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CEOs see economic glass as half-full

11:45 AM, Jan 21, 2014   |    comments
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ZURICH – Corporate leaders are feeling much more bullish about the global economy's short-term prospects than they did a year ago, according to a gauge that canvasses the views of hundreds of leading executives in dozens of countries.

PricewaterhouseCoopers' 17th annual Global CEO Survey, released Tuesday, reveals that 44% of corporate bosses around the world now expect to see an improvement in the world economy over the next 12 months. Only 18% said that in last year's survey.

On the reverse side, only 7% of corporate leaders think the global economy will become unstuck in 2014 compared to 28% in 2013.

The findings were unveiled in Davos on the eve of the kickoff of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, where a large swathe of the global business elite take up temporary residence in the Swiss ski resort for several days of discussions and workshops aimed at addressing some of the world's most pressing and divisive concerns.

"CEOs have begun to regain confidence," said Dennis Nally, chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers International, in a statement accompanying the survey's release. "They've successfully guided their companies through recession and now more CEOs feel positive about their ability to increase their revenues and prospects for the global economy."

CEO confidence measured in terms of the growth prospects for their own companies advanced to 39% from 36% last year.

However, the report highlights stark differences in attitudes from region to region.

While rising confidence among business leaders from the more advanced economies such as the U.S., the United Kingdom and Japan is in line with recoveries that have been seen there recently, the picture for leaders in emerging economies has become more troubled. Optimism across western Europe has soared to 30% from last year's dismal 8% showing, but elsewhere – in Africa, Latin America and parts of eastern and central Europe, notably – confidence has dipped.

"CEOs also acknowledge that generating sustained growth in the post-crisis economy remains a challenge, especially as they deal with changing conditions like slowing growth in the emerging markets," said Nally.

"For the future, CEOs tell us that they expect three major global trends – rapid technological advances, demographic changes and shifts in economic power – will have a major impact on the future of their businesses. Finding ways of turning these global trends to their advantage will be the key to future success," he said.

Government inaction, over-regulation and fiscal deficits top the list of CEO concerns for the year ahead.

At the country level, the report found that the highest level of CEO confidence was in Russia (53%), followed by Mexico (51%). In the USA, 36% of business leaders expressed high confidence in their ability to achieve revenue growth this year compared to 30% of those surveyed for 2013.

Ahead of the report's release, Nariman Behravesh, chief global economist at the IHS consultancy, told USA TODAY: "Our sense this year is that we'll see a much more upbeat mood on the part of the developed economies – those I call the 'dull and the old.' And a much more downbeat view from the emerging markets, which have been viewed as the saviors, the locomotives of growth, in the global economy. In the last few years the emerging markets have continued to disappoint in terms of growth."

(Copyright © 2014 USA TODAY)

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