UK companies see sharp rise in business confidence

Business confidence among chief financial officers in the UK has seen its sharpest rise since 2020.

A quarter of the 64 CFOs surveyed from some of the UK’s largest companies were more optimistic about financial prospects for their business than they were three months earlier.

Although risk appetite is described as “subdued”, the survey also indicates greater spending on artificial intelligence (AI) to increase productivity.

The increase in confidence was the largest since the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in 2020, according to Deloitte, which publishes a quarterly CFO Survey.

Despite the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank on March 10 and pressures on some regional US banks, the survey suggests these events “seem to have had little, if any, impact on UK CFO sentiment”. 

The perceptions of external financial and economic uncertainty have fallen from 71% of CFOs rating uncertainty as high or very high in Q4 2022 to 39% doing so in Q1 2023. 

CFOs now rate external uncertainty at levels “far below” the previous peak last autumn, the start of the pandemic in 2020, and following the EU referendum in 2016, according to the research.

Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte, said: “Business confidence has rebounded, helped by a decrease in energy prices, an easing of Brexit concerns and an improving inflation backdrop.” 

He said that finance leaders reported little change in credit conditions, suggesting that the March banking crisis did not affect the pricing and availability of credit for UK corporates. Nevertheless, corporates remain in defensive mode, and CFO risk appetite is subdued.

The survey further showed that an “overwhelming majority” of CFOs expect significant growth in capital spending on AI over the next five years. 

Susannah Streeter, head of money and markets at fund distributor Hargreaves Lansdown, said the Deloitte survey reflected a “glass half full attitude” but added that CFO wariness “won’t help at a time when the UK is in desperate need of a boost in investment to help emerge from stagnation. Only AI appears to have the investment pulling power, with big companies nervous about dropping behind the pack when it comes to beefing up machine learning and other artificial intelligence applications”.

© 2023 funds europe

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