New ACCA and IMA Survey on Global Economy Finds Fragile Confidence in Early 2021

Taylor Fenske
Stern Strategy Group
(on behalf of IMA)
(908) 325-3866

Jeff Simmons
Anat Gerstein, Inc.
(on behalf of ACCA US)
(917) 673-0024


New York and Montvale, N.J., January 26, 2021The latest Global Economic Conditions Survey (GECS) released today from ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) found that global confidence in the fourth quarter of 2020 stalled and remains fragile at the start of 2021.

The GECS, the largest regular economic survey of more than 3,000 senior accountants and finance professionals from around the world, captured the true scale of the global recession caused by the response to the coronavirus pandemic, noting that global economic prospects have deteriorated since the survey was completed on December 8. The full report is available here or at

The survey notes that the global economy contracted by around 4.5% in 2020, the biggest fall in global activity in several decades. Having recovered from lockdown-imposed weakness in the first half of the year, many economies again faced weakness as a second wave of COVID infections triggered renewed lockdowns. The survey envisions a steady recovery this year, but continued uncertainty limits the bounce in consumer and busines confidence, with pre-crisis output not being reached until mid-2022. The 2020 Q4 findings also reveal that:

  • Global orders, employment and capital investment indices recorded a further modest improvement, but still point to activity well below the pre-crisis level in the fourth quarter of 2019.
  • The “fear” indices—concern about customers and suppliers going out of business—edged lower in 2020 Q4 but remain elevated, clearly underlining the extreme uncertainty in the global economic outlook at the start of 2021.
  • Inflation concerns remain negligible with concern about costs staying close to an all-time low.
  • The confidence measure fell back in North America, having surged in the prior third quarter. By contrast, there was a big improvement in Middle East confidence, buoyed probably by continued recovery in oil prices.
  • More than 50% of respondents in Asia Pacific, North America and South Asia expect sustainable recovery in the second half of this year. 

“Last year was the worst for the global economy for several decades,” said Warner Johnston, Head of ACCA USA. “2021 will see recovery, but precisely when and how strong it will be is very uncertain. We anticipate a weak start, followed by a recovery gathering momentum through the second half. Much depends on the evolution of the COVID virus and variants relative to the progress of vaccination programs, and there is great uncertainty surrounding these developments.”

Raef Lawson, Ph.D., CMA, CPA, IMA vice president of research and policy, said,The pandemic has forced millions into extreme poverty as emerging markets suffered recession for the first time in decades last year. Policy responses to the pandemic have left the public finances of most economies in a perilous state with budget deficits in the range of 10% to 15% of GDP in many countries with debt to GDP ratios well over 100%.”

He added, “All this presents a big test for policy makers in terms of when to withdraw policy support and when policy should be tightened to rebuild public finances. Policy mistakes would risk derailing economic recovery.’

Michael Taylor, Chief Economist at ACCA, noted that since polling concluded in December, many countries have witnessed increased COVID-19 infection rates, prompting governments to re-impose restrictions, including national lockdowns. This means that global economic prospects early in 2021 have deteriorated since the Q4 survey. At the same time, there has been progress on the approval of vaccines, raising hopes of a permanent improvement in economic conditions later this year. However, unemployment rates will rise in many countries, potentially undermining consumer confidence and limiting the strength of a rebound.


North America/United States

In North America, confidence dropped in Q4, having jumped by the most on record in Q3. The orders and capital spending indices were both little changed in Q4 and were well below their pre-crisis levels of a year ago. The employment index recovered significantly in Q4, highlighting the continued relatively good jobs market rebound since the early weeks of the pandemic. Overall, the North America region GECS is consistent with continued recovery in early 2021.     

Meanwhile, the U.S. economy suffered one of the smallest contractions among advanced economies last year - likely around 3.5%. A large fiscal package equivalent to around 10% of Gross Domestic Product and easier monetary policy, including cuts in interest rates and greatly increased quantitative easing, cushioned the economic downturn.

But toward the end of 2020, the economy was losing momentum and COVID infections were increasing rapidly. The report notes that the economy was likely to show modest expansion in the fourth quarter of 2020, but renewed weakness is possible in early 2021.

“There are significant risks to the outlook for the year ahead,” Lawson said. “Much depends on the evolution of the COVID virus and variants, rates of infection and the speed and effectiveness of vaccination programs. The central case is economic weakness early on in 2021 as the virus dominates, followed by recovery gathering momentum later in the year as vaccination takes effect. There are significant risks surrounding the timing of these developments. In addition, the emergence of vaccine- resistant variants of the COVID virus, unexpected adverse side effects from vaccination and low vaccine take up are also health-related risks that could cause deviations in the recovery path.”

Fieldwork for the 2020 Q4 survey took place between November 20 and December 8, 2020, and attracted 3086 responses from ACCA and IMA members, including over 300 CFOs.


About ACCA

ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is the global body for professional accountants, offering business-relevant, first-choice qualifications to people of application, ability and ambition around the world who seek a rewarding career in accountancy, finance and management.

ACCA supports its 227,000 members and 544,000 students (including affiliates) in 176 countries, helping them to develop successful careers in accounting and business, with the skills required by employers. ACCA works through a network of 110 offices and centres and 7,571 Approved Employers worldwide, and 328 approved learning providers who provide high standards of learning and development. Through its public interest remit, ACCA promotes appropriate regulation of accounting and conducts relevant research to ensure accountancy continues to grow in reputation and influence.

ACCA has introduced major innovations to its flagship qualification to ensure its members and future members continue to be the most valued, up to date and sought-after accountancy professionals globally. Founded in 1904, ACCA has consistently held unique core values: opportunity, diversity, innovation, integrity and accountability. More information is here:


About IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants)

IMA® is one of the largest and most respected associations focused exclusively on advancing the management accounting profession. Globally, IMA supports the profession through research, the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) and CSCA® (Certified in Strategy and Competitive Analysis) programs, continuing education, networking, and advocacy of the highest ethical business practices. Twice named Professional Body of the Year by The Accountant/International Accounting Bulletin, IMA has a global network of more than 125,000 members in 150 countries and 300 professional and student chapters. Headquartered in Montvale, N.J., USA, IMA provides localized services through its four global regions: The Americas, Asia/Pacific, Europe and Middle East/India. For more information about IMA, please visit