As we enter a new decade, CEOs are showing record levels of pessimism in the global economy, with 53% predicting a decline in the rate of economic growth in 2020. This is up from 29% in 2019 and just 5% in 2018 – the highest level of pessimism since we started asking this question in 2012. By contrast, the number of CEOs projecting a rise in the rate of economic growth dropped from 42% in 2019 to only 22% in 2020. These are some of the key findings of PwC’s 23rd survey of almost 1,600 CEOs from 83 countries across the world, launched today at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
CEO pessimism over global economic growth is particularly significant in North America, Western Europe and the Middle East, with 63%, 59% and 57% of CEOs from those regions predicting lower global growth in the year ahead.
“Given the lingering uncertainty over trade tensions, geopolitical issues and the lack of agreement on how to deal with climate change, the drop in confidence in economic growth is not surprising – even if the scale of the change in mood is,” said Bob Moritz, Chairman, of the PwC Network. “These challenges facing the global economy are not new – however the scale of them and the speed at which some of them are escalating is new, the key issue for leaders gathering in Davos is: how are we going to come together to tackle them.”
“On a brighter note, while there is record pessimism amongst business leaders, there are still real opportunities out there. With an agile strategy, a sharp focus on the changing expectations of stakeholders, and the experience many have built up over the last ten years in a challenging environment, business leaders can weather an economic downturn and continue to thrive.”
CEO confidence in own revenue growth declines
CEOs are also not so positive about their own companies’ prospects for the year ahead, with only 27% of CEOs saying they are “very confident” in their own organisation’s growth over the next 12 months – the lowest level we have seen since 2009 and down from 35% last year.
While confidence levels are generally down across the world, there is a wide variation from country to country, with China and India showing the highest levels of confidence among major economies at 45% and 40% respectively, the US at 36%, Canada at 27%, the UK at 26%, Germany at 20%, France 18%, and Japan having the least optimistic CEOs with only 11% of CEOs very confident of growing revenues in 2020.
When asked about their own revenue growth prospects, the change in CEO sentiment has proven to be an excellent predictor of global economic growth. Analysing CEO forecasts since 2008, the correlation between CEO confidence in their 12-month revenue growth and the actual growth achieved by the global economy has been very close (see exhibit4 in notes). If the analysis continues to hold, global growth could slow to 2.4% in 2020 below many estimates including the 3.4% October growth prediction from the IMF.
China looks beyond the US for growth
Overall the US just retains its lead as the top market CEOs look to for growth over the next 12 months at 30%, one percentage point ahead of China at 29%. However, ongoing trade conflicts and political tensions have seriously dented the attractiveness of the US for China CEOs. In 2018, 59% of China CEOs selected the US as one of their top three growth markets, in 2020 this has dropped dramatically to just 11%. The US loss has been Australia’s gain, with 45% of China CEOs now looking to Australia as a top three key growth market compared with only 9% two years ago.
The other countries making the top five for growth are unchanged from last year – Germany (13%), India (9%) and the UK (9%). A strong result for the UK given the uncertainty created by Brexit. Australia is just outside the top five boosted by its increased attractiveness for China CEOs.
Worries about uncertain economic growth on the rise
In 2019 when asked about the top threats to their organisation’s growth prospects, uncertain economic growth ranked outside the top ten concerns for CEOs at number twelve. This year it has leapt to third place, just behind trade conflicts – another risk that has risen up the CEOs agenda – and the perennial over-regulation, which has again topped the table as the number one threat for CEOs.
CEOs are also increasingly concerned about cyber threats and climate change and environmental damage, however despite the increasing number of extreme weather events and the intensity of debate on the issue, the magnitude of other threats continues to overshadow climate change which still does not make it into the CEOs’ top ten threats to growth.
While CEOs around the world express clear concerns about the threat of over-regulation, they are also predicting significant regulatory changes in the technology sector. Globally over two-thirds of CEOs believe that governments will introduce new legislation to regulate the content on both the internet and social media and to break up dominant tech companies. A majority of CEOs (51%) also predict that governments will increasingly compel the private sector to financially compensate individuals for the personal data that they collect.
However, CEOs are in two minds as to whether governments are striking the right balance in designing privacy regulation between increasing consumer trust and maintaining business competitiveness, with 41% saying it does strike the right balance and 43% saying it doesn’t.
