Chief financial officers are biding their time before making large investments because of uncertainty about economic growth and government spending.
In North America, just 4.3% are predicting an increase in capital spending, according to a quarterly survey by professional services firm Deloitte – the lowest result in the history of the survey.
Deloitte says sluggish economic performance and the fiscal cliff negotiations, which had not been resolved when participants filled out the survey, caused the cautious attitude.
Though the United States found a way to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff at the start of the year, politicians did not agree a deal on the sequester, the latest round of cuts that came into effect on March 1, which shows that uncertainty concerning the discussions in Washington has not gone away.
The cautious atmosphere extended to Europe. In the UK, 93% of CFOs rated the level of financial and economic uncertainty to be above normal, and in the Netherlands, only 12% of CFOs said now was a good time to take greater risks with their balance sheets.
Perhaps the gloomiest results came from Spain, where 98% of respondents said they did not expect an improvement in major economic indicators before the second half of 2013.
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