What a difference a year makes. Nearly 30% of business leaders believe that global economic growth will decline in the next 12 months, approximately six times the level of 5% last year – a record jump in pessimism. This is one of the key findings of PwC’s 22nd annual survey of 1,300 plus CEOs around the world, launched today at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. This is in vivid contrast to last year’s record jump, 29% to 57%, in optimism about global economic growth prospects.
Although, all is not doom and gloom: 42% still see an improved economic outlook, though this is down significantly from a high of 57% in 2018. Overall, CEOs’ views on global economic growth are more polarised this year but trending downward. The most pronounced shift was among CEOs in North America, where optimism dropped from 63% in 2018 to 37% likely due to fading of fiscal stimulus and emerging trade tensions. The Middle East also saw a big drop from 52% to 28% due to increased regional economic uncertainty.
The drop in CEO optimism has also impacted growth plans beyond their own country borders. The US narrowly retains its position as the top market for growth at 27%, down significantly from 46% in 2018. The second most attractive market, China, also saw its popularity fall to 24%, down from 33% in 2018. Overall, India is the rising star on the list this year, recently surpassing China as the fastest growing large economy.
“CEOs’ views of the global economy mirror the major economic outlooks, which are adjusting their forecasts downward in 2019,” said Bob Moritz, Global Chairman, PwC. “With the rise of trade tension and protectionism it stands to reason that confidence is waning.”
Confidence in short-term revenue growth has fallen sharply
The unease about global economic growth is lowering CEOs’ confidence about their own companies’ outlook in the short term. Thirty-five percent of CEOs said they are ‘very confident’ in their own organisation’s growth prospects over the next 12 months, down from 42% last year.
Taking a closer look at some country-specific results, CEOs’ confidence reflected the global drop:
- In China, dropping from 40% in 2018 to 35% this year – due to trade tensions, US tariffs and weakened industrial production
- In the US, dropping from 52% to 39% – due to trade tensions and slowing economy
- In Germany, dropping from 33% to 20% – due to trade tensions, slowing economy and risk of disorderly Brexit
- In Argentina, dropping from 57% to 19% – due to recession and currency collapse
- In Russia, dropping from 25% to 15% – due to decline in export demand, currency volatility and higher unemployment
To drive revenue this year, CEOs plan to rely primarily on operational efficiencies at 77% and organic growth at 71%.
Top markets for growth: Confidence in US continues despite significant dip
The US retains its lead as the top market for growth over the next 12 months. However, many CEOs are also turning to other markets, reflected in the dramatic drop in the share of votes in favor of the US, from 46% in 2018 to just 27% in 2019. China narrowed the gap, but also saw its popularity fall from 33% in 2018 to 24% in 2019.
As a result of the ongoing trade conflict with the US, China’s CEOs have diversified their markets for growth, with only 17% selecting the US, down from 59% in 2018. The other three countries rounding out the top five for growth include Germany at 13%, down from 20%; India at 8%, down from 9%; and the UK at 8%, down from 15%.“The turn away from the US market and shift in Chinese investment to other countries are reactions to the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing trade dispute between the US and China,” stated Moritz.
Threats to growth: Driven by economy, not existential
As indicators predict an imminent global economic slowdown, CEOs have turned their focus to navigating the surge in populism in the markets where they operate. Trade conflicts*, policy uncertainty, and protectionism have replaced terrorism, climate change, and increasing tax burden in the top ten list of threats to growth.
Of CEOs ‘extremely concerned’ about trade conflicts, 88% are specifically uneasy about the trade issues between China and the US. Ninety-eight percent of US CEOs and 90% of China’s CEOs have voiced these concerns. Of China’s CEOs who are ‘extremely concerned’ about trade conflicts, a majority are taking a strong reactive approach, with 62% adjusting their supply chain and sourcing strategy. Fifty-eight percent are adjusting their growth strategy to different countries.
Data & Analytics and Artificial Intelligence
This year’s survey took a deep dive into Data & Analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), two key areas on leaders’ radar, to get CEOs’ insights on the challenges and opportunities.
Data & Analytics – Lingering information gap
This year’s survey revisited questions about data adequacy first asked in 2009. It was found that CEOs continue to face issues with their own data capabilities, resulting in a significant information gap that remains ten years on. Despite billions of dollars of investments made in IT infrastructure over this time period, CEOs report still not receiving comprehensive data needed to make key decisions about the long-term success and durability of their business.
