European CFO Survey Q3 2015
European business confidence heads south - Swiss confidence on the mend
Zurich, 16 November 2015
- Business optimism and risk appetite down among Europe’s Chief Financial Officers
- Sentiment falls most in Europe’s larger, northern economies while CFOs in southern and peripheral Europe are more optimistic, willing to take risk and positive about revenue growth
- Sentiment in Switzerland is improving, but still negative overall
- Almost half of CFOs say this summer’s Greek crisis dented prospects for closer monetary union
Confidence has fallen among European business according to Deloitte’s latest European CFO Survey. However, the survey shows a distinct shift within Europe, with companies in the south and periphery of the continent more confident and willing to take risk than those in northern countries. The biannual survey, which collated the results of surveys run by Deloitte member firms in 15 European countries including Switzerland, analysed the views of 1,298 chief financial officers (CFOs), including 110 Swiss CFOs.
Trends in Europe overall and in Switzerland go in opposite directions: The Swiss sentiment is on the rise from very low levels, whereas the overall European sentiment is slightly down. The main reason behind the pessimism in Switzerland since the beginning of the year being the currency shock, the survey shows that the confidence of CFOs has recently recovered. Swiss businesses appear to have accepted the new reality, and to have gradually adjusted to the exchange rate appreciation.
Overall optimism declines – yet sentiment in Switzerland on the rise
25% of European CFOs say they are more optimistic about the financial prospects for their company than they were three to six months ago, down from 33% in the first quarter of 2015. Those saying they are less optimistic has risen from 18% in Q1 to 23% in Q3.
Southern and peripheral European countries – including Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain – report higher levels of optimism than in northern countries. This mirrors the improved economic development and growth outlook in those countries over the year. Optimism is weakest in northern European economies, with France, Norway, Germany and the UK at the bottom ranks. A small majority of CFOs in Switzerland are still more pessimistic, but numbers have vastly improved from Q1, with 23% (Q1: 6%) now optimistic and 26% pessimistic (Q1: 65%).
Michael Grampp, Chief Economist at Deloitte in Switzerland and European CFO Survey Lead, said: “This survey shows concerns about global growth have had a marked effect on sentiment in northern Europe, but we are seeing a rebalancing of prospects within Europe from north to south. Since Q1, Europe has experienced another Greek debt crisis and concerns have increased over the strength of the global economic recovery, in particular prospects for emerging markets such as China. This has created a sense of heightened uncertainty among Europe’s CFOs.”
Risk appetite low
Falling sentiment and rising perceptions of external uncertainty had fed through to a reduction in risk appetite among CFOs in most countries. Just 33% of European CFOs say now is a good time to take risk onto their balance sheets, down from 38% in Q1. Risk appetite is highest in Italy, followed by Ireland, the UK and Spain. It is lowest in Norway and Germany, where just 20% say now is a good time to take risks. Swiss risk appetite is on the lower end as well at 24%.
External risks challenging European companies
Perceptions of uncertainty have risen among CFOs: 66% say there is a high level of financial and economic uncertainty facing their business, up from 60% in Q1. Perceptions of uncertainty are highest in Germany (87%), the Netherlands (84%) and Switzerland (75%).
When asked about the top risks to their businesses over the next 12 months, European CFOs share a consistent concern over external shocks and global weakness. Fears over external risks dominate the list of key concerns for CFOs, with global economic weakness, geopolitical instability and financial market vulnerability all rating highly, even in countries where sentiment remains strong. CFOs have not lost sight of internal risks either: The cost of labour and shortage of skilled labour are amongst the risks named the most frequently.
In Switzerland, the strength of the Franc remains the top risk, with increasing regulations, geopolitical risks and shortage of skilled labour also high on CFOs’ agendas.
Cost control a high business priority
When asked to outline their business priorities for the coming year, CFOs in 12 out of 14 of the countries responding – including Switzerland – rated cost reduction and cost control as a top three priority, with seven countries citing it as their top priority. This is true even in countries such as Italy, Ireland and Portugal with high levels of optimism and risk appetite. In Switzerland, next to cost control/reduction, CFOs also want to focus on growing their companies: They cited organic growth, introducing new products/services and expanding into new markets as key strategies over the next year.
Michael Grampp said: “Swiss CFOs prioritizing cost control and reduction on the one side and growing the business on the other side may seem surprising at first glance. However, this confirms the slight brightening of sentiment that we have been observing in Switzerland in the last months. CFOs are looking for ways to further grow their company in the mid term, and no longer only focusing on short term challenges such as the strength of the Franc. Swiss companies have in general adapted faster to the exchange shock than was feared. Uncertainty is still high, but the outlook has improved vastly from Q1.”
Large Euro countries relaxed about Greek debt crisis – Switzerland not so much
Almost one in two CFOs (48%) say this year’s Greek debt crisis has damaged long-term prospects for a stable and closely-integrated European monetary union. Countries not in the Eurozone are more sceptical (63%) than those in the Eurozone (40%). Sentiment appears particularly negative in the more ‘Eurosceptic’ countries – such as Finland, Poland and Switzerland. CFOs in Switzerland are particularly pessimistic: 59% believe that the events damaged the prospects. Interestingly, German CFOs (41%) do not share this very negative view, despite notable opposition to Greece’s third bailout from a significant portion of German politicians and the public.
About the Deloitte European CFO Survey
The Deloitte European CFO Survey collates the findings of surveys conducted by Deloitte member firms in Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In total, 1,298 CFOs took part in these surveys, conducted between July and October 2015. Percentages used in the report are weighted by GDP to provide accurate comparisons, taking into account individual countries’ GDPs in relation to the total GDP of the 15 participating countries.
The full survey results, including country-by-country breakdowns, and previous surveys are available to view at www.deloitteresearchemea.com
Deloitte in Switzerland
Deloitte is a leading accounting and consulting company in Switzerland and provides industry-specific services in the areas of audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory. With more than 1,400 employees at six locations in Basel, Berne, Geneva, Lausanne, Lugano and Zurich (headquarters), Deloitte serves companies and institutions of all legal forms and sizes in all industry sectors. Deloitte AG is a subsidiary of Deloitte LLP, the UK member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (DTTL). DTTL member firms comprise of over 225,000 employees in more than 150 countries.
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