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CFO Survey: Swedish CFOs more optimistic about the future

Swedish CFOs are optimistic about the future, despite some dark clouds on the horizon. This conclusion can be drawn from Deloitte and SEB’s most recent CFO Survey. In this autumn’s survey we see that views of business opportunities and risks ahead of the coming six months have improved, at the same time that CFOs cite a shortage of qualified labour as a risk. We also note that work with climate issues has high priority in companies.

The CFO Survey is conducted twice a year and aims to highlight changes in sentiment among Swedish CFOs and to compare the trend in Sweden with the rest of Europe. In this autumn’s survey we see, among other things, a significant improvement in Swedish CFOs’ views of business opportunities, with a net balance of 70 compared with 38 in the most recent survey conducted in May. The CFO Survey also shows that organic growth continues to be the foremost area of priority among CFOs, and that the overarching level of external financial and economic uncertainty for corporates is believed to have decreased and is now essentially back to a normal level.

“Even though the autumn has come with new risks, one would have to say that CFOs are even more clearly looking beyond the pandemic,” says Marcus Widén, economist at SEB. “We believe that the responses overall indicate that CFOs are clearly optimistic that many of the problems are transitory.”

Concordant improvement among sectors

Even though some differences exist between sectors, the autumn survey shows a broad improvement, where the situation is increasingly perceived as being advantageous. While optimism remains the greatest among large corporates, the differences based on company size are considerably smaller than in the spring survey.

Main risks remain

Economic growth, a shortage of qualified labour and downward pressure on margins and prices continue to be the three most salient risks during the coming 12 months from the CFOs’ perspective. We also note that the risks surrounding growth and margins are considered to be lower than in the spring survey.

The shortage of qualified labour has gradually climbed up on the CFOs’ agenda – a development that has been in the cards given the trend we have seen thus far in various economies, as companies are looking after 1.5 years to return to where they were before the pandemic. Even though the shortage will sort itself out, the risk remains that this will take considerable time. A rising cost for labour is still ranked quite low among risks, yet it is still one of the risks that has risen the most in the last two surveys. If the shortage of qualified labour remains, it is likely that personnel costs will rise going forward, as competition is great for the qualified staff who are needed – something that a general interest in increasing the workforce is also contributing to.

Companies investing in organic growth

Sweden’s CFOs have set organic growth as the top priority, while they also view the introduction of new products, investments in new capacity and cost reductions as priority areas. Over a 12-month horizon, Swedish CFOs continue to view company acquisitions as important, but at the same level as last spring. The CFOs also have a positive view of revenue, operating margins and hiring.

Climate targets expected to be achieved by 2030

This autumn’s survey also highlights the progress of climate action in corporates. Most companies have plans to reduce emissions, but the responses are relatively evenly divided among the response alternatives zero emissions, emissions reduction of up to 50 per cent, and more than 50 per cent. Most companies have set 2030 as the target date, which is considerably earlier than the government’s national target date of 2045. The majority of companies (70 per cent) indicate that it is their customers’ demands and wishes that are the main driver behind these changes.

“So in connection with the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow we can see that companies have truly set emissions reduction measures high up on the agenda. It is also interesting to note that it is customers’ demands that is the driver, rather than the risk for political intervention,” says Robert Bergström, Partner at Deloitte.

European comparison

Compared with the rest of Europe we can see that the Swedish responses regarding most KPIs are unusually close to the European average, except for the views on uncertainty, where CFOs in Sweden have a considerably more positive view.

See more insights from the survey at www.cfosurvey.se.

For more information, please contact:
Marcus Widén, Economist, SEB
+46 70 639 1057

Press contact:
Niklas Magnusson, Group Press Officer
+46 70 763 8243

SEB is a leading northern European financial services group with a strong belief that entrepreneurial minds and innovative companies are key in creating a better world. We take a long-term perspective and support our customers in good times and bad. In Sweden and the Baltic countries, SEB offers financial advice and a wide range of financial services. In Denmark, Finland, Norway, Germany and the United Kingdom, the bank's operations have a strong focus on corporate and investment banking based on a full-service offering to corporate and institutional clients. The international nature of SEB's business is reflected in our presence in more than 20 countries worldwide, with around 15,500 employees. At 30 September 2021, the Group's total assets amounted to SEK 3,585bn while its assets under management totalled SEK 2,422bn. Read more about SEB at https://www.sebgroup.com