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What keeps Singapore executives up at night

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Industry competition, currency volatility and labor costs are the biggest bugbears for Singaporean financial executives, a survey by American Express has found.

According to the American Express Business Momentum survey, industry competition is the top challenge to business growth, with 84 percent of respondents saying it was a concern, followed by currency and interest rate volatility at 76 percent, labor costs at 67 percent and worries over the economic recovery in the West at 60 percent.

Economic growth in Asia's tenth largest economy has been volatile recently, ranging from a 1.8 percent on-quarter rise in the first quarter, to a 15 percent jump in the second quarter and a 1 percent contraction in the third quarter, making it difficult for local businesses to plan ahead.

(Read more: Singapore's 'volatile' growth data could continue for a while)

The sharp swings have been blamed by the export-focused economy's dependence on international trade and financial services, and many analysts are forecasting further weakness ahead.

But despite the bleak environment, 53 percent of the respondents were optimistic on Singapore's growth outlook over the coming year, with most expecting a modest pickup and only a minor percentage seeing a substantial rise.

However, only 42 percent said they expected improvements in the overall economy to translate through to their company's business performance. Fifteen percent saw conditions deteriorating, with most of these more pessimistic respondents blaming either unfavorable global economic conditions or weak growth in China. The remainder said they expected conditions would stay the same.

(Read More: Why Singapore's economy looks set for a contraction)

In terms of costs, two areas that most financial executives seem to be fretting over are the cost of labor and business travel.

Fifty-seven percent said they expected an increase in labor costs over the coming months, while 37 percent expect labor costs to remain the same. This was largely due to the high turnover of staff and a shortage of manpower, which had led to demand for higher salaries to recruit and retain talent. Thirty-eight percent of respondents also said regulatory requirements like foreign wage levies would lead to higher labor costs.

A key theme which arose from the survey findings was that emerging markets were seen as an important driver of growth, particularly Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and China, with 40 percent pinpointing Indonesia as the hot spot.

(Read more: Emerging market reprieve is only temporary: Pimco)

To adapt to this trend, around a third of companies were planning to increase travel spending for the purpose of meeting customers and vendors.

Furthermore, one third of companies said they were planning to expand in the next year, the survey found, half of which were open to using cash to fund this growth, while a quarter would borrow from banks and 19 percent would use equity financing.

The survey was designed to gauge the views of Singapore-based senior financial executives at medium-sized enterprises and was compiled via telephone interview in August.

—By CNBC's Katie Holliday: Follow her on Twitter @hollidaykatie

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