Research on the performance of the manufacturing sector

International importance of SMMEs

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International importance of SMMEs

SMMEs or SMEs as they are sometimes referred to are important creators of value added and employment in economies. Large companies were all once small SMMEs (companies like Microsoft, Apple and Vodafone started as small companies).

SMEs are the engine of economic growth and are essential for a competitive and efficient market. Research has shown that SMEs are critical for poverty reduction and can play a particularly important role in developing countries. SMEs are the largest provider of employment in most countries (especially of new job creation) and are a major source of technological innovation and new products.

According to World Bank research, there are an estimated 19.3 million micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the European Union1 that provide work to around 65 million peoples, two-thirds of all employment. The average EU business provides employment for four people (including the owner).Figures also show that SMEs account for 66% of employment within the EU (with micro enterprises accounting for 34%, small enterprises accounting for 19% and medium-sized enterprises accounting for 13%). SMEs also account for more than half (52%) of private sector turnover within the EU.

In Latin-America the vast majority (80-90% of companies) are micro enterprises, and the government have vastly reduced red tape to ensure their needs are attended to swiftly. According to the research, SMEs represent over 95% of enterprises in most OECD countries and generate over half of private sector employment.

In a lot of developing countries, the roles of SMEs remain in traditional activities with low levels of productivity, poor quality products and serving small localized markets. There is sometimes little or no technological dynamism, and in many poor countries, there is also a large underclass of (formal and informal) micro enterprises that ekes out of bare survival.

Seligman also mentioned that small SMEs constitute almost 90% in all practices in every country. Due to their crucial importance to the economy, government and international agencies are constantly working to promote and sustain them in a highly competitive environment. According to the research, the World Association of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (WASME) are extremely active to support SMEs, having members in 112 countries, promoting cooperation as well as providing enterprises with industrial, technological and trade information, training and research facilities and support for the development of micro and rural enterprises.

Figure shows the distribution of employment in the manufacturing sector by firm size in selected international economies. In Italy 79.7% of the manufacturing firms employ less than then 500 employees and in the UK 66.3% of the manufacturing firm employ less than 500 employees. In the US, the majority of the manufacturing companies (58.9%) are large companies, employing more than 500 people. Given the dominance of the USA in World’s manufacturing as shown in Figure , this is expected where most of the small companies could grow into big companies or were taken over or merged with bigger companies. This could also imply that there is some merit in the economies of scale of larger enterprises.

Figure : Distribution of employment in the manufacturing Sector by Firm Size

Source: World Bank

The next section provides background information to the current trends in manufacturing in SA as well as employment ratios for different manufacturing industries and the contribution of SMMEs in different industries in the manufacturing sector.


Background trends to the SA manufacturing sector

Manufacturing is a process involving tools and labour to produce goods for use or sale as intermediaries, or as final products, either domestically or internationally. The term refers to a range of human activity (labour, entrepreneurship and innovation), combined with tools or capital equipment in a production process in which raw or intermediate products are used to produce final (or intermediate) goods.

According to Statistics SA (StatsSA) the standard industrial classification (SIC) system classifies manufacturing activities under the major division 3 that starts with the manufacturing of food products, beverages and tobacco (301, 302, 303, 304 and 305) and ends with the manufacturing of furniture and N.E.C (that includes categories like jewellery, musical instruments, sport goods, other manufacturing like crayons, chalk, pens and pencils and recycling) (sub codes 391 and 392).

The SA manufacturing sector experienced a severe contraction during the international financial crisis. The manufacturing sector, according to data from Statistics South Africa, contracted with 10.4% in 2009, losing almost R31 billion in GDP contributions (measured in 2005 constant prices, or 3% and R10.3 billion at current prices). The manufacturing sector also lost more than 200 000 job opportunities during the crisis (including formally and informally opportunities).

The manufacturing sector increased from R180 053 million in 1993 (at constant 2005 prices) to R282 215 million in 2010, but its contribution to GDP decreased from 19% to 17% during this period.

Figure and Figure show the manufacturing sectors as a percentage of the total industries at basic prices and show how the tertiary sectors, including finance, real estate and business services, transport storage and communication and finance, real estate and business services increased as a percentage of GDP. Although this movement from primary and secondary to the tertiary sectors is part of economic evolution as shown by, amongst others Rostow, the manufacturing sector remains a very prominent and valuable industry and can contribute immensely to economic growth, job creation and export earnings. This is also recognised in numerous economic and industry growth strategies.

Figure : SA sector contribution to GDP in 2010, with a focus on the manufacturing sector

Source: Stats SA

Figure : SA sector contribution to GDP in 1993, with a focus on the manufacturing sector

Source: Stats SA

Figure shows the contribution of 10 manufacturing industries to total manufacturing between 1993 and 2010 (in constant 2005 prices) with the prominent recession in 2009 (international financial crisis). The petroleum products, chemicals, rubber and plastic industry contributed the most to manufacturing with at 24.1% in 2010 followed by metals, metal products, machinery and equipment at 19.4% (in 2010) and food, beverages and tobacco at 18.1% in 2010. The radio, TV, instruments, watches and clocks industry, at 1.5% contributed the lowest to manufacturing in 2010.

