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CFOs optimistic on U.S. economy should factor geopolitical risks into forecasts

Schaumburg, Ill., May 2, 2018

New report by Zurich Insurance, EY, and the Atlantic Council shows CFOs confident the U.S. economy will remain strong over the next three years; Even so, CFOs should keep an eye on risks including inward facing or unconventional policy shifts, which could pose a threat to the world’s biggest economy.

Chief financial officers (CFOs) believe the U.S. presents a good investment case, but businesses need to think strategically when it comes to taking recent global developments into account, including a rise in protectionism anticipated by many, according to a new report published today by Zurich Insurance Group (Zurich), Ernst & Young LLP (EY), and the Atlantic Council.

Ten years into the global economic recovery, 61% of CFOs surveyed felt confident or extremely confident about investing in the U.S., while 71% expected continued improvement in the U.S. business environment over the next three years.

Findings published in the report, ‘Borders vs Barriers: Navigating uncertainty in the U.S. business environment,’ were drawn from a survey of nearly 500 CFOs from 30 countries carried out in February and March 2018. A positive economic outlook, deregulation, and the passage of landmark tax reform legislation in the U.S. contributed to the optimism.

Confidence high worldwide, strongest in U.S.
“It’s no surprise that optimism reigns in the United States, following 10 years of steady economic growth, record low unemployment and a recently enacted tax reform bill that is expected to drive growth and fuel the economic engine,” said Dalynn Hoch, CFO, Zurich North America. “But political storm clouds on the horizon, and the potential for trade wars could alter our economic outlook. Businesses must be prepared.”

  • Most bullish among CFOs surveyed were those in North America, where 75% expect the business environment to improve in the next three years.
  • At 71%, European CFOs were nearly as optimistic, while those in Asia Pacific and South America, at 68% and 65% respectively, were less optimistic.
  • Despite trade tension between the U.S. and China, and a planned renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), 62% of Asia Pacific CFOs and 60% of North American CFOs said that the U.S. business climate was getting better for foreign businesses compared with to six months earlier. In Europe, slightly less than half of CFOs surveyed shared this view.

Concerns about potential policy restrictions
While growth expectations are high, the survey findings also indicated that CFOs are most concerned about classic protectionist threats. Potential restrictions to the flow of goods, capital and people would weigh on growth.

  • A majority of CFOs, 68% surveyed, believe U.S. protectionism will increase in the next three years, with 46% indicating this would have a negative impact on investments.
  • Nearly two-thirds expect increased U.S. scrutiny of cross-border mergers and acquisitions, and two-thirds expect more restrictive immigration policies in the U.S.
  • Such policies would negatively influence investment, according to 42% of CFOs surveyed.

Manage geopolitics or be managed by them
To help companies and their CFOs prepare for future uncertainties, the report explored three different geopolitical scenarios and the impact each might have on the U.S. economy: Isolationism, Atlanticism and Internationalism. Companies would need to take into account potentially significant impacts on their business, including trade restrictions. In the most extreme cases, the difference could be USD 2 trillion in cumulative U.S. GDP and 1.7 million in U.S. jobs over the next five years.

The report makes it clear that while geopolitical trends and shocks can be disruptive, they can also create opportunities. In the current environment of transformation, policy shifts will likely continue to have a major influence on how economies develop and to what extent businesses can prosper.

Further information
Please find “Borders vs Barriers. Navigating uncertainty in the US business environment” report here: https://www.zurichna.com/en/knowledge/articles/2018/05/borders-vs-barriers 

 

About Zurich
Zurich Insurance Group (Zurich) is a leading multi-line insurer that serves its customers in global and local markets. With about 54,000 employees, it provides a wide range of property and casualty, and life insurance products and services in more than 210 countries and territories. Zurich’s customers include individuals, small businesses, and mid-sized and large companies, as well as multinational corporations. The Group is headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, where it was founded in 1872. The holding company, Zurich Insurance Group Ltd (ZURN), is listed on the SIX Swiss Exchange and has a level I American Depositary Receipt (ZURVY) program, which is traded over-the-counter on OTCQX. Further information about Zurich is available at www.zurich.com.

In North America, Zurich is a leading commercial property-casualty insurance provider serving the global corporate, large corporate, middle market, specialties and programs sectors through the individual member companies of Zurich in North America, including Zurich American Insurance Company. Life insurance and disability coverage issued in the United States in all states except New York is issued by Zurich American Life Insurance Company, an Illinois domestic life insurance company. In New York, life insurance and disability coverage is issued by Zurich American Life Insurance Company of New York, a New York domestic life insurance company. For more information about the products and services it offers and people Zurich employs around the world go to www.zurichna.com. 2012 marked Zurich's 100 year anniversary of insuring America and the success of its customers, shareholders and employees.