Davos 2014: Global CEOs outline threats to world economic growth

PricewaterhouseCoopers International chairman Dennis Nally

Chief executives around the world are more confident about their prospects and increased revenue in 2014 but they are still concerned about threats to global growth.

This is revealed in PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey presented to delegates at the opening of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

PricewaterhouseCoopers International chairman Dennis Nally says CEOs admit generating sustained growth in the post-global financial crisis economy remains a challenge, especially as they deal with changing conditions like slowing growth in the emerging markets.

"CEOs [are] sending a clear message to government with their levels of concerns about over-regulation, fiscal deficits and tax burdens at their highest levels,” Mr Nally says.

"For the future, CEOs tell us they expect three major global trends – rapid technological advances, demographic changes and shifts in economic power – will have a major impact on the future of their businesses. Finding ways of turning these global trends to their advantage will be the key to future success."

Government action, or the lack of it, tops the list of CEO worries. The survey finds. The level of concern about over-regulation at 72% and fiscal deficits at 71% are as high as they have ever been.

Countries where CEOs are particularly worried about over regulation include France 88%, Australia 85%, India 82% and Germany 77%. In the US it is fiscal deficits that have CEOs most worried with 92% CEOs expressing concern, followed by Argentina at 90% and France at 84%.

In addition, CEOs say they are worried almost as much about a slowdown  in emerging economies, 65%, as they are about sluggish growth in developed markets, 71%. Other top concerns include increasing tax burdens (70%), as well as availability of key skills (63%), exchange rate volatility (60%) and lack of stability in capital markets (59%).

But such topical subjects as cyber threats – including lack of data security – and the speed of disruptive technological change are named as threats by less than half of CEOs.

Talking in more detail about regulation, nearly 80% of CEOs say it has increased costs, while 52% say that regulation makes it more difficult to attract skilled workers. And 40% say regulation has inhibited their efforts to pursue a new market opportunity or to pursue innovation.

On the positive side, more than half of CEOs credit regulation for helping to improve service delivery and quality standards.

Future hiring plans: CEOs are also more positive about hiring plans for the coming year. Half say they expect to add to staff in the next 12 months, compared with 45% who had such plans last year.

Industries where job prospects look most positive are technology (63%), business services (62%) and asset management (58%).

Future trends over five years: Top among these is technological advance, cited by 81% of CEOs, followed by demographic shifts, 60%, and shifts in global economic power, 59%.

To meet these and other challenges, CEOs say they are making changes to their talent strategies (93%), customer growth and retention strategies (91%), technology investments (90%), organisational structure/design (89%) and use and management of data (88%).

Dealing with governments: Asked to rank the top priorities for government, CEOs say they should be to ensure financial stability, (53%) improve infrastructure (50%); and help to create a more internationally competitive and efficient tax system (50%).

But less than half (46%) of CEOs say the government in their home country has effectively ensured financial stability, and just 37% give high marks for improved infrastructure. More than half (51%) of CEOs say their government has been ineffective in improving the tax system.

• The PwC's survey involved 1344 interviews conducted in 68 countries during the last quarter of 2013. By region, 445 interviews were conducted in Asia Pacific, 442 in Europe, 212 in North America, 165 in Latin America, 45 in Africa and 35 in the Middle East.

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