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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 8, 2019 2 months ago

More CEOs concerned about economy

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Annual PwC CEO survey indicates growing pessimism for global economic growth.

Rising global trade tensions, a surge in nationalism and uncertainties about Brexit and the U.S. economy have resulted in a cloud of pessimism among CEOs worldwide, according to PwC’s 22nd annual survey of more than 1,300 global chief executives.

One worrisome finding: The survey found nearly 30% of business leaders believe global economic growth will decline in 2019 — six times more than last year’s 5%.

That is largely fueled by trade tensions and tariff talk between the U.S. and China, and as CEOs grapple with strategies resulting from the surge in populism in markets in which they operate.

Another worrisome finding: Trade conflicts, policy uncertainty and protectionism have replaced terrorism, climate change and increasing tax burden in the top 10 list of threats to growth, the PwC survey reports. 

Specifically: 

• CEO optimism in China dropped from 40% in 2018 to 35% this year because of trade tensions, U.S. tariffs and weakened industrial production;

• Optimism among CEOs in the U.S. declined from 52% to 39% because of trade tensions and slowing economy;

• Germany dropped from 33% to 20% in the optimism category due to trade tensions, slowing economy and risk of a disorderly Brexit; 

• Argentina declined from 57% to 19% because of recession and currency collapse; and 

• Russia declined from 25% to 15% because of a drop in export demand, currency volatility and higher unemployment.

While 42% of CEOs surveyed see an improved economic outlook, that's down significantly from a high of 57% in 2018. Overall, CEOs' views on global economic growth are more polarized this year but trending downward. The most pronounced shift was among CEOs in North America, where optimism dropped from 63% in 2018 to 37%.      

The U.S. remains the top market for expected growth during the next 12 months, although many CEOs are turning to other markets as reflected in the drop in the share of votes in favor of the U.S., from 46% in 2018 to 27% in 2019.

Top 10 CEO Concerns

2018:

Over-regulation 42%

Terrorism 41%

Geopolitical uncertainty 40%

Cyber threats 40%

Availability of key skills 38%

Speed of tech change 38%

Increasing tax burden 36%

Populism 35%

Climate change 31%

Exchange rate volatility 29%

2019:

Over-regulation 35%

Policy uncertainty 35%

Availability of key skills 34%

Trade conflicts 31%

Cyber threats 30%

Geopolitical uncertainty 30%

Protectionism 30%

Populism 28%

Speed of tech change 28%

Exchange rate volatility 26%

Source: PwC Annual Global CEO Survey

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