A record-breaking share of CEOs are optimistic about the economic environment worldwide, at least in the short term, a key finding of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)’s 21st CEO Survey 2018 of almost 1,300 CEOs around the world.
Fifty-seven percent of business leaders say they believe global economic growth will improve in the next 12 months. It is almost twice the level of last year (29%) and the largest ever increase since PwC began asking about global growth in 2012.
Optimism around global growth has more than doubled in the US (59%) after a period of uncertainty surrounding the election (2017: 24%). Brazil also saw a large increase in the share of CEOs who are optimistic that global growth will improve (up 38% to 80%).
And even among the less optimistic countries such as Japan (2018: 38% vs. 2017: 11%) and the UK (2018: 36% vs. 2017: 17%), optimism in global growth has more than doubled since last year.
“CEOs’ optimism in the global economy is driven by the economic indicators being so strong. With stock markets booming and GDP predicted to grow in most major markets around the world, it’s no surprise CEOs are so bullish,” comments Bob Moritz, global chairperson of PwC.
Confidence in short-term revenue growth is also on the rise. This optimism in the economy is feeding
into CEOs’ confidence about their own companies’ outlooks, even if the uptick is not so large. 42%Forty-two percent percent of CEOs said they are “very confident” in their own organisation’s growth prospects over the next 12 months, up from 38% last year.
Looking at the results by country, CEOs’ outlook improved in several key markets including in Australia (up 4% to 46%) and China (up 4% to 40%), where the share of CEOs saying they are “very confident” in their own organisation’s 12-month growth prospects rose. In the US, CEO confidence has recovered.
North America is the only region where a majority of CEOs are very confident about their own 12-month prospects.
In the UK, with Brexit negotiations only recently reaching a significant milestone, business leaders’ drop in short-term confidence is unsurprising (2018: 34% vs. 2017: 41%).
The top three most confident sectors for their own 12-month prospects this year are technology (48% very confident), business services (46%), and pharmaceutical and life sciences (46%)—all exceeding the global very confident level of 42%.
Strategies for growth remain largely unchanged from last year’s survey—CEOs will rely on organic growth (79%), cost reduction (62%), strategic alliances (49%), and mergers and acqusitions (42%).
There was a small increase in interest in partnering with entrepreneurs and startups (33% vs 28% last year).
Confidence in the US continues, as CEOs’ confidence in the US market extends
overseas, with non-US based CEOs once again voting it the top market for growth in the next 12 months. This year, the US reinforces its lead over China (46% for US vs 33% for China, with the US lead over China up 2% compared to 2017).
Germany (20%) remains in third place, followed by the UK (15%) in fourth place, while India bumped Japan as the fifth most attractive market in 2018.
“Even with high levels of global confidence, business leaders want and need safe harbours for investment to secure short-term growth,” Moritz, global chairperson, PwC said.
Confidence in short-term revenue growth is feeding into jobs growth, with 54% of CEOs planning to increase their headcount in 2018 (2017: 52%), while only 18% of CEOs expect to reduce their headcount.
Recent research by PwC showed that workers were optimistic about technology improving their job prospects, with CEOs admitting that helping employees retrain and increasing transparency on how automation and AI could impact jobs are becoming more important issues for them.
Two-thirds of CEOs believe they have a responsibility to retrain employees whose roles are replaced by technology, chiefly amongst the engineering and construction (73%), technology (71%), and communications (77%) sectors. Sixty-one percent of CEOs build trust with their workforce by creating transparency, at least to some extent, on how automation and AI impact their employees.
CEOs fear wider societal threats they cannot control. Despite the optimism in the global economy, anxiety is rising on a much broader range of business, social, and economic threats.
CEOs are “extremely concerned” about geopolitical uncertainty (40%), cyber threats (40%), terrorism (41%), availability of key skills (38%), and populism (35%).
These threats outpace familiar concerns about business growth prospects such as exchange rate volatility (29%) and changing consumer behaviour (26%).