Leaders’ expectations have certainly risen as technology advances, but CEOs are keenly aware that their analysis capabilities have not kept pace with the volume of data which has expanded exponentially over the past decade. When asked why they do not receive comprehensive data, CEOs point to the ‘lack of analytical talent’ (54%), followed by ‘data siloing’ (51%), and ‘poor data reliability’ (50%) as the primary reasons. When it comes to closing the skills gap in their organisation, CEOs agree that there is no quick fix. Forty-six percent see significant retraining and upskilling as the answer, with 17% also citing establishing a strong pipeline directly from education as an option.
“As technological changes continue to disrupt the business world, people with strong data and digital skills are in even higher demand and increasingly harder to find,” shared Moritz. “That said, the need for people with soft skills is also critical, which is why business, government and educational institutions need to work together to address the demands of the evolving workforce.”
Eighty-five percent of CEOs agree that AI will dramatically change their business over the next five years. Nearly two-thirds view it as something that will have a larger impact than the internet.
Despite the bullish view on AI, 23% of CEOs currently have ‘no current plans’ to pursue AI, with a further 35% ‘planning to do so’ in the next three years. Thirty-three percent have taken ‘a very limited approach’. Fewer than 1 in 10 CEOs have implemented AI on a wide scale.
When it comes to the impact AI will have on jobs, 88% of China’s CEOs believe AI will displace more jobs than it creates. Other Asia-Pacific CEOs are also pessimistic at 60%, compared to 49% globally. CEOs in Western Europe and North America are less doubtful, with 38% and 41% believing AI will displace more jobs than it creates.
“Although organisations in Asia-Pacific, North America, and Western Europe have reported comparable levels of AI adoption, we see a growing divide over their belief about the potential impacts of AI on society and the role government should play in its development,” stated Moritz.
Urgent action needed to address growing opioid crisis
Governments should treat the opioid epidemic as a public health crisis and improve treatment, care and support for people misusing opioids. Overdose deaths continue to rise, fuelled by an increase in prescription and over-prescription of opioids for pain management and the illicit drugs trade, according to a new OECD report.
Addressing Problematic Opioid Use in OECD Countries examines how, over the past few years, the crisis has devastated families and communities, especially in North America. It documents that deaths are also rising sharply in Sweden, Norway, Ireland, and England and Wales.
Between 2011 and 2016, in the 25 OECD countries with available data, opioid-related deaths increased by more than 20%. In Canada, for example, there were more than ten thousand opioid-related deaths between January 2016 and September 2018, with rates increasing from 8.4 per 100,000 people to 11.8 over this period. Opioid abuse has also put a growing burden on health services through hospitalisation and emergency room visits.
“The opioid epidemic has hit the most vulnerable hardest,” said Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and G20 Sherpa, launching the report in Paris. “Governments need to take decisive action to stop the tragic loss of life and address the terrible social, emotional and economic costs of addiction with better treatment and health policy solutions. But the most effective policy remains prevention.”
The majority of those who die in Europe are men, accounting for 3 out of 4 deaths. However, in the United States, opioid use has been rising among pregnant women, particularly among those on low incomes. Having a mental health disorder was also associated with a two-fold greater use of prescription opioids in the US.
Prisoners too are vulnerable. The prevalence rate of opioid use disorders in Europe was less than 1% among the general public but averaged 30% in the prison population. Social and economic conditions, such as unemployment and housing, have also contributed to the epidemic.
An increase in prescription and over-prescription of opioids for pain management is among the factors driving the crisis. Governments should review industry regulations to ensure they protect people from harm as, since the late 1990s, manufacturers have consistently downplayed the problematic effect of opioids.
Doctors should improve their prescribing practices, for instance through evidence-based clinical guidelines and increased surveillance of opioid prescriptions. Governments can also regulate marketing and financial relationships with opioid manufacturers. Coverage for long-term medication-assisted therapy, such as methadone and buprenorphine, should be expanded, in coordination with harm minimisation specialised services for infectious diseases management, such as HIV and hepatitis.
Strengthening the integration of health and social services, such as unemployment and housing support, and criminal justice systems would help improve treatment for people with Opioid Use Disorder.
Italy should boost spending and strengthen cooperation and integration of employment services
Italy should boost spending and cooperation at national and regional levels as part of broader efforts to help more people into work and reduce the country’s high unemployment rate, according to a new OECD report.
Strengthening Active Labour Market Policies in Italy says that the country faces greater labour market challenges than most other OECD countries. The employment rate and labour productivity are low, youth unemployment is still around 30% and the gender employment gap and long-term unemployment are decreasing only slowly.
Regional disparities are high and persistent compared to most other OECD countries. Spending on active labour market policies (0.51% of GDP) is close to the OECD average but well below the average of EU countries and levels in countries with similar unemployment rates. Moreover, active labour market policies are not well targeted to the most effective programmes and people in need, relying heavily on employment incentives. Only 2% of the budget is devoted to services that have internationally proved to be more cost-effective, such as job mediation, job placement and related services.
