case of no-deal Brexit’. The Government’s own assessments showed that the flow of goods through the channel crossings could be reduced by 40-60%. With COVID-19 circulating the globe, many borders have severely restricted travel and made it very difficult for citizens to travel and transport packages.
Despite uncertain economic trends, the electronic components industry within the United Kingdom may have seen a positive effect from Brexit. UK customers may have panic purchased electronics from their home soil which would have benefited UK suppliers and manufactures. UK manufactures will likely have received more orders on electronics as a substitute to purchasing slightly cheaper electronics from overseas. UK manufacturing is becoming more and more popular to potential customers due to high level of control over quality, reduced delivery times and greater control over communication. During the height of Brexit talks last year, many individuals will have avoiding purchasing from overseas completely due to talks of border gridlock.
China is known as the capital for manufacturing and supports many global companies due to its relatively low-cost production rates and high-quality products. According to South China Morning, Coronavirus originating in Wuhan has sent agriculture commodity prices tumbling and led to extended shutdown of Chinese factories and markets. A quote from PBS, the risk is that when the global supply chain is disrupted–most recently by the shuttering of factories due to the virus in China–many companies have few alternatives to fall back on. That is especially true of smaller and medium-sized companies that do not have operations in multiple countries. To solve this, some companies have announced they are shifting their operations to other countries, largely in Southeast Asia. An overwhelming majority (84 percent) of electronics manufacturers and suppliers are worried about the epidemic’s impact on their business operations. Delays in receiving supplier inputs can lead to factory downtime, higher average costs, transportation bottlenecks, pressure for alternative sourcing, delayed sales, and delayed prototyping that slows the introduction of new products. According to BBC, factory activity in China fell at a record rate in February, as manufacturers closed their operations to contain the spread of coronavirus. This is another reason why organisations who stockpiled from Brexit may be in favour with the circumstances we see now. If companies stockpiled on products to keep their business ticking over for a few years, they likely would not have been affected by the virus or the delays that comes with it
In my opinion, I think stockpiling prior to Brexit was a clever move as there was strong uncertainty on how the vote would affect the economy. Some of the products we are accustomed to having all year round could be harder to come by or cost more to buy. So, it would have been a good idea to buy the items to be sure you have easy access to them and at a good price. – especially with this virus now affecting over sea deliveries. However, in my opinion, I also think that this could have affected companies negatively. I believe this because they may have stockpiled high quantities of products and then may have not been able to shift them as much as they would like. This would have resulted in excess stock.
By Amy Leary, Marketing Manager at eBOM.com