Page last updated at 23:00 GMT, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Davos 2010: Global bosses are confident again

By Tim Weber
Business editor, BBC News website, in Davos

outside the WEF congress hall
Chief executives from around the world are meeting in Davos

A vast majority of the world's top bosses are confident their companies will grow this year, a survey suggests.

Only 18% do not expect their companies to prosper. In developing countries nearly all bosses predict good growth.

After a year of cost-cutting, nearly 40% of firms plan to start hiring again, but most firms - especially in the West - expect a jobless recovery.

The research by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was published at the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"Our chief executives (CEOs) are cautiously optimistic," said Dennis Nally, global chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, during the presentation of the annual survey.

Dennis Nally
The bottom line is: jobs are coming, but they are coming from developing countries; the job opportunities in developed countries are not there yet
Dennis Nally, PwC

However, the predicted economic upswing will be very uneven.

The larger the company, the more bullish the chief executive. There are also stark differences between companies based in developing and industrialised countries.

While most Western firms still find their home markets suffering from the aftermath of the global recession, the bosses of firms in developing countries have reason for optimism. In India, for example, 97% of bosses polled are confident that their company will grow in 2010.

In Latin America and China about 90% of chief executives expect their firms to grow.

Still, even in the West a large majority of business leaders - four-fifths of those polled - are confident about their companies' economic prospects.

The rebound of corporate optimism comes after two years of faltering confidence. In fact, confidence levels are now back to the level of PwC's CEO survey in the year 2000. A year ago, 35% of all chief executives were pessimistic, while 64% had shown optimism for 2009.

'Post-survival mode'

World Economic Forum logo in snow

A year ago in Davos, many business leaders predicted that a recovery could start in the first quarter of 2010.

The PwC survey suggests that the actual timing of the rebound depends very much on factors like geography and industry.

Two-thirds of Chinese bosses report that the recovery has already started, while two-thirds of CEOs in the West predict an upswing in the second half of 2010 - or even later, said Mr Nally.

And it could still all go wrong. Nearly two-thirds of all bosses polled worry that the global recession could drag on much longer than expected. More government regulation, protectionism and a new save-more-spend-less consumer ethic are other top concerns.

In the coming months, Mr Nally predicted, most CEOs would be in a "post-survival mode".

Where are the jobs?

Many bosses acknowledged that they failed to fully understand the risks of the economic downturn and should have responded more quickly, said Mr Nally.

This heightened risk awareness now has a direct impact on investment decisions.

Most firms plan to put more money into cost-cutting and making themselves more efficient.

That could translate into a "jobless recovery", especially in Western economies, said Mr Nally.

"The bottom line is: jobs are coming, but they are coming from developing countries; the job opportunities in developed countries are not there yet," he added.

In Europe, the UK is the exception, with many companies planning to start hiring.

The laggards are Germany and especially Spain, where there appears to be little prospect of employment growth.

The in-depth survey of nearly 1,198 chief executives in 52 countries was conducted during the last three months of 2009.

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