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Deloitte CFO Survey: CFOs set to rein in costs but still see growth opportunities

8 January 2018

  • Domestic concerns top CFOs’ risk list, with Brexit concerns mounting
  • Focus on cost control highest in eight years
  • Despite uncertainties CFOs remain determined to grow their businesses

CFOs see increasing risks to their business from Brexit and a slowing UK economy and are reacting with a renewed focus on cost control, according to Deloitte’s latest CFO Survey. However, domestic concerns have not blunted CFOs’ search for growth and opportunities.

112 CFOs of FTSE 350 and other large private companies participated in the Q4 2017 CFO Survey. The combined market capitalisation of the 83 UK-listed companies who participated is £512bn, approximately 19% of the UK quoted equity market.

The survey ran between 3rd and 15th December 2017.

Uncertainty rises, domestic concerns dominate
Brexit remains the top concern CFOs say their business faces, giving it (on a scale of 0-100) a ranking of 62, up from 58 last quarter. Brexit is followed by weak demand in the UK (59, up from 53) and weak UK productivity (49, up from 43).

38% of CFOs say there is a high or very high level of uncertainty facing their business, up from 35% last quarter but down from 50% one year ago and well below levels seen during the euro crisis and in the wake of the EU referendum.

Brexit concerns increase
73% of CFOs say they expect the overall business environment to be worse following Brexit, up from 60% in Q3 and the highest reading yet, but in line with levels seen in Q2 2017.

41% say they expect hiring within their business to slow as a result of Brexit, up from 36% in Q3, while 39% expect their capital spending to decrease, up from 30% last quarter.

CFOs focus on cost control, but see growth opportunities
51% of CFOs say that reducing costs is a strong priority for their business over the coming 12 months.

However, CFOs have not shifted away from growth. The priority CFOs attach to expansion over the next 12 months, whether organically, through acquisitions or introducing new products or services or moving into new markets, is at its highest level since this question was first asked in 2009.

Optimism and risk appetite dip slightly
18% of CFOs say they are more optimistic about the prospects for their company than they were three months ago, down from 27% in Q3’s survey, though above the average reading for the last two years.

21% say now is a good time to take risks onto their balance sheets, down from 24% in Q3. Risk appetite has been broadly unchanged since the end of 2016.

Interest rate rises expected
Just 15% of CFOs expect interest rates to remain at 0.5% in one year’s time, down from 50% last quarter, with 85% expecting rates to be at, or above, 0.75% by the beginning of 2019.

Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte, said:
“In a world of accelerating growth and buoyant equity markets, domestic risks loom large. Reining in costs can help CFOs mitigate these risks.

“Despite December’s agreement to move forward to trade talks with the EU, CFO’s concerns about Brexit have mounted and it remains at the top of the list of risks for business in 2018. Weak UK growth follows as the second greatest risk facing business this year, with concern about UK productivity in third place.

“CFOs enter 2018 more focussed on controlling costs than at any time in the last eight years. Despite this, CFOs are more optimistic today than they have been in the last two years and perceptions of uncertainty are far lower than during the euro crisis and following the EU referendum.”

David Sproul, senior partner and chief executive of Deloitte North West Europe, said:
“Encouragingly, far from backing away from growth as they did in previous periods of uncertainty, CFOs are putting more emphasis on expansion. The priority CFOs attach to expansion over the next 12 months, whether organically, through acquisitions, introducing new products and services or moving into new markets, is at its highest level since 2009. It seems that an accelerating global economy is helping to counter the effects of uncertainty close to home.

“While the impact of Brexit remains the dominant concern for CFOs, it has not forced a retreat from growth or crushed the animal spirits of the corporate sector. The central challenge for UK business over the next 12 months will be achieving growth in an environment of stringent cost-control.”

Ends

Note to editors

About the Deloitte CFO Survey
This is the 42nd quarterly survey of Chief Financial Officers and Group Finance Directors of major companies in the UK.

The 2017 Q4 survey took place between 3rd and 15th December 2017.

112 CFOs participated, including 23 FTSE 100 companies and 46 FTSE 250 companies.

The combined market value of the 83 UK-listed companies surveyed is £512bn, or approximately 19% of the UK quoted equity market. The Deloitte CFO Survey is the only survey of major corporate users of capital that gauges attitudes to valuations, risk and financing.

For copies of previous CFO Surveys, please visit www.deloitte.co.uk/cfosurvey.

About Deloitte

In this press release references to “Deloitte” are references to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (“DTTL”) a UK private company limited by guarantee, and its network of member firms, each of which is a legally separate and independent entity. Please see deloitte.com/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of DTTL and its member firms.

Deloitte LLP is a subsidiary of Deloitte NWE LLP, which is a member firm of DTTL, and is among the UK's leading professional services firms.

The information contained in this press release is correct at the time of going to press.

For more information, please visit www.deloitte.co.uk.

Member of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited

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