European CFO Survey: Business confidence brightens

20 November 2017
In Extenso Avocats
  • Confidence strengthens among Europe's business leaders, with uncertainty decreasing.
  • Outlook improves for revenue growth, hiring and capital spending.
  • Euro area CFOs bolder than non-euro area counterparts.

Business leaders across Europe are more optimistic than they were six months ago and the outlook for revenue growth, hiring and capital spending is improving, according to Deloitte's latest European CFO Survey.

Deloitte has collated the results of surveys run by its member firms in 19 European countries for the Q3 2017 European CFO Survey, giving the views of 1,546 CFOs.

Optimism and revenue expectations brighten

43% of Europe's CFOs say they are more optimistic about the prospects for their company than they were three months ago, up from 38% in Q1's survey. Just 11% say they are less optimistic, down from 13%. Optimism is highest in France, with 78% of CFOs more positive, and lowest in the Netherlands with 23% more optimistic.

46% of CFOs in euro area economies say they are more optimistic, compared to 38% in non-euro countries.

69% of CFOs are confident that their firm will increase revenues over the next 12 months. 73% of CFOs in euro area countries predict revenue growth, compared to 63% in non-euro countries. CFOs in Belgium are the most optimistic about revenues, with 95% predicting growth, while CFOs in Denmark are the least positive, with just 47% expecting growth.

Uncertainties ease

52% of European CFOs say there is a high level of financial and economic uncertainty, down from 61% in Q1. The level of overall uncertainty is its lowest since the launch of the European CFO Survey in Q1 2015.

CFOs in the UK have the highest reading on perceptions of uncertainty, with 85%, while CFOs in Austria had the lowest.

Perceptions of uncertainty are higher in non-euro counties, with 57% reporting high uncertainty, versus 49% in the euro area.

Risk appetite unchanged

33% of European CFOs say now is a good time to take greater risks onto their balance sheets, unchanged from Q1's survey. Just 14% of CFOs in Turkey are willing to take on greater risk, the lowest across the 19 countries, compared to 63% in Finland, the highest. 36% of CFOs in euro area countries say now is a good time to take on risk, compared to 28% in non-euro countries.

Improving outlook for capex and hiring

42% forecast an increase in capital spending in the next 12 months, up from 40% in Q1. 49% of the CFOs in euro area countries plan to increase spending, versus 31% in non-euro countries. 58% of CFOs in Ireland say they plan to increase capex, the highest, compared to just 22% in the UK.

38% of CFOs say they plan to increase employee numbers in the next 12 months, up from 34% in Q1. 74% of CFOs in Belgium plan to increase job numbers, the highest across the 19 countries, with just 12% of CFOs in the UK set to increase hiring, the lowest. 38% of CFOs in euro area countries plan to increase hiring, compared to 27% in non-euro countries.

CFOs focusing on expansion

Europe's CFOs are shifting to more expansionary business strategies. Expansionary strategies outnumber defensive measures in 11 of the 19 countries surveyed, compared to eight of 19 in Q1. Similarly a defensive measure is the top corporate priority in only eight countries, down from 11.

CFOs see risks closer to home

CFOs are less concerned about external risks, and are increasingly focused on local factors affecting their operations. A shortage of skilled labour is cited as a top three risk by CFOs in seven countries, up from four in Q1, and labour costs feature for the first time as a top three risk in two countries. Meanwhile, geopolitical uncertainty features among the top three risks in seven countries, down from ten in Q1.

Interest rate rises expected but minimal impact on strategy

57% of Europe's CFOs say they expect interest rates to rise in their countries over the next 12 months. However, 50% say that any change in interest rates would not lead them to alter their corporate strategies with only small proportions planning measures such as reducing leverage (9%), re-evaluating investment plans (8%) or reducing debt (8%).

Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte, said:

"Buoyed by stronger growth and improving consumer confidence, CFOs across Europe are more optimistic about the outlook for their companies and preparing to increase hiring and spending. This is particularly prominent in euro area countries, with higher levels of optimism, risk appetite and willingness to invest than their counterparts outside the currency bloc."

David Sproul, senior partner and chief executive, Deloitte North West Europe, said:

"Europe's CFOs sense a lower level of uncertainty and perceptions of markets are normalising. This is helping CFOs plan for more expansionary strategies and refocus on addressing longer term challenges, with issues such as skills and digitisation moving back up the agenda."

About Deloitte in France

Deloitte & Associés is the Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu member firm in France and the professional services are delivered by Deloitte & Associés, its subsidiaries and affiliates. Deloitte calls on diversified expertise to cover the scope of services required by its clients of all sizes from all sectors - major multinationals, local micro-companies and medium-sized enterprises. Our 6,000 professionals and partners embody the vigor and success of the Firm in their commitment to clients and their constant concern for service excellence. Deloitte offers a very comprehensive range of services: audit, consulting and risk services, tax and legal, accounting and corporate finance, in accordance with its multidisciplinary strategy and ethical approach. For more information, visit www.deloitte.fr

About In Extenso

A member of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, In Extenso is an entity dedicated to small and medium-sized businesses. Almost 3 300 employees in 170 agencies in France serve 70 000 clients, including companies, firms, entrepreneurs, tradesmen and women, self-employed lawyers and doctors, associations and local authorities.

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Aude de Mauvaisin

Senior Consultant | Deloitte TH&L
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ademauvaisin@deloitte.fr