When CEOs start to lose confidence we should be worried. And today’s global CEOs are worried! That’s the headline from consultancy PwC’s annual survey, which says that only 36% of CEO’s are sure their companies will see short term growth. Down for the second year in a row.
The survey is significant because when chief executives get worried they start to put off investment choices. They retrench, they make decisions to consolidate rather than expand.
PwC’s Chairman Dennis Nally told me he was surprised when he saw the drop in CEO confidence, bearing in mind economies are slowly growing.
What’s bothering Nally is governments’ apparent inability to deal with the various crises facing the global economy: “you’ve got large government deficits,” he said. “How are you going to close the deficit? Cut spending, raise revenue and most places around the world are doing both.”
But what has really upgraded the level of worry is the risk of social unrest, about which most CEOs are concerned. And in an era of high youth unemployment this “becomes a real concern.” In fact, here in Davos, these are the biggest talking points at the moment.
For a forum that is often portrayed as a rich man’s club, this year there is a clear focus on these industrial issues. Phillip Jennings, General Secretary of the UNI Global Union, summed this up to me in one sentence: “The world needs a pay rise.” Unless CEOs start listening to their own surveys and concerns, they could find that out the hard way.
The author is CNN correspondent based in London, host of the weekday one-hour program “Quest Means Business”.