U.S. Finance Executives Among World’s Most Optimistic About Economy via American Express

While the outlook for global business is mixed, U.S. companies are making a steady recovery from the global economic recession, according to the American Express/CFO Research Global Business and Spending Monitor. The eighth annual report surveyed 565 senior finance and corporate leaders around the world, and found U.S. respondents rank among the most optimistic in the world with 83% predicting economic expansion (up from 75% in 2014).

Economy

Outside of the U.S., the report largely finds lower confidence and greater uncertainty than in 2014.

  • Leaders in India and Spain were the only other countries with an increase in economic optimism over 2014 (94% up from 86%, and 81% up from 69%, respectively)
  • Sharp drops in China (78%, down from 94% in 2014), Singapore (70%, down from 82%) and the United Kingdom (74%, down from 93%) reveal that executives expect a slowdown in many recently robust regions

Other notable findings from the report include:

Spending/Investment. The research finds nearly six out of ten respondents (57%) plan on balancing the growth and profitability of their companies by making moderate increases in spending and investment.

  • U.S. finance executives showed a renewed interest in increasing investment in mergers and acquisitions (40%, up from 28% last year)
  • Outside of the United States, many finance executives are reacting to volatility in the business outlook by recommitting to investment in revenue-boosting activities with planned increases in new product and service development and for sales and marketing activities

Employment. All but five of the countries surveyed anticipated a rise in employment in their country.

  • Those anticipating the greatest rises in employment include India (78%), Spain (66%), the U.S. (61%), and Brazil (60%)
  • Respondents from Russia (5%) and France (0%) had the most negative outlook on employment in their countries

Below are further details of the American Express/CFO Research Global Business and Spending Monitor, and the full report is available here.

Worldwide Business Outlook Mixed

NEW YORK, March 4, 2015 – The U.S. is expected to continue its recovery from the global recession, but it may not have as much company, according to a new study from American Express (NYSE: AXP) and CFO Research.  Seven in ten U.S. finance executives report that their companies’ revenues are higher now than a year ago, and U.S. finance leaders rank among the most optimistic in the world, with 83% predicting economic expansion. Finance executives’ confidence in the U.S. economy has grown each year for the last three years, and the current level represents a high-water mark for U.S. companies over the entire eight years of the survey.

The findings in the eighth annual American Express/CFO Research Global Business and Spending Monitor are based on a sampling of 565 senior finance and corporate executives located in North America, Europe, Latin America¹, Asia and Australia.

While the U.S. economy is climbing back steadily, Canadian finance executives are less confident in their economy than their American counterparts (73% for Canadian respondents, up significantly from 62% in 2013, vs. 83% for the U.S. in 2015). However, Canadian businesses are gearing up to invest in growth at even higher levels than in previous years. The combined outlook for the U.S. and Canada sets the North American region apart from other regions as economies and companies attempt to rebuild from the aftermath of global recession.

Economy

Snapshots for each of the regions are as follows:

North America: Canada Increases Spending to Expand Sales, U.S. Invests in M&A

On average, North American respondents expect their company’s planned level of spending and investment to increase by 8%.  At the country level, Canada averages higher at 11% while the U.S. average is 7%.

Canadian businesses, in particular, are positioning themselves to forge ahead in the pursuit of expanded sales. The proportion of Canadian respondents planning to increase investment in new product and service development has soared to 60% this year, a significant jump over the 17% reporting planned increases in 2014. Canadians also show similar surges in plans to boost sales and marketing activities (45% of Canadian respondents this year vs. 24% last year).

American finance executives, however, plan to take a different path towards growth, saying that they expect to increase investment in mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Forty percent (up from 28% last year) say their companies plan on increasing investment in M&A activity, compared with 28% of all respondents to this year’s survey.  The U.S. is one of the few countries where respondents give approximately the same weight to increasing investment in M&A as to increasing investment in either sales and marketing activities (39%) or new product and service development (36%).

“As confidence levels shift around the world, senior finance executives are searching for the best ways to cope with economic uncertainty, market volatility, and the aftermath of recession,” said Susan Sobbott, president, Global Corporate Payments, American Express.  “Many global finance executives appear to be adopting a ‘spend-to-grow’ attitude, making targeted investments as a vehicle for expansion.”

