In the US, a consumer who makes up 70% of the economy is seen as key to further recovery, and confidence surged in March to its highest level since the pandemic began.
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Covid cases and variants are on the rise, but in the race between vaccines and viruses, chief financial officers of large companies are betting that the pandemic will be the loser and that the global economy will remain on track in 2021.
The CNBC Global CFO Council’s survey for the first quarter of 2021 reveals an economic confidence among finance chiefs around the world that hasn’t been so high since 2018, and fears that the risk of Covid to their business prospects will decrease by just one Quarter could cut in half before.
In the US in particular, more CFOs are now citing cybersecurity as the greatest risk to their business than Covid.
The mood of the CFO has become more positive in every global region. In the first quarter of 2021, the first time since the fourth quarter of 2018, no region was labeled “in decline”.
“Vaccines and fiscal incentives have given us a much-needed shot of adrenaline in a marathon of a pandemic,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. “What was a headwind quickly becomes a tailwind, with the US making the biggest profits in the world. That is something to be applauded.”
The CNBC Global CFO Council’s survey for the first quarter of 2021 was conducted between March 2 and March 23 of 42 members split between North America, Europe and Asia.
With additional fiscal stimulus, a new infrastructure plan from President Biden, and a patient Fed, three-quarters of CFOs see the Dow hit 35,000 instead of falling back to 25,000.
Swonk expects the US economy to see its strongest year of growth since 1984, with earnings more broadly based. “Even so, we’ve already seen quite a surge in stock prices, and much depends on the determination of the Federal Reserve to be patient as prices flare up in response to that surge in demand and the associated shortages.”
Grounds for concern: Covid, China, corporate tax increases
Short-term gains are expected to vary based on geographic location. The regions where CFOs are spearheading global economic expansion are the United States, China, and Asia-Pacific (ex-China / Japan), the only three regions that CFOs refer to as “Enhancement”. Every other global region has been described as “stable”.
“The US dodged the bullet of a double-dip recession late in the fourth quarter. Much of Europe was not so lucky. A slow surge in vaccines and more contagious variants has sparked another round of bans in the region. It will be at least six To lag months behind the US in its boom with less fiscal firepower to fuel those gains, “Swonk said.
For economists, shifting from 2020 to 2021 is resetting the key question of how bad conditions can get region by region to the expected recovery.
“What kind of recovery we will see in different parts of the world is the bigger question and as difficult to answer as the bad things in 2020,” said Erik Lundh, chief economist at The Conference Board.
Disagreements in the availability of vaccines by country are one reason for an uneven global recovery.
In Europe, for example, a slower surge in vaccines and more contagious variants have triggered new bans, and Swonk expects Europe to lag the US by at least six months and also offer fewer fiscal incentives.
“We moved from eradicating the virus to managing the virus and its variants. That won’t stop the world from booting up, but it could cause some speed fluctuations along the way,” Swonk said.
With the US and China among the regional keys to global economic recovery, there are also concerns about US-China tensions. When the Biden government began, many economists believed tensions between the two geopolitical rivals would ease, but the Biden government is walking a hard line and multinational corporations could get caught in the crossfire.
Asia has recovered the fastest among global regions such as China, South Korea and Taiwan.
“Business leaders believed that under a new government tensions could ease, but I don’t think we’re seeing that. So this is still a really important economic relationship to watch and a downside risk to the economy and the business environment could have in both countries and in all associated countries of the world economy, “said Lundh.
The relationship between China and Taiwan is also important for multinational corporations, as there are fears that China may take steps similar to its aggressive stance on Hong Kong, which could impact the computer chip supply chain that has already been compromised and that led to it to delays in manufacturing, especially in the automotive sector and at companies like Ford and GM.
In the U.S., Biden’s plan to push a corporate tax hike from 21% to 28% to fund infrastructure spending has caught market attention, but Lundh said while a corporate tax hike could be negative, it has a positive effect on infrastructure the economy off project outweighs it.
In 2021, CFOs who participated in the quarterly survey had told CNBC that they didn’t believe Biden could hike rates to 28%, and the battle for corporate tax hikes is just beginning. The business community is betting on the administration to be flexible will be how to fund a bill that can be passed. Vice president of the US Chamber of Commerce for Transportation and Infrastructure, Ed Mortimer, told the New York Times on Tuesday, “The rise in corporate taxes and other factors is kind of a non-starter for Republicans. A kind of non-starter for us too.”
Consumer confidence is rising and is currently at its highest level since the beginning of the pandemic. This is a strong indicator that the US economy will continue to improve. The real estate market has been an economic tailwind, attitudes have risen, and investment and investment in equipment and infrastructure has increased.
“I think there is reason to be optimistic about the economy next year,” said Lundh. “Inflation is an issue that we believe is more temporary than a change of game. We expect the Fed to be interest rate tolerant. Economic fundamentals all point to an environment where things will continue to improve.”