SINGAPORE - Businesses worldwide were less optimistic about their prospects in the first quarter than at any other time in the past four years, according to a survey by two accounting bodies.
The Global Economic Conditions Survey was conducted by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).
It found that more than half of firms surveyed said they were either cutting or freezing employment, while only 14 per cent are increasing investment in staff.
The survey, which ACCA and IMA said is the largest regular economic survey of accountants in the world, attracted more than 1,200 responses from its members worldwide, including more than 100 chief financial officers.
Nearly half the respondents were from small and medium enterprises, with the rest working for large firms of more than 250 employees.
Almost half of the firms surveyed said that they were more pessimistic about their prospects than they were three months earlier. Less than one quarter had become more optimistic, the report noted.
It also found that as many as 42 per cent of firms are cutting back on investment, up from 40 per cent at the end of last year.
The number of firms that reported a drop in income in the first quarter rose to 48 per cent, compared with 46 per cent in the final quarter of 2015.
Every region except North America saw a jump in the number of businesses cutting capital expenditure, while only 12 per cent of businesses saw an opportunity to increase their orders as a result of changes in the global economy last quarter.
Said Ms Faye Chua, ACCA head of business focus: "Take North America out of the equation and the economic picture painted by this survey isn't a pretty one. Emerging markets are besieged. Revenues for commodities firms have collapsed since mid-2014. And business confidence in China has fallen to its lowest level since our records began.
"With emerging economies continuing to struggle with low commodity prices and many businesses on a spending lock down, the outlook for the global economy is becoming increasingly gloomy," she added.