CFO optimism has rebounded from historic lows in many countries as several political and economic 'uncertainties' have been resolved or eased, according to Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limiteds (DTTL) survey.
However, many chief financial officers (CFOs) worldwide remain cautious in resuming aggressive capital spending and are adopting a “wait-and-see” approach that will likely yield a slow global recovery process.
“It’s no surprise that CFOs are still reacting to global economic volatility with caution and continued cost cutting,” said Sanford Cockrell III, Leader, Global CFO Program, DTTL. “But given the temporary resolution of the fiscal cliff in the United States and the easing of the euro crisis, our survey found that some finance executives are carefully preparing for growth and hoping greater regulatory clarity will give them the comfort to invest.”
Additionally, although the CFO survey revealed a mixed recovery approach by region, CFOs across the board had three major considerations they are factoring in their outlooks: growth, talent capabilities, and implications of local policies and regulations:
Growth: Economic conditions, investment, and solid execution are essential elements for growth. Around the globe, however, CFOs’ approaches vary:
In North America, for example, capital investment expectations, research and development, and marketing/advertising investment expectations hit survey lows;
Risk taking varies throughout Europe, with only 12 percent of CFOs in the Netherlands saying now is time to take risk onto their balance sheets; in other countries, such as Belgium, however, risk appetite has increased;
Australia is prioritizing organic expansion and investment in new products and services;
And 47 percent of Middle East CFOs are planning for strategic alliances as a risk adverse approach to inorganic growth.
Local issues a primary driver:Whileseveral global factors are weighing on CFO decision-making for 2013, implications of local issues and policies remain top of mind:
In North America, health care reform, the outcome of U.S. elections, and the “fiscal cliff” weighed on CFOs;
Eighty-eight percent of CFOs in Spain believed new government tax burdens would negatively impact their business;
In India, more than 54 percent consider inflation and its subsequent pressure on commodity prices as key economic concerns;
In the United Kingdom, CFOs believe the Bank of England’s monetary policy, including interest rates, inflation, and the availability of credit, is on track;
Implications of governmental policy are consistently among CFOs’ top sources of financial and economic uncertainty.
Talent and capabilities: Even in an unclear economy with threats of staffing reductions still lingering, CFOs are thinking strategically about talent capabilities and upcoming employment challenges:
In South Africa, CFOs listed skills shortage as their biggest business risk factor;
In India, specialized workforce and its development remain a key issue;
Some CFOs in Central European countries view quality and cost of talent as crucial to future growth;
And in Australia, three quarters of CFOs plan to invest in workforce training and development to improve productivity.
There was no clear indication as to when CFOs expect conditions to improve. In Spain, 98 percent of CFOs surveyed believe there will not be an improvement in economic indicators before the second half of 2013, and, of these, 29 percent do not expect it before the first half of 2015. In Belgium and Ireland, CFOs are looking more toward 2014 for economic recovery. And in several of the Central European countries, CFOs believe things will get worse before they get better.
Many CFOs are focusing their recovery on efforts close to home. In the Middle East, the 30 percent of CFOs who are planning mergers & acquisitions (M&A) are aiming for targets aligned to existing businesses and within the MENA region.Similarly, in South Africa, more than half the companies surveyed are now focused on revenue growth from emerging markets and Africa.
DTTL’s Q4 Signals survey tracked the thinking and actions of CFOs from more than 1100 global companies representing some 30 countries and geographies including North America, the Middle East, South Africa, Australia, and several European countries.