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US leads 'significant increase' in global economic confidence: Survey

Optimism in the U.S. about economic growth is boosting business confidence, a survey of chief executive officers showed.

According to YPO, an organization for business leaders, an indicator of U.S. economic confidence reached 64.6 in the fourth quarter of 2016, its largest single-quarter gain in five years from 60.4 in the third quarter.

The U.S. boasted the highest confidence ranking among the regions surveyed.

"(It's) not surprising given some stability, at least, about who is now known to be the leader and taking it foward," said YPO member Anuj Lal, who is also group general manager at Kimberly Clark.

President Donald Trump, who took office last month, has raised expectations that promises of lower taxes, less regulation and higher spending will spur the economy.

The upbeat sentiment among U.S. business leaders was in contrast to a more cautious outlook in Asia.

For the first time since October 2015, Asian business leaders were less confident about the economic outlook than their global peers collectively, but they still expected to increase revenues, hiring and fixed investment, according to quarterly survey of 24,000 chief executive officers based in 130 countries.

According to YPO's quarterly Global Pulse Confidence Index released on Tuesday, chief executives in Asia reported a modest increase in economic confidence, climbing 1.2 points to 61.2 in the fourth quarter of 2016 on the back of moderate GDP growth in most of the region's major economies. That lagged behind the global reading of 62.2 — which saw a "significant increase" of 3 points from 59.2 in the third quarter of the year, according to YPO.

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John Moore / Staff | Getty Images News

The improvement in global sentiment in the last quarter of 2016 was largely driven by the United States, the countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and those in the Middle East and North Africa. Confidence surged 9.4 points to 62.0 in the developing ASEAN economies, as commodity and oil prices staged a rebound, said the leadership organization in its press release.

"It's encouraging to see that the outlook is still firmly optimistic in each of the major markets and that confidence has quickly returned to most of the developing economies in the region. Clearly there will be some concerns about the potential impact of a more protectionist U.S. economic policy on global trade and a strong U.S. dollar, and chief executives in Asia will be monitoring the situation carefully over the coming months," said Patrick Siewert YPO's Regional Chair of North Asia and managing director of The Carlyle Group.

Even though sentiment was less upbeat in Asia than in the U.S., the key indicators of sales, hiring and fixed investment, all increased in the final quarter of 2016.

Two-thirds of chief executives expected to increase sales in the next year, while just 7 percent expected a decline in revenues. More than a third expected to increase headcount in the coming 12 months, while only 10 percent predicted a reduction in staff numbers. Lastly, more than half expected to increase fixed investment in the coming year, with just five percent predicting reduced investment.

In the Middle East and North Africa, confidence surged 5.6 points to 59.5. "This jump in confidence follows OPEC's decision in November to cut oil production, which caused oil prices to increase by $10 per barrel," said YPO.

Economic confidence in the European Union edged upwards to 60.9 in the quarter, reflecting a steady economic outlook.

Africa was the only region to report a decline in confidence, slipping by 0.8 point to 54.7.

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