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CEOs lose confidence in global growth

Solvency II boost: PwC's Bermuda territory leader Arthur Wightman sees Bermuda's pending equivalence with the EU's enhanced insurance regulations as good for business

Business leaders have painted a bleak economic picture for 2016, according to a new survey by professional services firm PwC.

And the level of worry about the future among company leaders is at its highest level for five years.

The global confidence in growth has fallen by ten points, with only 27 per cent of business CEOs predicting that growth will improve over the next 12 months.

And two-thirds of CEOs in the annual PwC annual survey see more threats facing their businesses today than three years ago, while just over one-third are very confident of growth in their own companies in 2016, down four points on last year.

The survey was published to coincide with last week’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

China’s economic rebalancing, falls in the price of crude oil and security concerns have all added to uncertainty about the future among business chiefs.

And confidence in US business leaders is half (16 per cent) of the most optimistic world regions, with western Europe on 33 per cent and the Middle East on 34 per cent.

Almost a third of China’s CEOs (33 per cent) believe economic growth will slow in 2016.

Arthur Wightman, PwC Bermuda leader, said: “Our survey shows that CEOs are less confident about prospects for the global economy than they were in 2015.

“The level of worry is higher than today than at any point in the last five years.”

Mr Wightman added that concern about over-regulation had been voiced by 79 per cent of CEOs — the fourth year in a row the fear had risen.

But he said: “However, in Bermuda, CEOs can take comfort in Solvency II equivalence, which is expected to provide new commercial opportunities to serve the European market in positioning Bermuda’s commercial insurers and reinsurers to compete more efficiently for business in Europe.”

Mr Wightman added that CEOs also recognised the wider stakeholder expectations of their business and the opportunities around that.

He said: “Customers, employees and other stakeholders increasingly care about what companies stand for.

“Reshaping companies built on profit alone into ones where profit and purpose combine is not going to happen quickly or easily, but it’s a transformation that is already starting and that businesses need to keep pace with.”

More than half (56 per cent) of global CEOs said that the top priority for governments should be a “clear and effective” tax system, followed by a skilled, educated and adaptable workforce (53 per cent) and good infrastructure (50 per cent), both physical and digital.

But CEOs tended not to rate their governments highly, particularly around the effectiveness of tax systems and on income equality.

The PwC report said that two-thirds of CEOs (67 per cent) said a stable tax system was more important than low tax rates.

And around one third (33 per cent) said their governments were “ineffective” at safeguarding personal data, with 26 per cent rating their government as effective, with the US, at 60 per cent, one of the countries with the highest level of concern.

Cyber security was cited as a worry for 61 per cent of CEOs, representing threats to both national and business interests, with concern highest among CEOs in the US, UK and Australia (74 per cent or more) and in the banking, technology and insurance sectors.

The PwC global survey, the 19th in an annual series, interviewed more than 1,400 CEOs in 83 countries.