Figure : Manufacturing sectors, contribution to GDP, constant 2005 prices (R million)
Source: Stats SA data

The data in Table shows the disaggregated manufacturing data for 10 industries for 1993 and 2010 in constant prices as well as the percentage change in the data between the two periods. Petroleum products, chemicals, rubber and plastic increased with 103.6% while other non-metal mineral products only increased with 1.4%. Metals, metal products, machinery, and equipment increased with 64.5%.

Table : Manufacturing, disaggregated industries and percentage growth between 1993 and 2010 (in constant 2005 prices)



% change


180 053

282 215


Food, beverages and tobacco

37 463

51 111


Textiles, clothing and leather goods

9 672

13 675


Wood and paper; publishing and printing

19 916

24 469


Petroleum products, chemicals, rubber and plastic

33 381

67 953


Other non-metal mineral products

9 528

9 664


Metals, metal products, machinery and equipment

33 348

54 869


Electrical machinery and apparatus

4 265

8 475


Radio, TV, instruments, watches and clocks

3 378

4 116


Transport equipment

13 015

25 133


Furniture; other manufacturing 1/

17 687

22 752


Source: Stats SA data, own calculations

Table shows key data for the manufacturing sector at current prices between 2005 and 2010. The gross value added (GVA) at basic prices increased only slightly, from R259 billion to R332 billion while the gross operating surplus (GOS) (profits in the industry) decreased from R137 billion to R134.6 billion. The GOS also decreased from a share of 53% of value added at factor cost in 2005 to 41% in 2010. Compensation of employees increased from 47% of value added at factor cost in 2005 to 59% in 2010, this while employment creation in the sector decreased. This implies that wages increased much faster than profits in the manufacturing industries, and this contributed to layoffs of workers to keep companies profitable, or the closing down of companies (productivity increases were lower than wage increases). The lower profits, lower employment, and higher compensation of employee’s levels, show the severe competition in the manufacturing sector.

Table : Annual Manufacturing production at current prices (R million) (2005 – 2010)








Output at basic prices

1 029 868

1 112 891

1 243 522

1 434 130

1 397 973

1 415 348

Intermediate consumption

770 767

838 389

939 084

1 093 507

1 066 271

1 082 878

Gross value added at basic prices

259 101

274 502

304 438

340 623

331 702

332 470

Other taxes on production

3 763

3 707

4 041

4 158

4 809

5 281

Other subsidies

-2 484

-4 478

-4 183

-6 430

-5 216

-4 801

Value added at factor cost

257 822

275 273

304 579

342 894

332 109

331 990

Compensation of employees

120 743

133 628

152 608

173 836

183 597

197 367

Gross operating surplus/mixed


137 079

141 645

151 971

169 058

148 512

134 623

Compensation of employees as % of VA at factor cost







GOS as % of VA at factor cost







Source: Stats SA, own calculations

Table shows the manufacturing output at constant 2005 prices. The gross value added at basic prices increased with only 8.9% from 2005 and 2010 (from 259 101 to 282 215) with most of this driven by increases in the compensation of employees, and not by increases in gross operating surplus (as shown above). This will imply that the profitability at constant prices in the manufacturing sector actually decreased from 2005 to 2010.

Table : Annual Manufacturing production at constant 2005 prices (R million) (2005 – 2010)








Output at basic prices

1 029 868

1 074 423

1 117 438

1 177 104

1 101 729

1 094 089

Intermediate consumption

770 767

798 641

827 192

879 216

834 006

811 873

Gross value added at basic prices

259 101

275 782

290 246

297 889

267 723

282 215

Source: Stats SA

The relative higher labour cost increases is also shown in Figure when compared to the labour productivity. Labour productivity increased with 40% between 2000 and 2011 compared to nominal unit labour cost that increased with 84.9%, with a large divergence occurring after the international financial crisis in 2008. Going forward, labour prices in the manufacturing industry will either have to increase at a much lower pace, or productivity will have to increase much faster to enable an environment where manufacturing enterprises can be profitable.

Figure : Labour productivity and nominal unit labour cost (2000 to 2011)
Source: Data from the SA Reserve Bank

Figure also confirms the gap that opened up between unit labour cost and productivity shown in Figure . According to this graph the percentage utilisation of production capacity in the manufacturing industry for durable and non-durable goods decreased on average from around 84% to below 78% during the international financial crisis and is struggling to regain lost ground.

Figure : Percentage utilisation of production capacity in the manufacturing sector
Source: SA Resbank

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