Deloitte: Cautious optimism across Europe’s businesses
18 May 2015
- High levels of uncertainty and low risk appetite among Europe’s CFOs
- Defensive corporate strategies remain, cost control tops CFOs’ agendas
- Positive outlook for revenue growth and operating margins, though weaker in non-Eurozone countries
- National structural reforms called for to improve growth with low support for dissolving the Euro
One third of Europe’s chief financial officers (CFOs) say that their optimism about financial prospects for their company has improved in the past three months according to Deloitte’s first European CFO Survey.
The survey, which collated the results of surveys run by Deloitte member firms in 14 European countries, analysed the views of over 1,300 CFOs.
On average, 33% say they are more optimistic, compared to 18% who are less positive about their company’s outlook. Optimism is lowest in Switzerland where the net balance of optimism stands at -58%, followed by Norway (-25%) and France (-11%). CFOs in in Spain are the most positive (67%), followed by Finland (34%) and The Netherlands (33%). Net levels of optimism are higher among countries in the Eurozone (20%) than countries outside it (4%).
A net 55% say that their businesses are faced with high levels of uncertainty while a net 23% say that now is not a good time to be taking risks onto their balance sheets. Of the 14 countries participating in this survey, 12 report higher levels of financial and economic uncertainty.
Despite this, a net 51% of CFOs expect revenues for their business to improve in the next 12 months, with a net 21% expecting operating margins to improve.
In Eurozone countries, revenue optimism is at net 58% but at net 37% in non-Eurozone countries. Similarly on operating margins, a net 32% are positive in Eurozone countries, compared to -3% in non-Eurozone countries.
Bank borrowing remains popular with a net 47% of CFOs saying banks offer the most attractive source of external financing, compared to a net 38% rating corporate debt as attractive and just a net 7% saying equity is attractive.
Asked to rate their five most urgent strategic priorities, CFOs show they remain on the defensive. Cost control is identified as either the first or second biggest priority for CFOs in 11 out of 12 countries responding to this question. This is followed by organic expansion and introducing new products and services. Increasing capital expenditure is only mentioned as a top-five priority by CFOs in six countries, and even then this rank as only the fourth or fifth most important strategy.
When asked to rate the most significant risks facing their business, CFOs across Europe generally ranked geopolitical risk, potential declines in domestic or foreign demand and increases in regulations as their biggest worries. Internal business risks, including the availability of skilled workers and the cost of labour generally rated lower.
CFOs believe more national structural reforms will improve competitiveness in Europe, 93% say this will be effective or very effective in supporting growth. Increasing public and pan-European investment spending also rates highly, with 83% of CFOs saying it would help growth and 56% calling for an end to austerity measures.
An average of 8% favour dissolving the Euro (3% in Eurozone countries and 17% in non-Eurozone countries) while 36% of CFOs in Eurozone countries are in favour of redistributing political powers to national governments, compared to 67% in non-Eurozone countries.
Chris Gentle, Head of EMEA Research at Deloitte, said:
“Good news on Europe’s economy has been in short supply but major companies, particularly in the Eurozone, are now beginning to see a brighter future.
“Uncertainty, largely driven by geopolitical and wider economic risks, is still on the rise and could still weaken CFOs’ confidence in making business investment decisions. This provides an ominous reminder that the business recovery is not assured.
“There is consensus around how policymakers can support growth, with national structural reforms, many of which were put on hold during the financial crisis, supported by single European market initiatives, at the top of CFOs’ wish lists.”
David Sproul, senior partner and chief executive of Deloitte UK, said:
“CFOs are still demonstrating caution in their business strategies, prioritising cost cutting and control, a trend we have observed for many years and which now looks to be continuing in 2015. This is most evident non-Eurozone where country-specific events, such as the removal of the currency peg in Switzerland, are curbing business optimism.
“Expansion via organic growth and new products and services looks most likely, with lower appetite for increased capital expenditure and growth through acquisition.
“Though less so in non-Eurozone countries, CFOs are broadly more optimistic about growing revenues and improved operating margins and record low interest rates see them preferring debt over equity in external financing.”
Notes to editors
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, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
In total, 1,327 CFOs took part in these surveys, conducted in the first quarter of 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 14 participating countries.
The full survey results, including country-by-country breakdowns are available to view at www.deloitteresearchemea.com.
In this press release references to Deloitte are references to Deloitte LLP, which is among the country's leading professional services firms.
Deloitte LLP is the United Kingdom member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (“DTTL”), a UK private company limited by guarantee, whose member firms are legally separate and independent entities. Please see www.deloitte.co.uk/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of DTTL and its member firms.
The information contained in this press release is correct at the time of going to press.
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