The 2010 fourth quarter Deloitte Chief Financial Officer Survey, published on 4th January 2011, shows that Optimism among the UKs largest companies rebounded in the fourth quarter of 2010 with appetite for risk rising to levels higher than immediately prior to the recession. Fears of a double dip have abated from the levels seen earlier in the year.
Greater confidence and appetite for risk seem to have led corporates to shift from defensive to expansionary strategies. If 2010 was the year of balance sheet rebuilding and cost cutting, 2011 looks set to be the year in which corporates start spending again. Cost control has dropped from first to third priority for corporates. Introducing new products or services or expanding into new markets is the first priority for corporates in 2011. Even risk-averse CFOs rate this as a top priority for their business. Increasing capital expenditure and expanding by acquisition were selected as strong priorities in 2011 for their business by a third of high risk appetite CFOs. Opportunities for UK businesses in 2011 cited most frequently by CFOs were investing or undertaking acquisitions at lower prices, growing organically and expanding in emerging markets. A new emphasis on expansion by the UKs large companies for 2011 lends support to the idea that the recovery is likely to broaden out through 2011 aided by growth in private sector hiring and capital spending.
Part of this optimism seems to reflect confidence about demand from overseas. Only 39% of CFOs expect the UK to make the biggest contribution to the growth in their companys revenues in 2011. Indeed, 34% of CFOs see emerging markets as making the biggest contribution to revenue growth. Improving credit conditions are also likely to have contributed to rising optimism and risk appetite. Debt finance fell out of favour with CFOs during the recession. But improving credit availability and lower interest rates have led to a marked change in attitudes. In the fourth quarter of 2010 bank borrowing and bond issuance were as popular with CFOs as they were before the credit crunch started, in 2007. And after a period of aggressive corporate debt reduction CFOs think the UK corporate sector is no longer over leveraged.
Against a backdrop of constrained credit supply and weak top line growth the focus for UK corporates over the last two years has been on strengthening balance sheets and cutting costs. Those strategies have worked: profitability has risen sharply, debt levels have declined and companies have generated big increases in cash flow. The evidence from this quarters CFO Survey is that from this position of strength corporates are increasingly planning for growth in 2011.