Global CEOs see a ‘mild and short’ recession, yet optimistic about global economy over 3-year horizon, KPMG says

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  • More than eight out of 10 surveyed CEOs anticipate a recession over the next 12 months, with more than half expecting it to be mild and short
  • Seven out of 10 believe a recession will disrupt anticipated growth
  • However, rising confidence in longer-term growth of the global economy and their own companies’ prospects

HONG KONG SAR – Media OutReach – 18 October 2022 – The KPMG 2022 CEO Outlook, which surveyed more than 1,300 CEOs at the world’s largest businesses about their strategies and outlook, reveals that 58 percent of leaders expect a recession to be mild and short. Fourteen percent of senior executives identify a recession among the most pressing concerns today — up slightly from early 2022 (9 percent), while pandemic fatigue tops the list (15 percent).

Over the next year, more than eight out of 10 (86 percent) global CEOs anticipate a recession to hit, with 71 percent predicting it will impact company earnings by up to 10 percent. A strong majority of senior executives believe that a recession will disrupt anticipated growth (73 percent). However, three-quarters (76 percent) have already taken precautionary steps ahead of a looming recession.

Despite those concerns, senior executives also feel markedly more confident about the resilience of the economy over the next six months (73 percent) than they did in February (60 percent), when KPMG surveyed 500 CEOs for its CEO Outlook Pulse survey. Furthermore, 71 percent of leaders are confident about the global economy’s growth prospects over the next three years (up from 60 percent in early 2022) and nearly nine in 10 (85 percent) are confident about their organization’s growth over the next 3 years.

Bill Thomas, Global Chairman & CEO, KPMG, said: “Once-in-a-generation issues — a global pandemic, geopolitical tensions, inflationary pressures and financial difficulties — have come in short succession and taken a toll on the optimism of global CEOs. While it’s unsurprising the economic climate is now a top concern for business leaders, it’s encouraging to see reasonable levels of confidence among executives in their own companies and their longer-term prospects for growth.

“The events of recent years have created real turbulence for the business community. Our findings should provide some cautious optimism that, in contending with and overcoming these ordeals, executives are more confident in their companies’ resilience and are focused on mitigating some of the very real uncertainties we face today.”

Honson To, Chairman of KPMG China and Asia Pacific, said: “Four in five of the surveyed CEOs from China remain confident about the growth prospects of the local economy over the next three years, which is in line with last year’s figure. With the global economy currently facing significant uncertainty, economic growth is slowing and impacting on different areas ranging from strategies and operations to investments made in companies. Meanwhile, CEOs are proactively adopting various measures to strengthen the resilience of their companies to achieve growth in this constantly changing market environment. For example, digital transformation is being accelerated to enhance innovation and the agility of companies. By strengthening the synergy between environmental, social and governance (ESG) and corporate development strategies, companies are aiming to improve their financial results. To attract and retain high-quality talent, CEOs are also increasing the core competencies of their organisations.”


Hiring freezes and headcount reductions under heavy consideration by CEOs

With continued economic turmoil, there are signs that the Great Resignation could be cooling down, with 39 percent of CEOs having already implemented a hiring freeze, and 46 percent considering downsizing their workforce over the next six months. However, the three-year view is more optimistic with only 9 percent expecting a further reduced headcount.

Uncertainty fueling long-term digital transformation

While current uncertainty is driving CEOs to continue to prioritise digital transformation, 40 percent of businesses have paused their digital transformation strategies and another 37 percent plan to take such steps in the next six months.

In the longer-term, more than a quarter believe that advancing digitalisation and business connectivity is also vital to achieving growth objectives over the next three years. Seventy-four percent also agree that their organisation’s digital and ESG strategic investments are inextricably linked.

Evolving focus toward reputational and technological risks

Emerging and disruptive technology is perceived to be the top risk to business growth over the next three years. In addition, CEOs have identified several other areas as top risks to growth: reputation, regulatory and operational issues, and climate change.

Reputational risk — such as a misalignment with customer or public sentiment — is raising more concern among CEOs compared to early 2022 (10 percent in August vs. 3 percent in February).

Cyber security no longer corporations’ biggest threat, with more companies prepared for attacks

Cyber security has dropped from the top five risks to growth over the past year, with only 6 percent of CEOs naming it as their top risk (17 percent in February 2022). However, the cyber environment is evolving with 77 percent saying their organization views information security as a strategic function and as a potential source of competitive advantage. Geopolitical uncertainty is also raising concerns of corporate cyber attacks, according to 7 of 10 CEOs (73 percent).

Nearly three-quarters of organizations (72 percent) have a plan to handle ransomware attacks. However, more CEOs recognise that they are under-prepared for a cyber attack with nearly a quarter (24 percent) admitting so in 2022, compared to 13 percent in 2021.

Stakeholder pressure increasing accountability in ESG

When asked what their top challenge in communicating ESG performance to stakeholders was, nearly one-fifth (17 percent) of CEOs indicated it was stakeholder skepticism around greenwashing, up from 8 percent in 2021. More than one-third (38 percent) of CEOs say their organisations struggle to articulate a compelling ESG story. Nearly three-quarters of respondents (72 percent) also believe that stakeholder scrutiny of ESG issues — gender equality, climate impacts etc. — will continue to accelerate.

On talent, compared to early 2022, more C-suite executives believe that having the right talent and skills is also key to achieving net zero — or similar — ambitions. Nearly a quarter (22 percent) say a lack of skills and expertise is hindering the implementation of solutions — an increase from 16 percent earlier this year.

Economic pressure slowing ESG ambitions

Global CEOs recognise the importance of ESG initiatives to their businesses, especially when it comes to improving financial performance and driving growth. In fact, 69 percent of senior executives noted greater demand from stakeholders for increased reporting and transparency on ESG — 58 percent in 2021.

Nearly half (45 percent) of CEOs agree that progress on ESG improves corporate financial performance, an increase from 37 percent just a year ago. However, as economic uncertainty continues, half are pausing or reconsidering their existing or planned ESG efforts in the next six months, and 34 percent have already done so.

The full findings of the KPMG CEO Outlook survey include qualitative interviews with the CEOs of: AMP, Bankinter, Fujitsu, Ricoh Europe, Tata Steel and ServiceNow.

To view additional information about the survey please visit You can also follow @KPMG on LinkedIn and Twitter for updates and the conversation with #CEOoutlook.

Notes to Editors:

About KPMG’s CEO Outlook
The 8th edition of KPMG CEO Outlook, conducted with 1,325 CEOs between 12 July and August 24, 2022, provides unique insight into the mindset, strategies and planning tactics of CEOs not only comparable to pre-pandemic to today, but also from KPMG’s CEO Pulse Survey conducted between 12 January and 9 February, 2022, with 500 CEOs.

All respondents have annual revenues over US$500M and a third of the companies surveyed have more than US$10B in annual revenue. The survey included leaders from 11 key markets (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Spain, UK and US) and 11 key industry sectors (asset management, automotive, banking, consumer and retail, energy, infrastructure, insurance, life sciences, manufacturing, technology, and telecommunications). NOTE: some figures may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.

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