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Big business unconvinced on December Fed hike

The financial heads at some of the world's largest companies remain unconvinced that the U.S. Federal Reserve will make any substantial policy changes at its next meeting in December, according to a new survey released by CNBC.

Just 50 percent of 51 chief financial officers (CFOs) from Europe and Asia said they believed a rate hike was coming at the Fed's policy meeting next month, with 27 percent predicting that it would only raise rates in late 2016. One respondent in the poll even predicted that the Fed would hold off from a rate rise during the next 12 months.

The survey - conducted between November 16 and 25 - includes CFOs from companies such as Unilever and Lenovo.


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The results are in stark contrast with the view of market-watchers. Based on the CME Group's (Chicago Mercantile Exchange & Chicago Board of Trade) 30-day Fed fund futures price - which has long been used to express the market's view on the likelihood of changes in U.S. monetary policy - traders estimate that there is a 78 percent of a hike in December.

That number is up from 52 percent at the same point last month as Chair Janet Yellen and her team have started to sound a more hawkish tone as the policy meeting approaches.

"My feeling is that markets now need to have such a rise," Francois Gauthey, the chief financial and corporate officer at Eurotunnel, told CNBC via telephone.

He added that the effect of a rate rise in Europe would be delayed and would usually affect how much businesses pay to borrow cash. "The effect could be a little delayed. We're not so concerned, not yet."

The U.S. central bank has held the federal funds rate near zero since the aftermath of the global financial crisis. It managed to wrongfoot some investors back in September with its decision not to lift interest rates because of weakening global growth. It noted a recent surge in market volatility - notably from China - and sparked claims from some economists that it had created a "third mandate."

It appears that Asian CFOs, compared to their European counterparts, are more willing to believe that the Fed could spring another surprise this time and show similar caution at its December 15-16 meeting. The same number of Asian CFOs (35 percent) see the Fed hiking in late 2016 as they do in December.

66 percent of European finance executives predicted it would change policy next month.

Gauthey estimated that Asian CFOs were a little more cautious as they were more affected by what is going on within the Chinese economy. A Fed rate hike is seen as having a larger impact on emerging markets with the potential for U.S. investors to bring their dollars home with the anticipation of a higher yield on domestic assets.

Long road for Volkswagen

Aside from monetary policy, the finance execs also highlighted the pain that German automaker Volkswagen could expect to experience following the fallout from its emissions scandal.

The carmaker was forced to take its first quarterly loss for 15 years, according to its third-quarter report in October. It anticipated hefty payouts to consumers around the world over the deceptive data on its diesel emissions and the potential recall of 11 million cars.

The CNBC survey found that over 42 percent of global CFOs thought that it would take VW more than five years for its group revenues to return to relative normality. Almost a third predicted that it would take between three and four years.

Gauthey told CNBC that the company had the right strategy by cutting back on capital expenditure and ramping up its funding on new technologies.

"It needs to move to another market, another image," he said, agreeing that he would have made a similar move under the circumstances.

China business slips

Meanwhile, the same survey also found that business opportunities and revenues were being hit by the economic slowdown in China. The issue has taken center stage this summer with disappointing data hurting sentiment and the People's Bank of China unveiling a host of stimulus measures to try to cushion the fall in economic growth.

Nearly 40 percent of CFOs said their firms had seen a "slight decrease" in business with the world's second largest economy in 2015. Over 11 percent said they had seen a "significant decrease."

Elsewhere, respondents were bullish on companies in the health care and media, technology sectors. A clear majority singled out the two categories as currently having the biggest surge in growth this year.

In terms of the U.K. economy, John Rogers, chief financial officer of supermarket Sainsbury's, told CNBC that the country's economic recovery was likely to be "moderate."

"I think consumers do feel a little more confident today than they did 12 months ago, they've got a little bit more money in their purses to spend. But I think more broadly with the global economy perhaps slowing down – and the impact that will have on the U.K. market in particular – I'm a little bit bearish about the speed of the recovery. We will recover over time but it will take time."

Rogers believed that the biggest challenge facing the food retail industry was food price deflation. The U.K.re-entered a period of deflation in September.

"We've seen food price deflation of around 2 percent over the last 12 months or so and we're saying that we're expecting any of that deflation to unwind in the near-term. That's the biggest impact to our business, because of course that impacts our top line and that gears down in terms of our profitability."

—CNBC's Catherine Boyle and Holly Ellyatt contributed to this article.