Most global finance chiefs now think Brexit will happen without a deal, CNBC survey says

Key Points
  • CNBC's quarterly CFO survey shows boardrooms are increasingly expectant of a "no deal" Brexit. 
  • The latest data set marks a shift in sentiment from the fourth quarter of 2018.
  • Skepticism over a deal was more pronounced among CFOs from Asia-Pacific and U.S. based firms.
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Majority of CFOs see no-deal Brexit as most likely scenario

A majority of financial executives in boardrooms around the world don't believe U.K. lawmakers will approve a formal Brexit deal, according to a CNBC survey.

Britain and Northern Ireland are set to leave the European Union in a little over four weeks but, as yet, no agreement has been agreed between London and Brussels that also commands a simple majority of U.K. lawmakers.

Fears exist that Britain could crash out of Europe and default to World Trade Organization rules which would incur heavy import and export tariffs as well as cause possible delays to goods at the border.

According to the latest CNBC Global CFO Council quarterly survey, published Thursday, 40.7 percent of chief financial officers (CFOs) now see "no deal" as the most probable option. Thirty-seven percent of respondents still think Britain can put together an arrangement, while more than 22 percent say they don't know.

Theresa May, U.K. prime minister, left, and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, stand for a photo opportunity ahead of talks in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The latest data set marks an important shift from the fourth quarter of 2018 when a more than half of respondents forecast a deal would be done and only 16 percent tipped an exit with no deal in place.

When broken down into regions, skepticism over a deal was more pronounced among CFOs from Asia-Pacific based firms, with only around one-in-five expecting a Brexit deal to be struck.

In the U.S., the figure was around one in three now predicting a deal, while in Europe and the Middle East the expectation of a deal was greatest, but still only scored a slight majority (52.9 percent).

The CNBC Global CFO Council represents some of the largest public and private companies in the world, collectively managing nearly $5 trillion in market value.

To other questions asked, 63 percent respondents said U.S. trade policy would have a negative effect on their companies over the next six months. That figure, while still much higher than the other options, retreated from the fourth quarter of last year when the number came in at 73 percent.

Almost half (46.3 percent) of CFOs surveyed predict one hike from the U.S. Federal Reserve in 2019. The next biggest answer was the 29.6 percent who opted for no cuts or hikes. None of the CFOs asked expect the Fed to cut rates in 2019.

On the matter of stocks, exactly 33 percent expect the Dow Jones Industrial Average will rise above 27,000 in comparison to 41 percent who see it falling back below 22,000 first. The remainder are unsure.

The council's global economic outlook remains finely balanced, with only two of 11 countries or regions — China, and the United Kingdom — seen as "declining." All other areas were rated as "stable."

Full results from the CNBC Global CFO Council survey are below:

(Note: 54 of the 124 current members of the CNBC Global CFO Council responded to this quarter's survey, including 23 North American-based members, 17 EMEA-based members and 14 APAC-based members. The survey was conducted from Feb. 7–22, 2019.)