In North America, 57% predict employment will continue to improve.  The U.S. (61%) is near the top of the list of countries overall anticipating a rise in employment.  Canada is less bullish: 44% expect employment will improve.

Economy

European Confidence Plateaus: Spain Most Optimistic, French Outlook Bleakest

Across Europe, growth expectations are mixed.  In Spain, 81% expect economic expansion this year (up from 69% in 2014 and 44% in 2013).  Respondents from France, however, had the lowest level of confidence of any country in the survey – only 29% of French executives believe France will enjoy positive economic growth in 2015.  Germany (67%, down from 74%) and Russia (55%, down from 62%) both experienced less dramatic declines.  Confidence in economic expansion in the United Kingdom appears to have fallen off, perhaps due to the fact that this May sees a General election in the U.K.  Nearly three-quarters (74%) of this year’s U.K. respondents expect expansion in the U.K. economy, down from 93% in 2014.

U.K. Plans Biggest Increase for Investment and Spending Regionally

On average, European respondents expect their company’s planned level of spending and investment to increase by 8%.  At the country level, the U.K. averages higher at 11%.

The survey revealed sharp rises in the number of respondents planning new investment in sales and marketing activities in the U.K. (41% vs. 25% in 2014).  An identical number plan to invest in new product/service development (41%).  A slightly smaller number of respondents in the U.K. (39%) plan to increase investment in mergers and acquisitions (M&A), as do respondents from France (40%). Spain will be investing more in new product/service development (47%), improving production process efficiency (44%), sales and marketing (43%), and new production capacity (38%).

Spain Has Most Positive Employment Outlook in Europe

In Europe, financial leaders are divided between expecting the employment rate to get worse (39%) vs. get better (30%); but again, views diverge widely by country. Spain, which has suffered from a high rate of unemployment, came in this year at 66% expecting improvement, and the U.K. at 41% expecting improvement— the only countries in this region that have a positive outlook on employment and expect conditions to improve. Countries where more respondents expect declines than improvements are Germany (44% expecting declines), Russia (60%), and France (76%).  According to French respondents, the biggest factor affecting employment negatively is tax policies (40%), and for Russian finance leaders it is their country’s economy (26%).

Asia/Australia: India Leader in Economic Confidence, China’s Confidence Drops

More than two-thirds of financial executives in Asia/Australia (67%, down from 70% a year ago) predict expansion in their economy. While India leads the world in economic confidence (94%, up from 86% in 2014 and 78% in 2013), China’s confidence has dropped significantly since 2013 to 78% (down from 94%) and Singapore has also experienced a decline (70%, down from 82% last year and 78% in 2013). Executives from Hong Kong and Japan were each nearly evenly split between those anticipating economic expansion (50% and 52% respectively) and those expecting no change or expecting contraction in their economies (50% and 48% respectively).

India Plans Biggest Increase for Investment and Spending in Asia

On average, respondents in Asia/Australia expect their company’s planned level of spending and investment to increase by 12%.  At the country level, India averages highest at 19%.

Areas where companies plan to increase spending and investments include:

  • Sales and marketing: Hong Kong (50%) and China (48%)
  • New product/service development: Hong Kong (47%) and China (42%)
  • Business intelligence and analytics: India (45%)
  • Improving production efficiency: India and China (each, 45%) and Hong Kong (43%)
  • Increasing production capacity: Hong Kong (43%) and China (42%)
  • Improving administrative process efficiency: China (39%) and Hong Kong (37%)

India Predicts Greatest Rise in Employment Regionally

Across Asia/Australia, more respondents in the region expect employment to improve (37%) than expect it to worsen (23%).  India is again at the top worldwide, and is most likely to anticipate a rise in employment (78%). China (50%) and Japan (29%) are also more likely to expect employment to improve than deteriorate.  The only countries in the region with more respondents expecting employment to decline than expect improvements are Australia (39% expecting declines) and Hong Kong (31%).

