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Global Economic Conditions Survey shows business confidence rising in the United States, dropping globally

The latest Global Economic Conditions Survey (GECS) from IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) and ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) shows business confidence rising in the United States while dropping globally in Q4 2016 amid ongoing political and economic uncertainty. The report - the largest regular economic survey of accountants around the world - can be viewed at http://www.imanet.org/about-ima/news-and-media-relations/press-releases/2017/1/18/ima-press-release.

The survey, which included more than 4,500 finance professionals and business leaders worldwide, found that while the economic outlook has improved in the United States and China over the last quarter, the Eurozone has hit its lowest confidence levels since 2011.

The global decline, the survey noted, is due to: government investment falling to its lowest level since the start of 2016, with many developed markets still firmly in austerity mode; changes in the political landscape stemming from the recent United States elections; uncertainty over trade between the United States and China; and, concerns over Brexit and the forthcoming European elections.

The survey found that 44% of respondents expressed concern over falling income due to low levels of government expenditure, while another 43% reported worsening business confidence. Across the Eurozone, the resignation of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in December 2016, combined with a series of upcoming national elections, led to a downbeat mood, while business confidence in the United Kingdom fell sharply ahead of Brexit negotiations.

“Current political uncertainty is clearly having an impact on global business confidence,” said Faye Chua, head of business insights at ACCA. “In the United States, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is unlikely to be ratified while likely restrictions on trade with key markets, including China and Mexico, are major factors. Uncertainty over the outcome of elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany – which could lead to major policy shifts for regional trade and the future direction of the region – all contribute to a gloomy outlook in 2017.”

Nevertheless, she added, “It’s not all bad news. Despite these concerns, the global economy may be on course for growth in 2017 as China responds positively to its economic stimulus programme and the US maintains a partial recovery.”

Raef Lawson, Ph.D., CMA, CPA, IMA vice president of research and policy, noted that confidence in the United States is holding up. “There is a real sense that companies in the United States are optimistic about their short-term prospects, with confidence rising for a fourth consecutive quarter,” he said. “This is in part due to growing expectation of infrastructure spending and tax cuts under the new administration, and reflects ongoing improvements in economic health. Unemployment figures have fallen to pre-financial crisis levels, with 200,000 jobs added each month over the past year. Concerns remain however, particularly across the manufacturing sector that an appreciating dollar could impact upon future exports, driving up costs.”

Economic confidence in North America increased in Q4 2016 to its highest level since Q4 2014, with 33% of respondents more confident about their prospects, compared with 26% feeling less confident. Conversely, while confidence improved in the United States, it dropped sharply in Canada in Q4 2016, primarily due to a less rosy economy there.

In the United States, economic growth is likely to accelerate in the near-term, helped by increased government spending and tax cuts. Tighter monetary policy in the United States would lead to a stronger U.S. dollar, which could cause problems for those emerging economies that have high levels of foreign currency debt.

Fieldwork for the Q4 2016 GECS took place between November 24 and December 13, 2016 and attracted 4,551 responses from IMA and ACCA members around the world, including more than 350 CFOs.