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CFO Survey: View of business opportunities falls to lowest level since global financial crisis

Swedish CFOs’ views of business opportunities for the future have fallen to the lowest level since the global financial crisis 2009. Cost reductions have risen to the highest priority while economic growth is seen as the greatest risk. This is shown in this autumn’s CFO Survey from Deloitte and SEB.

“The macro situation in autumn 2023 most closely resembles a balance scale where the central banks hold the weights and determine economic development. The resistance previously seen during 2023 has now been replaced by a situation where economic activity increasingly differs between economies and regions. In Europe, activity is now slowing down in both manufacturing industry and the service sector, which is reflected in the results of this autumn’s CFO Survey,” says Marcus Widén, economist at SEB.

The proportion of CFOs who see favourable business opportunities in the coming six months has fallen in the autumn’s CFO Survey to 20% from 41% in the spring. This means that the indicator, or net balance between those who have a positive view and those who have a negative view, has fallen to minus 28 from plus 18 in the spring. This is both the lowest level and largest single change since the global financial crisis of 2008. This change is driven to a great extent by a major shift in the mood in the engineering industry, where 50% of CFOs in the sector see the situation as unfavourable while the corresponding figure in the spring was 15%.

“The autumn report does not give much hope for future development, but there are signs that we are heading in the right direction. The current period with falling sentiment has lasted for two years – just as long as the previous period – which indicates that there is a greater chance of a recovery in next spring’s survey,” says Robert Bergström, Partner at Deloitte.

Priorities and risks

Cost reductions are the highest priority for CFOs, compared with organic growth which ranked highest in the spring. 21% of CFOs give cost reduction as a priority. Ranked next highest are efforts to improve cash flow and organic growth.

Regarding risks, 55% of CFOs consider that economic growth is a significant risk for the next 12 months – an increase from 49% in the spring. This makes it the most significant risk followed by pressure on margins and prices and falling domestic demand.

Generative AI trials

The autumn survey also asks questions about companies’ use of generative AI. The result shows that an increasing number are beginning to actively experiment to form an opinion of the extent to which the organisation can benefit from AI. At the same time, a majority (85%) of companies see generative AI as currently not at all or only slightly important for their business and strategy. When CFOs were asked in what area generative AI might be useful, cost reduction, efficiency and growing margins were ranked highest – areas which were also in focus at previous technology shifts.

About the survey

The CFO Survey was carried out in September 2023 and is based on a number of questions presented to and answered by selected delegates using a web form. The participating CFOs represent a selection of large Swedish companies from different sectors. The survey has been carried out since 2006.

Read the report www.cfosurvey.se

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

Press contact:
Niklas Magnusson, Head of Media Relations & External Communication
+46 70 763 8243

SEB is a leading northern European financial services group with international reach. We exist to positively shape the future with responsible advice and capital, today and for generations to come. By partnering with our customers, we want to be a leading catalyst in the transition to a more sustainable world. 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, we 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 17,500 employees. At 30 September 2023, the Group's total assets amounted to SEK 4,134 bn while assets under management totalled SEK 2,194bn. Read more about SEB at sebgroup.com.