The upskilling challenge
While the shortage of key skills remains a top threat to growth for CEOs and they agree that retraining/upskilling is the best way to close the skills gap, they are not making much headway in tackling the problem with only 18% of CEOs saying they have made “significant progress” in establishing an upskilling programme. This sentiment is echoed by workers. In a separate survey by PwC, 77% of 22,000 workers around the world say they would like to learn new skills or retrain but only 33% feel they have been given the opportunity to develop digital skills outside their normal duties.
“Upskilling will be one of the key issues discussed this week at Davos and business leaders, educators, government and civil society must work together to ensure that people around the world stay productively engaged in meaningful and rewarding work. Leaders have a key role to play; although people may have fears about the future, they want to learn and develop and they are looking to leaders to provide a trusted path forward,” added Bob Moritz.
Climate change – challenge or chance?
Although climate change does not appear in the top ten threats to CEOs’ growth prospects, CEOs are expressing a growing appreciation of the upside of taking action to reduce their carbon footprint. Compared to a decade ago, when we last asked this question, CEOs are now twice as likely to “strongly agree” that investing in climate change initiatives will boost reputational advantage (30% in 2020 compared with 16% in 2010) and 25% of CEOs today compared with 13% in 2010 see climate change initiatives leading to new product and service opportunities for their organisation.
While views of climate change driven product and service opportunities have remained relatively stable in the US and the UK, there has been a dramatic shift in views in China over the last ten years. In 2010, only 2% of China CEOs saw climate change leading to opportunities whereas in 2020 this has risen to 47%, by far the largest increase of CEOs in any country included in the survey. However, for these opportunities to turn into long term success stories the principles of climate change need to be embedded right across a businesses’ supply chain and customer experience.
Post-COVID-19, regaining citizen’s trust should be a priority for governments
The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated governments’ ability to respond to a major global crisis with extraordinary flexibility, innovation and determination. However, emerging evidence suggests that much more could have been done in advance to bolster resilience and many actions may have undermined trust and transparency between governments and their citizens, according to a new OECD report.
Government at a Glance 2021 says that one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic is that governments will need to respond to future crises at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency. “Looking forward, we must focus simultaneously on promoting the economic recovery and avoiding democratic decline” said OECD Director of Public Governance Elsa Pilichowski. “Reinforcing democracy should be one of our highest priorities.”
Countries have introduced thousands of emergency regulations, often on a fast track. Some alleviation of standards is inevitable in an emergency, but must be limited in scope and time to avoid damaging citizen perceptions of the competence, openness, transparency, and fairness of government.
Governments should step up their efforts in three areas to boost trust and transparency and reinforce democracy:
Tackling misinformation is key. Even with a boost in trust in government sparked by the pandemic in 2020, on average only 51% of people in OECD countries for which data is available trusted their government. There is a risk that some people and groups may be dissociating themselves from traditional democratic processes.
It is crucial to enhance representation and participation in a fair and transparent manner. Governments must seek to promote inclusion and diversity, support the representation of young people, women and other under-represented groups in public life and policy consultation. Fine-tuning consultation and engagement practices could improve transparency and trust in public institutions, says the report. Governments must also level the playing field in lobbying. Less than half of countries have transparency requirements covering most of the actors that regularly engage in lobbying.
Strengthening governance must be prioritised to tackle global challenges while harnessing the potential of new technologies. In 2018, only half of OECD countries had a specific government institution tasked with identifying novel, unforeseen or complex crises. To be fit for the future, and secure the foundations of democracy, governments must be ready to act at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency.
Governments must also learn to spend better, according to Government at a Glance 2021. OECD countries are providing large amounts of support to citizens and businesses during this crisis: measures ongoing or announced as of March 2021 represented, roughly, 16.4% of GDP in additional spending or foregone revenues, and up to 10.5% of GDP via other means. Governments will need to review public spending to increase efficiency, ensure that spending priorities match people’s needs, and improve the quality of public services.
Sweden: Invest in skills and the digital economy to bolster the recovery from COVID-19
Sweden’s economy is on the road to recovery from the shock of the COVID-19 crisis, yet risks remain. Moving ahead with a labour reform to facilitate adaptation in a fast-changing economic environment, and investing in digital skills and infrastructure, will be crucial to revive employment and build a sustainable recovery, according to the latest OECD Economic Survey of Sweden.
