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European CFOs are against Brexit: new Global Business Outlook survey reveals

Published on
27 June 2016

European CFOs are overwhelmingly against a British exit from the European Union, the latest round of the Global Business Outlook Survey reveals. More than 75 percent believe it is good for the U.K. to remain in the European Union, and a like number believe it is good for companies in other European countries.

Nearly 80 percent believe that a Brexit would threaten the European Union and lead to similar referendums in other EU countries. CFOs in Europe also assign a 42 percent probability that Brexit will occur.

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The survey of more than 1,200 CFOs and other finance executives, which ended June 3, has been conducted each quarter for more than 20 years and spans the globe, making it the world’s longest-running and most comprehensive research on senior finance executives. It is conducted by the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Grenoble Ecole de Management, CFO Magazine and Tilburg University.

“This quarter’s findings reveal that European financial executives fear the consequences of a British exit from the European Union. They feel that such a move would be detrimental to the unity of the EU and are particularly concerned that other countries might follow suit. The overwhelming feeling is that it would be of huge benefit to European business and the wider economy for the UK to vote remain,” said Philippe Dupuy, Finance Professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management, a partner of the survey.

The top concerns named by European CFOs include economic uncertainty, regulatory requirements, government policies, weak demand, and employee morale, reflecting this fear around a British exit from Europe.

About two-thirds of European CFOs rate their own country’s political risk as moderate or large, and about half of companies are holding off on spending and hiring in response.

Optimism Index increases in Europe

The optimism index in Europe increased to 55 this quarter, up from 53 last quarter and it is predicted that wages will increase by 1.7 percent.

The Optimism Index for the U.S. economy remained steady this quarter.

On a scale from zero to 100, financial executives rate the outlook at 59.4, the same as last quarter and approximately equal to the long-run average. Top concerns in the U.S. include economic uncertainty, difficulty finding qualified employees, regulatory requirements, and the cost of benefits. Health care costs are expected to rise by 7 percent over the next year. Canadian optimism rebounded to 63 this quarter, up from 56 in March.

Asia

Asian optimism averaged 57 out of 100 this quarter, ranging from 48 in Japan to 55 in China to 67 in India. Sixty percent of Asian CFOs rate political risk as moderate or large, and about half of companies are holding off on spending and hiring in response. Cash reserves in Asia will be used to invest, increase marketing, pay dividends and repurchase shares, and hire workers.

Capital spending is expected to increase by 3 percent in Japan, 9 percent in China, and about 6 percent averaged across the rest of Asia. Wages will increase 2 percent in Japan and by about 7 percent averaged across the rest of Asia. Full-time employment will decrease slightly in Japan, but increase by an average 5 percent over the rest of Asia.

Top concerns include economic uncertainty, weak demand, currency risk, government policies, and difficulty attracting and retaining qualified employees.

Africa

African optimism inched up from 46 to 47 this quarter but is only 38 in South Africa. Capital spending will rise by 4 percent on average, with nearly a 13 percent increase in Nigeria offsetting a 1.4 percent reduction in South Africa. African CFOs are worried about economic uncertainty, currency risk, government policies, limited access to capital, inflation and difficulty hiring skilled workers.

Cash reserves in Africa will be used to invest, increase marketing, and increase employee pay and benefits. Ninety-three percent of African CFOs rate political risk as moderate or large, the highest in the world. About two-thirds of companies are being cautious about spending and hiring in response.

Latin America

Latin American economic optimism rebounded to 53 (on a 100-point scale), though the optimism index varies across countries. Optimism in Brazil increased to 55 and in Chile and Ecuador to about 45, all up from about 37 last quarter. Optimism remains strong in Mexico (65) and Peru (68). Averaged across Latin America, capital spending plans are up slightly, with a positive outlook in all responding countries except Chile. In contrast, full-time employment will fall or remain flat in every polled country in Latin America.

Ninety percent of Latin American CFOs rate political risk as moderate or large. The effect is largest in Brazil and Chile, where 90 percent of CFOs say their companies are holding off on hiring and spending due to political uncertainty. As a specific example, proposed Labor and Constitutional Reforms have significantly harmed the business outlook in Chile, with 95 percent of CFOs saying these proposals have reduced optimism about the Chile’s economic outlook and about 80 percent of firms saying these specific proposals have led them to reduce spending and hiring plans.

Notes to Editors

About the survey: This is the 81st consecutive quarter the Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey has been conducted. The survey concluded June 3, and generated responses from more than 1,200 CFOs, including 626 from the U.S., 36 from Canada, 185 from Asia, 130 from Europe, 135 from Latin America and 113 from Africa. The survey of European CFOs was conducted jointly with TiasNimbas in the Netherlands and Grenoble Ecole de Management in France.

The survey of Latin America was conducted jointly with Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV) in Brazil and with Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar in Ecuador. The Japanese survey was conducted jointly with Kobe University and Tokyo Institute of Technology, among others. The African survey was conducted jointly with SAICA

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