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HOPE AMID GLOBAL GLOOM

Optimism over economy highest in Mideast

Beirut, September 13, 2012

Chief financial officers (CFOs) in the Middle East reported the highest level of optimism during the second quarter of 2012, compared to 11 other geographies surveyed, a report said.

Entitled ‘Retrenching Again,’ the Deloitte ‘Global CFO Signals Report’ provides highlights of recent CFO survey results gathered by the professional services firm from around the globe, gauging attitudes towards the general economic outlook, financing, valuations and risk.

“Globally, pessimism amongst CFOs is growing, having increased from the first quarter of 2012,” said James Babb, Deloitte Middle East CFO program leader.

“Continuing worries associated with the Eurozone debt crisis, fears of potential slowdowns in China and India, and renewed concerns about the US economic situation have collided to make CFOs rethink their positive vibes. Yet, the main exception out of the 11 geographies surveyed is the Middle East, where optimism amongst CFOs is growing,” he added.

In the Middle East, more than half of CFOs say they are optimistic about their company’s prospects, but that is down from 72 per cent in the first half of 2011. The price of oil and market growth in that region continues to bolster optimism.

But political tensions in the region, coupled with the Eurozone crisis, are giving some finance chiefs pause, with 74 per cent of them rating the general level of external financial and economic uncertainty as either above normal or at a high level.

Highlights from the 2012 Middle East CFO Survey include:

•    CFOs continue to have a “risk off” attitude toward protecting their balance sheets. Still, some 45 per cent of CFOs expect the total debt on their balance sheets to increase a little over the next three years.

•    Some 60 per cent of CFOs expect the levels of M&A in the Mena region to increase, up from 43 per cent in Q3 2011.

•    Priorities for the next 12 months increasing cash flows and cash balances, reducing costs, as well as selective acquisitions, funded internally.

No appetite for risk

Many CFOs agree that now is not the time to be taking more risk onto their balance sheets — and given their cash holdings; they probably don’t have to, the report said.

CFOs in the Middle East continue to view risk negatively with 72 per cent saying now is not the time to take more on, despite the fact that 60 per cent expect levels of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) to somewhat increase in that region.

Optimism tempered

In the Middle East, CFO optimism for the first half (H1) 2012 remains somewhat low compared to earlier surveys, primarily due to the political tensions in the region and the crisis within the Eurozone. Factors that kept the CFOs in the Middle East optimistic are rising oil prices and regional market growth.

Overall, however, 52 per cent of CFOs are optimistic about their own company’s prospects compared to the last survey. That is down from 72 per cent in the first half of 2011, according to the report.

Priorities for the future

Over the next 12 months, CFOs are focused on reducing costs and increasing cash flow. Disposing of assets and capital expenditure and raising dividends/share buybacks are not high priorities.

According to the report, some 35 per cent of the CFOs expect free cash flow to increase by up to 10 per cent, primarily driven by increasing revenues, while some 60 per cent of the CFOs expect the levels of M&A activity in the Mena region will increase.

This is up from 43 per cent in Q3 2011. The respondents are most likely to use existing cash or operating cash flow to fund these transactions.

However, only 38 per cent of the CFOs would look into acquiring in a new geographical region. This focus on potential acquisitions stems from the view of almost 50 per cent of CFOs that equity values are somewhat undervalued; 27 per cent believe they are at fair value, the report said.

Facing uncertainty

A combined 74 per cent of the CFOs rated the general level of external financial and economic uncertainty as either above normal or at a high level. Due to this level of uncertainty, when asked if it is a good time to be taking greater risk with their balance sheets, 72 per cent of the respondents said “no.”

Cash is king

Some 45 per cent of the CFOs expect the total debt on their balance sheets to increase a little over the next three years, with the expectation that their ability to service their debt to slightly increase or remain the same.

When asked to rank their debt reduction strategies over the next three years, CFOs cited utilizing cash reserves as the top strategy, followed closely by asset sales and equity issuance, the report said. – TradeArabia News Service




Tags: Chief financial officer | Eurozone | Report | CFO | Deloitte | optimism | Risk appetite |

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