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UAE and Gulf finance chiefs more optimistic than regional and global counterparts

Dubai: Chief financial officers (CFO) based in the Gulf countries are more optimistic about the financial outlook, cashflows and organic growth of their companies compared to their counterparts in the Middle and North Africa region and the rest of the world, according to Deloitte’s latest Global CFO Signals report.

The Deloitte Global CFO Signals report provides highlights of recent CFO surveys results by Deloitte practices across the world. “The surveys, which were conducted in 17 countries and regions, illustrate that finance executives worldwide seem to be embracing recovery and setting their sights on expansion, despite continued economic hiccups”, said James Babb, Deloitte Middle East CFO Program leader. “The case of the Middle East is one of mixed optimism: while CFOs in the region reported improved expectations for revenues, capital spending, and hiring over the coming 12 months, the number reporting so is 38 per cent less than a year ago, reflecting less confidence in their outlooks.”

Predictably, optimism among surveyed CFOs in Syria fell by 13 per cent, while finance chiefs in the UAE reported a net 75 per cent increase. Only a net 2 per cent of CFOs reported their companies are carrying higher cash balances compared with a year ago, when a net 23 per cent reported the same last year.

While 75 per cent of CFOs were predominantly concerned with market risk last year, that number has declined to 39 per cent, with strategic, operational and financial risks all becoming a prevalent concern, reflecting the general uncertainty in the environment.

The report shows many CFOs from the region are worried about the political uncertainties. A net 41 per cent of Middle East CFOs feel more optimistic about the prospects for their companies compared with a net 54 per cent recorded 12 months ago.

On their companies’ business-continuity plans, one in four CFOs in the Middle East said they still did not have a plan in place despite the increased instability in the region. Middle East CFOs were also found to favour expansion in their own region over other parts of the world.

“The sample of 156 Middle East respondents to the Q3 2013 Deloitte Middle Eastern CFO Survey expressed decreased optimism from the prior year, due in most part to the ongoing political uncertainties in the region,” elaborated Babb. “Although uncertainty has become a constant companion for many quarters now, the general feeling remains one of mixed optimism”.

In the Mena region, over the next 12 months, CFOs are turning more inward, focusing on organic growth, cost reduction, and increasing cash flows. While many are still seeking strategic alliances, the expectations for M&A have dropped 25 per cent over the prior year. The Mena region is still favoured in terms of geographic expansion over other parts of the world, which is consistent with the previous year. Only 22 per cent of CFOs would consider an IPO at present, compared with 34 per cent a year ago.

More than 60 per cent of CFOs surveyed believe their balance sheets are appropriately leveraged, up from 46 per cent a year ago. CFOs reported the cost and availability of new credit have improved over the past year. Only about 24 per cent of regional CFOs believe that equity markets indexes will increase over the coming 12 month, versus 42 per cent a year ago.