Concerns about May’s general election at home and worries about the future of the EU have resulted in a dip in optimism and risk appetite among chief financial officers (CFOs), according to research from Deloitte
The firm’s latest quarterly CFO Survey, which gauged the views of 119 CFOs of FTSE 350 and other large private UK companies, found rising level of concern over the last three months relating to the general election and to deflation and weakness in the Euro area and a possible referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.
Risk appetite among CFOs fell at the end of last year, with 56% of CFOs saying that now is a good time to take greater risk onto their balance sheets, down from a record reading of 71% in Q3 2014.
In addition 60% of CFOs enter 2015 with above normal, high or very high levels of uncertainty facing their businesses, up from a low of 49% in Q2 2014 but at the same level seen 12 months ago.
Deloitte’s data shows CFOs’ optimism about the prospects for their company has declined to its lowest level in two years, but the firm says the optimists continue to outnumber the number of pessimists.
Despite these uncertainties, CFOs are upbeat about prospects for UK earnings growth and business investment in 2015. On average, CFOs expect earnings in their businesses to rise by 2.9% in 2015.
In addition, the proportion of CFOs for whom increasing capital expenditure is a strong priority hit to a two-year high in Q4 2014. On average CFOs expect their investment in the UK to rise by 9% in 2015, following growth of about 8% in 2014.
Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte, said: ‘The central challenges facing the UK’s largest companies as they enter 2015 are policy uncertainty at home and economic and geopolitical risks overseas. Rising levels of uncertainty have caused a weakening of corporate risk appetite which, nonetheless, remains well above the long-term average.
‘This marks a big shift in thinking. Going into each year, from 2008 to 2013, CFOs’ main concern was the state of the UK economy. Now the risks are seen as lying elsewhere.’