Almost one year after Switzerland’s central bank abruptly scrapped the cap on its franc-euro exchange rate peg, Swiss chief financial officers (CFOs) remain downbeat about the outlook for the country’s economy.
However, they are increasingly optimistic for their own companies, according to the latest Deloitte CFO survey.
In 2016, the geopolitical and macroeconomic environment will remain challenging for Swiss companies, though firms are looking to embrace opportunities such as innovation, digitalisation as well as market and product growth.
Among the 123 CFOs recently surveyed, 33% rate the prospects for the Swiss economy as negative, while 24% are optimistic. However, since the drastic fall in optimism in the first quarter of 2015, expectations have recovered over the past three quarters and the economic outlook stabilised.
When it comes to the historically low level of interest rates in Switzerland, CFOs do not foresee any change in the near future. More than half (56%) do not expect interest rates to rise until 2018 at the earliest, with another 17% thinking that they will remain unchanged until 2019. Swiss CFOs also see the euro-franc exchange rate remaining at the current level (1.09) in the next 12 months.
“Expectations for the economy have stabilised, though at a negative level. CFOs seem to be more optimistic as to their company’s financial prospects in the next year. But their appetite for risk remains very limited – only one in five thinks it’s a good time to take greater risk in their balance sheet,” said Michael Grampp, chief economist at Deloitte Switzerland.
“This caution is also reflected in their expectations for the euro-franc exchange rate. CFOs are expecting the franc to remain at its current level but are using a slightly strong rate (1.07) for their budgets.”
On the back of the recent terrorist attacks, 70% of Swiss CFOs cite geopolitical risk as the greatest risk to their company, up from 59% in the third quarter.
Other major risks include the strength of the Swiss franc (63%), increasing business regulation (58%) in Switzerland and the shortage of skilled professionals (58%).
Compared with the economic outlook, CFOs are more optimistic for their own company’s outlook over the next 12 months. Almost half (45%) rate their company’s financial prospects as positive, with only 20% rating them as negative. This is a marked improvement on the third quarter.
CFOs are similarly optimistic about growth in revenues, and there is a greater willingness to increase capital expenditure as well as number of employees.
“Swiss CFOs’ responses here may indicate an increased inclination to achieve growth targets through greater investment and higher spending. However, they may also suggest that many companies have already made substantial cuts, leaving little scope for further savings,” Grampp said.
“All in all, we are observing that growth is a key priority for Swiss companies at the moment. After a tumultuous 2015, companies are predominantly looking to rely on their own strengths to ride out the challenges. One of the key opportunities cited by CFOs for 2016 is digitalisation and innovation. In the past year, we’ve observed a shift away from innovation being a challenge to actually being a stand-out factor.”
Causes for concern
Next to digitalisation and innovation, Swiss companies frequently refer to their competiveness, the quality of their products and services, as well as corporate strategy as opportunities for the coming year.
A quarter of the surveyed CFOs cite the strong Swiss franc as a main challenge for 2016. The interest rate environment, shortage of skilled professionals and business regulation are additional causes for concern.
More than a third of CFOs also mention the problems caused by pressure on prices, costs and margins.
The Deloitte CFO survey
Each quarter, Deloitte Switzerland conducts a survey among chief financial officers (CFOs) and group financial directors.
The survey gauges their attitudes towards the outlook for business, financing, risk and strategies, and identifies trends and key themes in the Swiss corporate sector.
The fourth quarter 2015 edition was conducted between November 19 and December 14, with a total of 123 CFOs participating. They represent both listed companies and large private companies from all relevant industries.
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