The UK doesn't make anything nowadays, right? Wrong, as these top British exporters prove!
Judging by all the doom and gloom in the papers these days, you'd think British manufacturers and exporters were in terminal decline. Actually, thanks to a weaker pound, UK exporters have done rather well recently, despite the weakening global economy.
Indeed, we learnt today that UK exports hit a record high in August, helping to trim the UK's trade deficit to a mere £1.9 billion. Total monthly exports of goods and services hit £31.4 billion (up 0.5%), while imports declined by 0.7% to £33.3 billion.
Of course, this is good news for the UK economy, because it shows the gap between what we sell overseas and what we import into Britain has narrowed. Also, stronger-than-expected exports could give a boost to economic growth in the third quarter of 2011.
'We don't make things nowadays'
There is a common misconception that -- following a painful restructuring of the UK economy during the Thatcher government of 1979 to 1990 -- the UK 'doesn't make things any more'.
In fact, we are the world’s sixth-largest exporter of goods and services, according to the British Chambers of Commerce. The UK is also the world's sixth-largest economy (behind the US, China, Japan, Germany and France), so we still punch at our weight as exporters.
A dozen British brands
From the Industrial Revolution to the late 1890s, the UK was the largest economy, manufacturer and exporter in the world. We were overtaken by America around 1900 and the US held the crown as the world's largest manufacturer for 110 years until 2010. However, the US should finally be overtaken by China this year, thanks to the latter's hard-working population of 1.3 billion.
Despite the UK's decline from its Victorian majesty, 35 of the world's largest 1,000 manufacturers are British, according to the latest IndustryWeek 1000 survey.
Here are the top 12 of these world-leading British businesses, ranked by revenues:
|2011 Rank||Company||Industry||Revenues ($b)|
|57||Unilever (LSE: ULVR)||Food||59.2|
|88||GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK)||Pharmaceuticals||44.7|
|90||Imperial Tobacco (LSE: IMT)||Tobacco||44.0|
|119||AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN)||Pharmaceuticals||34.1|
|123||BAE Systems (LSE: BA)||Aerospace & Defence||33.2|
|167||British American Tobacco (LSE: BATS)||Tobacco||23.6|
|191||Wolseley (LSE: WOS)||Machinery||20.6|
|229||Rolls-Royce (LSE: RR)||Aerospace & Defence||17.5|
|240||BG Group (LSE: BG)||Petroleum & Coal Products||16.4|
|251||Associated British Foods (LSE: ABF)||Food||15.9|
|251||Diageo (LSE: DGE)||Food||15.9|
|251||Reckitt Benckiser (LSE: RB)||Food||15.9|
As you can see, the UK has four top food firms (Unilever, ABF, Diageo and Reckitt Benckiser), two world-class pharmaceutical firms (GSK and AstraZeneca), two leading defence businesses (BAE and Rolls Royce) and two large tobacco companies.
Furthermore, lower down the list lies a host of widely admired British engineering firms, including GKN (LSE: GKN), Smiths Group (LSE: SMIN) and Cookson (LSE: CKSN).
What Britain does best
In its Great Britain campaign launched on 21 September, the government listed these 10 areas for Britain to be proud of:
Perhaps we should add five key industries to this list: pharmaceuticals and biotech, defence and aviation, food and drink, communications -- Vodafone (LSE: VOD) has 382 million customers worldwide -- and oil and energy expertise.
Lastly, the City of London ranks alongside Wall Street as a core hub of the financial world, while our entertainers and musicians are widely acclaimed globally. Also, don't forget the booming sales of Scotch whisky overseas.
In short, despite our ailing economy and austerity measures, Britain still has much to be proud of!
More from Cliff D'Arcy:
> Cliff owns shares in GlaxoSmithKline. The Motley Fool owns shares in AstraZeneca, BAE Systems, GlaxoSmithKline, Reckitt Benkiser and Unilever.