China Economy

Top finance execs are losing confidence in China's economy, survey shows

Key Points
  • Growing trade risks have soured sentiment among senior finance officers at companies operating in China, according to a Deloitte survey.
  • "There has been a sharp shift in sentiment," says the consultancy's William Chou.
  • Deloitte queried chief financial officers and other top officials at a mix of multinational, Chinese and Hong Kong companies for the biannual China CFO Survey.
People stand under heavy rain at the Bund in front of the financial district of Pudong, in downtown Shanghai.
Carlos Barria | Reuters

Mounting trade risks are dragging down the the confidence of senior finance officers at companies operating in China, according to the results of a survey by Deloitte released Wednesday.

The consultancy polls financial executives twice a year about their attitudes on trade and business for its China CFO Survey. Asked to describe changes in sentiment over the past six months, 82 percent of respondents said their economic outlooks had become less optimistic. That marked a significantly change from the prior poll, where just 30 percent said their expectations had grown less rosy.

"There has been a sharp shift in sentiment," William Chou, national managing partner of the Deloitte China CFO Program, said in a release announcing the results, citing factors including a lack of resolution to the ongoing tariff conflict between Beijing and Washington and China's struggling stock markets.

The struggling stocks have been blamed in part on the ongoing trade war between the world's two largest economies.  U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month declared a 90-day ceasefire in the conflict pending further negotiations, but a host of tariffs already imposed by both sides remain in place and the outlook for a resolution remains unclear.

Deloitte received 108 responses to the poll from executives at a mix of multinational, state-owned and privately owned companies operating in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. The survey was conducted between September and November.

A total of 69 percent of respondents hold positions at the level of CFO or finance director, while 8 percent are vice presidents, Deloitte said.

'Unforeseen opportunities'

The survey also found that 59 percent of respondents think trade volumes will decline in the next year, while 56 percent said their companies had already been or expected to be affected by rising tariffs.

Asked what countries or regions would benefit from shifting trade patterns, 53 percent of the executives said Southeast Asia would see the largest increase in export volumes, with only 9 percent choosing China.

"Southeast Asia has been developing itself as a manufacturing hub and the changes may provide it unforeseen opportunities," Deloitte said in its explanation of the results.

"The region may also benefit from companies shifting manufacturing capabilities to avoid some of the trade protectionist measures," the consultancy added.

And regarding the outlook for China's currency, 74 percent of respondents said they expect the yuan to weaken further against the dollar in the coming year.

Deloitte's Chou said executives are hungry for a positive resolution to the conflict: "If (the U.S. and China) can eventually reach an agreement, business sentiment will quickly improve."