British firms' risk appetite slips as election looms: Deloitte

LONDON (Reuters) - Major British companies' risk appetite has edged lower over the past three months as elections in 2015 and the prospect of a referendum on leaving the European Union loom, a quarterly survey by accountants Deloitte showed on Monday.

Large companies are Britain's biggest private investors, and Deloitte's report raises a question mark over whether a recent rapid rebound in business investment may start to level off in the coming months.

Some 65 per cent of chief financial officers (CFOs) at British listed companies and subsidiaries of large foreign firms said it was a good time to take on more risk, down from a record high of 71 per cent in the first three months of 2014.

"The macroeconomic worries that have acted as a drag on corporate activity have eased ... but with the general election less than a year away, uncertainties around political and policy risk have moved centre stage," said Deloitte's chief economist Ian Stewart.

Deloitte said CFOs' top concern was the May 2015 national election and the risk of new government policies, followed by a possible referendum on Britain leaving the European Union.

Risks related to higher Bank of England interest rates - which financial markets think have become rather more likely over the past three months - came in third place.

Most opinion polls show a narrow lead for Britain's opposition Labour Party, whose message on greater consumer protections in the energy, lettings and banking industries has raised industry concerns.

The Confederation of British Industry said after a speech by Labour leader Ed Miliband on Thursday that competition would not be achieved by "artificially intervening in markets to leave businesses with a lot of uncertainty, which will only serve to put investment decisions on hold." Many businesses are also worried by the governing Conservatives' pledge to hold a referendum on leaving the EU if they win re-election.

Official data last month showed that business investment in the first three months of this year was more than 10 per cent higher than a year earlier.

This was its biggest increase in two years and good news for the Bank of England, which wants Britain's rapid recovery to be less reliant on consumers.

Deloitte's survey was based on responses from 112 CFOs between June 6 and June 23. Some 68 of the CFOs worked for listed British companies, which between them accounted for a fifth of Britain's stock market capitalisation.