CEO confidence bounces back to pre-crisis levels

Crisis? What crisis? Optimism among chief executives has bounced back to almost the same level as before the financial crisis, with half of those questioned in a closely watched survey.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Wed 26 Jan 2011, 11:59 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 4:28 AM

Excitement about prospects in emerging markets is fuelling the bullish mood, even though economies in the developed world, particularly western Europe, remain sluggish.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) survey of 1,201 chief executives, published at the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, found 48 percent were “very confident” that they would grow revenues in the next 12 months.

That reading is close to the 50 percent level reached in January 2008, before the depths of the economic crisis. It is up sharply on the 31 percent recorded a year ago.

“People are feeling better. Twelve months ago when we were here there were a lot of questions around are we looking at a double-dip (recession) ... I think we are past that,” said PwC Chairman Dennis Nally.

“CEOs have emerged from the bunker mentality of surviving the recession.”

The chipper corporate mood was summed up by Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, talking ahead of the Jan 26-30 WEF annual meeting of business leaders and politicians in the Swiss Alps.

“One of the great untold stories is just how stable and just how resilient the world economy is today, given all the shocks it’s received over the past couple of years,” he said. “At Coca-Cola we are seeing signs of stronger economies in most of the 206 nations where we operate.”

The growing importance of the emerging markets — and the economic imbalances that this has thrown up — is set to dominate discussions between 2,500 of the world’s business and political elite meeting this week in Davos.

Glass Half Full

While unsustainable fiscal deficits, rising inflation and potential currency wars are clear threats, company profits are rising and CEOs now clearly view the economic glass as half full rather than half empty.

Improved confidence was evident among executives from all parts of the world in the annual PwC survey, as multinational corporations re-position themselves to take advantage of new geographies.

With much of Europe still suffering an economic hangover and the periphery of the eurozone mired in a debt crisis, CEOs in Western Europe were, not surprisingly, the least confident — although a buoyant Germany was a notable exception.

One of the big concerns about recent signs of recovery has been the relative lack of job creation, particularly in developed markets. There are signs that may be changing.

Fifty-one percent of industry leaders said they expected to add jobs in the next 12 months and just 16 percent planned to cut positions, down from 25 percent a year ago, reflecting the drive to make the most of better economic conditions.

Part of that will involve deal-making, with just over a third of CEOs expecting to complete a merger or acquisition in 2011 and half planning a new strategic alliance or joint venture.

PwC rival Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu is seeing a similar trend, according to CEO Jim Quigley, who said his business had itself returned to pre-crisis hiring levels.

“I think the mood is more upbeat than what we’ve seen in the last couple of years,” Quigley said. “We’re seeing our clients beginning to invest and not leaving all their capital on the sidelines.”

The 14th PwC CEO survey was based on feedback from leaders of companies in 69 countries during the last quarter of 2010.

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