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Business confidence in the Middle East and Africa trailing Europe

Can there be anywhere in the world less confident about its business prospects than Europe right now? Most people would answer that question with an emphatic ‘no’. But, during our recent annual conference in London, we polled the 280 delegates – from all corners of the globe - and got some contrary and interesting views.

36% of RSM members in Europe categorised business confidence in their respective countries as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. Surprisingly, both Africa and the Middle East scored lower than Europe on business confidence, despite many countries in those regions experiencing relatively high levels of economic growth. Just 25% and 22% of accounting professionals respectively in those regions rated business confidence as ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

Needless to say, business confidence is absolutely critical. If businesses do not feel optimistic, they will be reluctant to invest. As we all know, increased capital spending by private businesses will be needed to kick-start growth, but many organisations across Europe are still in cost-cutting mode.

Contrast this with Africa, where many economies are growing strongly. Confidence is relative of course, so it’s entirely possible to be less bullish despite a more favourable economic reality. The fortunes of African economies are closely tied to demand from the U.S., Europe and China, but with demand muted, and commodity prices falling, many African economies are facing growing headwinds.

Within Europe the picture is polarised. Whilst 62% of delegates from RSM Germany rated confidence as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, business confidence from UK delegates is significantly below the European average, with only the Spanish more pessimistic about their economic prospects among major European economies. Just 9% of RSM delegates from the UK ranked business confidence as either ‘good’ or ‘very good’, whereas RSM members from Spain are the most pessimistic among the five major European economies, with none rating business confidence as ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

70% of RSM members in the Americas and 66% in Asia/Asia Pacific rated business confidence as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. It’s a little surprising to see confidence in the Americas higher than Asia, but then Americans are known for their optimism, and with the prospect of energy self-sufficiency in the U.S. a growing possibility, there is good reason for feeling positive. Energy is one of the largest input costs for manufacturing businesses, so the shale gas boom could provide a much-needed competitive boost to U.S. industry.

Looking forward to 2013, 42% of RSM members in Europe think business confidence will decline over the next 12 months. Only African RSM members are less optimistic: just 25% thought confidence would improve, compared to 36% of Europeans.

RSM members have their fingers directly on the pulse of businesses in their respective countries, so this survey provides a fascinating overview of economic vitality. 2012 has been a tough year for the global economy, but there is reason to hope that the prognosis for 2013 will be a little better.

Author

Jean M Stephens
Chief Executive Officer

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