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Global Trade Drying Up, Says Economic Survey of Finance Professionals

Feb 27th 2012
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ACCA and IMA join forces to provide powerful insight into challenges facing business.

Finance professionals believe there will be a renewed global economic downturn in 2012, as the largest-ever quarterly survey of professional accountants shows that international trade continued to dry up at the end of last year.

The latest survey of 3,775 professional accountants, including 1,414 senior executives, from around the world, is the result of a collaborative effort to develop a robust and powerful record of the state of the global economy. The two professional bodies who conducted the survey are: 

  1. The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the global body for professional accountants that has conducted the Global Economic Conditions Survey since 2009; and
  2. The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), the US-based association focused exclusively on the management accounting profession.

Their views paint a sobering picture of the global economy, says report author Manos Schizas, senior policy adviser with ACCA: "Almost three-quarters of the finance professionals we sampled believe that the global economy is either deteriorating or stagnating, with nearly half reporting a loss of confidence in the prospects of their organizations during the last quarter of 2011."

"Once again, the biggest loss of confidence came in Hong Kong SAR, Singapore, and Cyprus, all countries heavily exposed to international trade and cross-border financial activity, which also reported some of the worst perceptions of the global economy; this among other things suggests to us that international trade is in decline." said Dr. Raef Lawson, vice president of research at IMA.

Similarly, the survey found that professionals in utilities firms, which are often domestically focused and fairly robust to economic conditions, reported some of the strongest net confidence gains. On the other hand, pharmaceuticals and IT/communications firms were some of the hardest hit.

At the regional level, Central and Eastern Europe have performed the worst in terms of business confidence, and the Asia-Pacific region is losing confidence at a rate faster than that of Western Europe. Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia remain the most upbeat regions, in terms of both business confidence and respondents' perceptions on the state of the global economy.

While respondents in some regions have said there are encouraging signs from resilient levels of new orders, the damage done to global demand over the last year has been substantial.

"After three consecutive quarters of weakening demand, the cumulative effect is beginning to take its toll on business, and with banks around the world facing an uphill climb toward capital adequacy, tightening finance is now adding to this challenge. The result is a deteriorating outlook for business cash flow around the world, which may be driving a rise in business failures. 

Inflationary pressures, which built up steadily over the last two years, are now easing, but the underlying causes of this trend may be just as worrisome as last year's rise in operating costs", said Schizas.

In line with this deteriorating outlook, survey findings point to weakening trends in global employment and investment. ACCA and IMA find this particularly worrisome, because these two indicators have remained weak throughout the last three years and are crucial to any kind of sustainable recovery.

Finally, the survey's findings suggest governments have to perform a tough balancing act in coming years if they are to support a flagging economic recovery. Sustainable fiscal stimulus is a luxury that not all governments can afford, especially among developed nations, while austerity is proving hard to reconcile with sustained growth. As a result, government approval levels are at a record low, just when they are most likely to influence business confidence.

Read the entire Global Economic Conditions Survey Report: Q4, 2011

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