China's slowing economy has dominated the survey findings this quarter, although ACCA and IMA stress that there are few signs of the hard landing many commentators had feared. That said, both confidence and investment are falling despite increasing business opportunities. Survey editor Manos Schizas, Senior Economic Analyst with ACCA said: "The point now is to see how far and how fast the Chinese slowdown will travel. Our members in Africa tend to feel any fallout from Asia fairly quickly, and there could be implications for other markets which trade with China."
According to the survey, the flip side of the Chinese slowdown is a recovery for the US economy, where investment is on the rise and confidence is high, despite significant potential problems.
With growth faltering once again, the finance professionals surveyed by ACCA and IMA are rethinking their attitudes towards public spending. However, the policy choice is not quite so simple. Accountants working in major markets such as the US, China, Russia, Malaysia, or Pakistan - economies relied on by others for trade and export opportunities - believe that fiscal stimulus by their governments is already unsustainable. It was in only a few markets that respondents believed that their governments could spend both robustly and sustainably - places such as Singapore, or the UAE.
Manos Schizas said:"Finance professionals who responded to this survey were quite at ease with the prospect of austerity until mid-2010. Then the recovery failed to take off and everything changed. Relatively few believe their governments can make austerity work, even in countries such as Ireland where it has been executed quite successfully. Except this time there is a limit to what even countries with strong credit ratings and no liquidity constraints, such as the US and China, can do."
UAE - leading the recovery, for now
The UAE remained the most confident among the markets surveyed, with 35% of respondents here reporting confidence gains (down from 42%) against 27% reporting losses (up from 23%). While the overall loss of momentum is consistent with global trends, it is worth noting than only the UAE recorded net confidence gains in the second quarter of 2012. Not surprisingly, positive attitudes towards the global economy are also more resilient in the UAE than elsewhere, with 46% of respondents thinking the recovery is on track, down from 53%.
Cashflow pressures appear to have eased significantly in the Emirates over the last three months, with fewer professionals worrying about the survival of their suppliers or customers, and incidences of late payment are down as well. Importantly, new orders appear to be on the rise.
However, all is not well: respondents reported a surge in input prices and significant exchange rate fluctuations in the second quarter, mostly due to the AED's dollar peg and expectations of a further round of quantitative easing in the States. Respondents also reported a slowdown in the labour market, with employers apparently preferring to invest more in their existing staff, and also saw a diminishing number of value-added opportunities available to their organisations.
After experiencing a substantial downturn in late 2011, the Middle East is once again buoyant and along with Africa it has been leading the recovery for the last nine months.
Even here, however, the reversal in the second quarter drove confidence down, with only 28% (down from 31%) of respondents reporting confidence gains.
What is remarkable is the amount of optimism about the global recovery among finance professionals in the Middle East. Three months ago, the Middle East sample believed, on balance, that the global economy was truly recovering. Since then the mood has dampened a little, but 47% of respondents still believe the global recovery is on track (down from 50%), against 48% (up from 42%) who do not.
With demand and new orders proving resilient and capital spending also on the rise, the Middle East's labour market also appears to be becoming more dynamic, with progressively more organisations in the GECS sample hiring and firing in each of the last three quarters. In fact the environment for investment is improving substantially and consistently: respondents have reported more opportunities, more government support and better access to capital each of the last three quarter.