Overseas sales are up in the first quarter of 2013, according to the South Wales Chamber of Commerce’s latest Quarterly Economic Survey (QES).

The Q1 survey shows that more than three-quarters (78%) of businesses surveyed reported they had either maintained or increased export sales for the quarter, up on 75% in Q4 of 2012. Advance order books also remain healthy, with around 80% of businesses maintaining or increasing their overseas orders for the quarter.

The survey, sponsored by chartered accountants, Broomfield and Alexander, also shows that, despite being affected by the rising price of raw materials and other overheads such as fuel and electricity, confidence remains high, with around 87% of businesses expecting to maintain or increase their annual turnover during 2013.

“We have been advising our members for some time now that if they want to grow their business in the current climate, they need to look outside the UK and identify new markets for their goods and services,” said Graham Morgan, director of the South Wales Chamber of Commerce.

“With little in the Chancellor’s budget to help businesses in the here and now, this is all the more imperative, and I would urge businesses not to be complacent but continue to be proactive and investigate every potential opportunity to the full.

“Our survey finds that despite challenging times, confidence within the south and mid Wales business communities remains high, and this is something we are seeing fairly consistently across recent business sector surveys and hearing directly from our members.”

While recruitment was slightly down, with 41% of businesses recruiting compared to 44% last quarter, there has been a significant rise in the number of businesses recruiting for full-time jobs; 87% compared to 77% in the last three months of 2012.

Seamus Gates, director of Broomfield and Alexander, said: “The results of the survey show that the majority of businesses who responded are experiencing a constant level of sales and future orders. Those who export and operate in international markets have a more promising level of activity, with increased activity in the last three months and an increase in orders for the next three months also. There are clearly many opportunities for Welsh businesses that look to international markets to grow their business.

“Employment remains largely constant, and although less than 50% of businesses have recruited in the last quarter, businesses are seeming intent on retaining their existing workforce. There have been increases in full-time and skilled opportunities, and difficulties in recruiting have diminished.

“Overall businesses continue to find the economy difficult and varying pressures on businesses to grow and develop persist, however based on the overall survey we remain cautiously optimistic in looking forward to the next quarter.”

The results of the survey, which monitors the performance of businesses in Newport, Swansea, Cardiff, mid Wales and the surrounding areas, act as a barometer for the strength of the Welsh economy.

Mr Morgan added: “Our first QES survey for 2013 shows that across the board, exports either remained strong or improved. We recently held an event that brought expertise from Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and India to Wales, to discuss the Asian markets with Welsh exporters. It was a great success and we now intend to hold a full programme of events to maximise international export opportunities.”