Optimism in financial departments in the Middle East rank among highest globally
Chief Financial Officers in the Middle East reported the highest level of optimism during the second quarter of 2012, compared to 11 other geographies surveyed, according to a report by Deloitte entitled Retrenching Again.
The report provides highlights of recent CFO survey results gathered from around the globe, gauging attitudes towards the general economic outlook, financing, valuations and risk.
Globally, pessimism amongst CFOs is growing, having increased from the first quarter of 2012, says James Babb from Deloitte. Continuing worries associated with the Eurozone debt crisis, fears of potential slowdowns in China and India, and renewed concerns about the U.S. economic situation have collided to make CFOs rethink their positive vibes. Yet, the main exception out of the 11 geographies surveyed is the Middle East, where optimism amongst CFOs is growing, he added.
In the Middle East, more than half of CFOs say they are optimistic about their companys prospects, but that is down from 72 percent in the first half of 2011. The price of oil and market growth in that region continues to bolster optimism. But political tensions in the region, coupled with the Eurozone crisis, are giving some finance chiefs pause, with 74 percent of them rating the general level of external financial and economic uncertainty as either above normal or at a high level.
The main exception out of the 11 geographies surveyed is the Middle East, where optimism amongst CFOs is growing.
Highlights from the 2012 Middle East CFO Survey include:
- CFOs continue to have a risk off attitude toward protecting their balance sheets. Still, some 45 percent of CFOs expect the total debt on their balance sheets to increase a little over the next three years.
- Some 60 percent of CFOs expect the levels of M&A in the MENA region to increase, up from 43 percent in Q3 2011.
- Priorities for the next 12 months increasing cash flows and cash balances, reducing costs, as well as selective acquisitions, funded internally.
No appetite for risk
Many CFOs agree that now is not the time to be taking more risk onto their balance sheets and given their cash holdings, they probably dont have to. CFOs in the Middle East continue to view risk negatively with 72 percent saying now is not the time to take more on, despite the fact that 60 percent expect levels of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) to somewhat increase in that region.
In the Middle East, CFO optimism for the first half (H1) 2012 remains somewhat low compared to earlier surveys, primarily due to the political tensions in the region and the crisis within the Eurozone. Factors that kept the CFOs in the Middle East optimistic are rising oil prices and regional market growth. Overall, however, 52 percent of CFOs are optimistic about their own companys prospects compared to the last survey. That is down from 72 percent in the first half of 2011.
Priorities for the future
Over the next 12 months, CFOs are focused on reducing costs and increasing cash flow. Disposing of assets and capital expenditure and raising dividends/share buybacks are not high priorities. In fact, some 35 percent of the CFOs expect free cash flow to increase by up to 10 percent, primarily driven by increasing revenues. Some 60 percent of the CFOs expect the levels of M&A activity in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region will increase. This is up from 43 percent in Q3 2011. The respondents are most likely to use existing cash or operating cash flow to fund these transactions. However, only 38 percent of the CFOs would look into acquiring in a new geographical region. This focus on potential acquisitions stems from the view of almost 50 percent of CFOs that equity values are somewhat undervalued; 27 percent believe they are at fair value.
A combined 74 percent of the CFOs rated the general level of external financial and economic uncertainty as either above normal or at a high level. Due to this level of uncertainty, when asked if it is a good time to be taking greater risk with their balance sheets, 72 percent of the respondents said no.
Cash is king
Some 45 percent of the CFOs expect the total debt on their balance sheets to increase a little over the next three years, with the expectation that their ability to service their debt to slightly increase or remain the same. When asked to rank their debt reduction strategies over the next three years, CFOs cited utilizing cash reserves as the top strategy, followed closely by asset sales and equity issuance.