Business confidence in the economy is at its lowest point around the world in four years, according to a new survey by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and the Institute of Management Accountants.
The ACCA/IMA Global Economic Conditions Survey (GECS) found a sharp drop in business sentiment in the third quarter of 2015. Finance professionals expressed less confidence in the global economy than at any time since 2011. The emerging markets of the Asia Pacific region in particular have suffered the deepest slump.
The survey, based on 950 responses, follows concerns about the Chinese economy on which so many of them rely, along with a fresh fall in global commodity prices. More firms in the region are putting a freeze on recruitment, investment in staff is falling, and there is less optimism among finance professionals in China itself. Business confidence there is close to its lowest reading since GECS began.
The vast majority of companies are scaling back on investment, with 44 percent of the survey respondents putting a freeze on recruitment or making job cuts. More than half the respondents said there were fewer profitable opportunities than six months earlier. With the notable exception of China, expectations about government spending fell around the world in the third quarter.
The United States continues to cast a long shadow. While the strength of the U.S. dollar was undermining the competitiveness of U.S. exporters, the decision to push back the start of its tightening cycle, possibly to next year, has given some relief to emerging market currencies at the start of the fourth quarter.
“This latest GECS report shows signs that the recovery in the U.S. could be faltering, with exports, manufacturing, and employment growth underperforming. While there was a dip in confidence, underlying economic conditions still look reasonably strong and improvement looks likely over the coming quarters,” said IMA vice president of research and policy Raef Lawson in a statement.
The positive news is that some improvement in global business confidence appears likely in the fourth quarter, with business conditions continuing to improve. But as the report warns, there is no shortage of potential threats to the global recovery.
“Finance professionals around the world cannot help but to have been affected by the combination of poor data, financial turmoil, falling commodity prices, along with concerns over the two leading economies of the US and China during this quarter,” said Faye Chua, head of business insights with ACCA. “While the global economy is currently built on volatile ground, there are some causes for optimism—with forecasters expecting a rise in global growth next year. But finance professionals will still need to be prepared to steer companies of all sizes through some difficult issues.”
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