The pandemic triggered a severe recession in Sweden, despite mild distancing measures and swift government action to protect people and businesses. GDP fell by less than in many other European economies in 2020, thanks to reinforced short-time work, compensation to firms for lost revenue and measures to prop up the financial system, but unemployment still rose sharply. Solid public finances provided room for further stimulus in 2021 to buttress the recovery.
The Survey recommends maintaining targeted support to people and firms until the pandemic subsides, then focusing on strengthening vocational training and skills and increasing investment in areas like high-speed internet and low-carbon transport. Addressing regional inequality, which is low but rising, should also be a priority as the recovery takes hold.
The Survey shows that Sweden has been among the most resilient OECD countries in the face of a historic shock. Yet, like other economies, it faces challenges from demographic changes and the shift to green, digital economies. Investments in education and training, and labour reforms along the lines negotiated by the social partners, will support job creation and strengthen economic resilience. Building on Sweden’s leadership in digital innovation and diffusion will also be key for driving productivity.
After a 3% contraction in 2020, interrupting several years of growth, the Survey projects a rebound in activity with 3.9% growth in 2021 and 3.4% in 2022 as industrial production resumes and exports recover. The recovery in world trade is bolstering the Swedish economy, however the country remains vulnerable to potential disruptions in global value chains.
|The pandemic has aggravated a mismatch in Sweden’s job market, with unfilled vacancies for highly qualified workers coinciding with high unemployment for low-skilled workers and immigrants. The public employment service needs strengthening to provide better support to jobseekers, including immigrants and women, and labour policies should strike the right balance between supporting businesses and workers and supporting transitions away from declining businesses towards growing sectors.|
A rising share of youths and older people in the population, especially in remote areas, is affecting the finances of local governments, which provide the bulk of welfare services. Strengthening local government budgets and ensuring equal welfare provision across the country will require providing tax income to poorer regions more efficiently and raising the economic growth potential across regions through investments in innovation. Improving coordination between government entities and reinforcing the role of universities in local economic networks would help achieve that aim.
Fewer women than men will regain work during COVID-19 recovery
Fewer women will regain jobs lost to the COVID-19 pandemic during the recovery period, than men, according to a new study released on Monday by the UN’s labour agency.
In Building Forward Fairer: Women’s rights to work and at work at the core of the COVID-19 recovery, the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights that between 2019 and 2020, women’s employment declined by 4.2 per cent globally, representing 54 million jobs, while men suffered a three per cent decline, or 60 million jobs.
This means that there will be 13 million fewer women in employment this year compared to 2019, but the number of men in work will likely recover to levels seen two years ago.
This means that only 43 per cent of the world’s working-age women will be employed in 2021, compared to 69 per cent of their male counterparts.
The ILO paper suggests that women have seen disproportionate job and income losses because they are over-represented in the sectors hit hardest by lockdowns, such as accommodation, food services and manufacturing.
Not all regions have been affected in the same way. For example, the study revealed that women’s employment was hit hardest in the Americas, falling by more than nine per cent.
This was followed by the Arab States at just over four per cent, then Asia-Pacific at 3.8 per cent, Europe at 2.5 per cent and Central Asia at 1.9 per cent.
In Africa, men’s employment dropped by just 0.1 per cent between 2019 and 2020, while women’s employment decreased by 1.9 per cent.
Throughout the pandemic, women faired considerably better in countries that took measures to prevent them from losing their jobs and allowed them to get back into the workforce as early as possible.
In Chile and Colombia, for example, wage subsidies were applied to new hires, with higher subsidy rates for women.
And Colombia and Senegal were among those nations which created or strengthened support for women entrepreneurs.
Meanwhile, in Mexico and Kenya quotas were established to guarantee that women benefited from public employment programmes.
To address these imbalances, gender-responsive strategies must be at the core of recovery efforts, says the agency.
It is essential to invest in the care economy because the health, social work and education sectors are important job generators, especially for women, according to ILO.
Moreover, care leave policies and flexible working arrangements can also encourage a more even division of work at home between women and men.
The current gender gap can also be tackled by working towards universal access to comprehensive, adequate and sustainable social protection.
Promoting equal pay for work of equal value is also a potentially decisive and important step.
Domestic violence and work-related gender-based violence and harassment has worsened during the pandemic – further undermining women’s ability to be in the workforce – and the report highlights the need to eliminate the scourge immediately.
Promoting women’s participation in decision-making bodies, and more effective social dialogue, would also make a major difference, said ILO.
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