Latin America:  Fewer Predict Economic Expansion

A smaller number of financial leaders in Latin America are predicting economic expansion for their region (72%, down from 79% in 2014).  While Brazil has the most optimistic outlook in the region, it has experienced a significant drop in confidence from two years ago (75%, down from 100% in 2013).  Expansion in Mexico has fallen off as well (73%, down from 86% in 2014 and 81% in 2013).  Economic confidence in Argentina is in flux (67%, down slightly from 70% in 2014, but up from 60% in 2013).

Argentina Plans Biggest Increase for Investment and Spending in Latin America

On average, respondents in Latin America expect their company’s planned level of spending and investment to increase by 14%.  At the country level, Argentina averages highest in the region at 17%.

The survey revealed sharp rises in the number of respondents planning new investments in sales and marketing activities in Mexico (45% of respondents this year vs. 13% last year). Mexican respondents will also invest more in business intelligence and analytics (41%), as will Brazilian respondents (40%).  Brazil and Argentina will invest more in improving administrative process efficiency (42% and 38%, respectively).

Brazil Anticipates Greatest Improvement in Employment Regionally

In Latin America, Brazil is near the top of the global list of countries anticipating a rise in employment (60%).  Mexican respondents (53%) expect employment opportunities to improve as well, while more respondents in Argentina expect improvements (38%) than expect declines (29%).

Selected Highlights

Economic Expansion by Country:

% of Respondents Expecting Economic Expansion in Their Countries
Country 2015 2014 2013
India 94% 86% 78%
U.S. 83% 75% 71%
Spain 81% 69% 44%
China 78% 75% 94%
Brazil 75% 80% 100%
U.K. 74% 93% 50%
Mexico 73% 86% 81%
Canada 73% 76% 62%
Singapore 70% 82% 78%
Germany 67% 74% 73%
Argentina 67% 70% 60%
Australia 60% 73% 69%
Russia 55% 62% 39%
Japan 52% 55% 67%
Hong Kong 50% 48% 94%
France 29% 62% 39%

Employment Expectations by Country:

% of Respondents Expecting  Employment to Improve or Become Worse in their Country*
Country Improve Become Worse
India 78% 9%
Spain 66% 16%
U.S. 61% 6%
Brazil 60% 10%
Mexico 53% 10%
China 50% 18%
Canada 44% 17%
U. K. 41% 24%
Argentina 38% 29%
Singapore 30% 17%
Japan 29% 23%
Hong Kong 13% 31%
Australia 19% 39%
Germany 19% 44%
Russia 5% 60%
France 0% 76%

*Percentages do not equal 100% because “Remain the same” responses are not displayed

For the full American Express/CFO Research Global Business and Spending Monitor, visit http://about.americanexpress.com/news/.

Methodology

The Global Business and Spending Monitor, released annually, is based on a sampling of 565 senior finance and corporate executives from large companies around the world. The survey has a margin of error estimated at +/- 4%. Survey responses were collected online in December 2014.

About American Express Global Corporate Payments

Through its Global Corporate Payments division, American Express offers a suite of B2B and T&E payment solutions that help organizations streamline processes and transform them into opportunities for savings, control and efficiency.  American Express can help your organization increase working capital flexibility and strengthen relationships with suppliers.  For more information, visit business.americanexpress.com/us/ and linkedin.com/company/american-express-global-corporate-payments.

About American Express

American Express is a global services company, providing customers with access to products, insights and experiences that enrich lives and build business success.  Learn more at americanexpress.com and connect with us on facebook.com/americanexpress, foursquare.com/americanexpresslinkedin.com/company/american-express, twitter.com/americanexpress, and youtube.com/americanexpress.

Key links to products and services: charge and credit cards, business credit cards, travel services, gift cards, prepaid cards, merchant services, business travel, and corporate card.

About CFO Research

CFO Research is the sponsored research group of CFO Publishing LLC, which produces CFO magazine, CFO.com, and CFO Conferences. CFO Publishing, a portfolio company of Seguin Partners, is the leading business-to-business media brand focused on the information needs of senior finance executives.  CFO Publishing has long-standing relationships with more than 500,000 executives.