Long-term Brexit concerns reach all-time high, say chief financial officers

Stuart Cottee of Deloitte
Stuart Cottee of Deloitte
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Eight in 10 chief financial officers (CFOs) said they expect the long-term business environment to deteriorate as a result of the UK leaving the EU, according to Deloitte’s latest CFO Survey.

This is the highest level since the EU referendum in 2016, Deloitte said. Eighty nine CFOs participated, including CFOs of 48 FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies.

The survey shows that pessimism about the short-term effects of Brexit remains strong, with 49 per cent of CFOs expecting to reduce their own capital expenditure and 22 per cent cutting M&A as a consequence of Brexit.

Around half (53 per cent) of CFOs also expect to reduce hiring due to Brexit – the highest level in more than two years.

However there has been little change in confidence and risk appetite among CFOs. Of those surveyed, 13 per cent said they are more optimistic about the prospects for their company than they were three months ago, compared to 10 per cent in Q4 2018.

Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte, said: “Put mildly, it’s been a turbulent few weeks and there’s been little change in confidence and risk appetite among CFOs, as many priced in a tougher environment at the start of the year.

“They went into March braced for tough times and the latest round of Brexit uncertainties have not materially changed that picture. When expectations are already low, it’s harder to be disappointed.”

Stuart Cottee, practice senior partner at Deloitte in Yorkshire and the North East, said: “Large businesses are clearly looking to protect themselves against risk by raising cash levels and bullet-proofing balance sheets. They appear to be battening down hatches for tougher times ahead.

“While last week’s announcement on a further deferral of the UK’s departure from the EU removes an immediate unknown, the continuation of uncertainty is causing much frustration for UK businesses. As well as stashing cash, many continue to delay investment. Businesses remain in a period of further limbo.”