Concerns are mounting among finance professionals at companies around the world about declining incomes in their businesses, according to a new survey.
The quarterly Global Economic Condiitions Survey, by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and the Institute of Management Accountants, found that falling income is the biggest concern for global businesses. Nearly half of the businesses surveyed (46 percent) reported a decline in earnings in the fourth quarter of 2015.
The survey of more than 2,500 finance professionals and more than 200 CFOs around the world also shows that business confidence has hit rock bottom. Forty-four percent of the survey respondents were less confident than three months earlier.
Businesses not only reported a decline in income, but also more difficulty in accessing finance. Half of them said they are cutting their workforce or putting a recruitment freeze in place, and 40 percent said they had cut back investment plans since the third quarter of 2015.
The United States economy continues to perform relatively well, even if business confidence was undermined last quarter by the strength of the U.S. dollar and the prospect of a rate hike. Data showed the U.S. economy grew by a relatively healthy 2.1 percent during the third quarter, retail sales continued to expand in October and November, and auto sales hit a record high for the year. Concerns that the labor market was losing momentum were eased by strong employment gains.
From October to December, non-farm payrolls increased by an average of 284,000 a month, up from an average of 174,000 in the third quarter.
“Despite this overall good news, there is a clear divergence within the U.S. economy,” said IMA vice president of research and policy Raef Lawson in a statement. “While domestic-oriented sectors have benefited from the strong labor market and U.S. dollar, the manufacturing and energy sectors continue to perform poorly, in part due to oil prices.”
Confidence remained especially weak in emerging economies. China’s slowdown is affecting business confidence around the world and contributing to serious problems in other major emerging economies, especially those that rely on commodity exports, such as Brazil and Russia.
As the price of oil continues to tumble the producers that were relatively well prepared for a drop in energy prices, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are now facing weaker growth as governments turn their attention to repairing their finances. More than 60 percent of respondents in the region reported they had cut back on investment and employment. Businesses in OECD economies are more upbeat. Most advanced economies are net importers of energy and have benefitted from declines in oil prices.
The most significant improvement in business confidence was in the eurozone, where the risk of a near-term break-up of the currency area has faded into the distance after the latest Greek bailout.
Rising costs were still a problem, with 40 percent of businesses reporting concerns. While commodity prices have fallen, companies in many parts of the world, particularly Asia and Africa, still need to deal with rapidly rising wages.
“There is a troubling long list of risks developing for the majority of global businesses,” said Faye Chua, head of business insight at ACCA. “Many are already, unsurprisingly, reacting to falling opportunities by scaling back on capital and employment investments, which will, in turn, contribute to the further slowdown of the global economy. Combined with the fact that many governments are having to cut back on spending, there are grounds for concern.”