Public employment services play only a modest role as job brokers. Only about half of unemployed persons in Italy are registered with the public employment service (centri per l’impiego) and only half of them use these services to look for work. Access to and quality of employment services vary greatly across the country.
“To improve the performance of employment services, there is a need for further funding, boosting the local offices’ staff and their skills and modernising the IT infrastructure,” said Stefano Scarpetta, OECD Director for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, launching the report in Rome. “The ongoing reform started by the Jobs Act and the recent additional financial allocations to the system of public employment services have the potential to improve the performance of employment services in Italy.”
However, for the real gains to the labour market to emerge, cooperation and co-ordination should be simultaneously introduced in the system. Within the decentralised governance system, national and regional authorities need to agree on a binding framework for accountability, enabling to measure performance of employment offices according to a set of indicators and their regionally-adjusted target levels.
The funding of local offices from the state budget should be somewhat contingent not only on the number of clients to serve but also on improvements in performance indicators, thus providing incentives to improve the quality and effectiveness of services provided.
The recent introduction of the citizen income (Reddito di cittadinanza) adds further responsibilities to the system of employment services as the new benefit recipients should receive support with job-search and should be provided the necessary active measures to succeed in that. As such, improvements in the investment and performance of the system of employment services become today more critical than ever.
Oil Market Report: Markets remaining calm
The theme we identified in last month’s Report of “mixed signals” is appropriate again this month, with geopolitics and industry disruptions confusing the supply outlook, and the first change to our 2019 demand outlook for several months. The ongoing geopolitical supply concerns around Libya, Iran, and Venezuela have been joined in the past few days by the attacks on shipping off Fujairah and on two pumping stations in Saudi Arabia. At the time of writing, there is no disruption to oil supplies and prices are little changed. The IEA is monitoring the situation, particularly in view of the proximity of Fujairah to the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz. We are also monitoring the impact of the contamination of Russian crude oil passing through the 1.4 mb/d Druzhba pipeline system. The issue will be resolved in due course, eased by commercial and government stock draws by Russia’s customers. One consequence could be a loss of confidence in the quality of the crude flows and thus a search, where feasible, for alternative supplies that could intensify price pressures for heavy/medium sour crude oil.
Despite the difficult geopolitical backdrop and other supply problems, headline oil prices are little changed from a month ago at just above $70/bbl for Brent. In the intervening period, the decision by the United States to cease the waiver programme for buyers of Iran’s crude oil did see Brent briefly reach $75/bbl. However, there have been clear and, in the IEA’s view, very welcome signals from other producers that they will step in to replace Iran’s barrels, albeit gradually in response to requests from customers. There is certainly scope for other producers to step up production with our data showing that in April parties to the Vienna Agreement collectively produced 440 kb/d less than they promised, with Saudi Arabia producing 500 kb/d below its allocation. Of course, as we wrote in the February edition of this Report, there are quality issues for refiners used to processing Iranian barrels and the fact that increases in output come at the cost of reducing the global spare capacity cushion.
In this Report, there is a modest offset to supply worries from the demand side. Our headline growth estimate for 2019 has changed little since the middle of last year, but this month we cut it by 90 kb/d to a still healthy 1.3 mb/d. The reduction is mainly concentrated in 1Q19 on weaker than expected data for Brazil, China, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, and elsewhere lowering growth by 410 kb/d versus our last Report. Even so, slower demand growth is likely to be short-lived, as we believe that the pace will pick up during the rest of the year. An important implication of our revised demand data is that in 1Q19 the oil market saw an implied surplus of supply over demand of 0.7 mb/d, which was higher than previously suggested. As we move through 2Q19, while there is considerable uncertainty on the supply side, it is highly likely that the implied balance will flip into an indicative deficit of about the same size. Stocks in the OECD at the start of April have fallen back to the level seen in July in terms of days of forward cover and other stock indicators are pointing in the same direction.
For now, despite all the supply uncertainty, headline Brent oil prices are little changed from a month ago. However, the backwardation has steepened considerably and front month prices are about $3/bbl higher than for six months out. The decline of 230 kb/d in the North Sea loading programme for June versus May, although not a surprise, is another important factor adding to overall concerns about supply. Elsewhere, contract prices are rising sharply with Asian customers paying significantly more for barrels from Middle East sources as they seek to replace their normal supplies of Iranian crude. Basrah Light, for example, was reported as offered at its highest level for nearly eight years.
The IEA is reassured to see that the challenges posed by the supply uncertainties are being managed and we hope that major players will continue to work to ensure market stability.
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