DA NANG - Business leaders in the Asia-Pacific are feeling increasingly confident in their companies' growth prospects, with one out of every three CEOs believing that revenue will increase in the next 12 months.
This is according to a new survey of 1,412 top executives from all 21 economies in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) bloc, including 82 from Singapore.
The study was conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) from May to July this year, with over half of those polled working for organisations that have more than US$1 billion (S$1.36 billion) in annual revenue.
The findings were released on Wednesday (Nov 8) at the start of the Apec CEO Summit, in the run-up to the annual meeting of Apec's leaders here on Friday and Saturday. Ministers from Apec economies also began their meeting to discuss deepening economic integration and trade across the region.
Despite the uncertainty in trade policy and political tensions in many of the Apec economies, the PwC study found that 37 per cent of the CEOs are "very confident" of their prospect of revenue growth during the next 12 months. This is higher than the 28 per cent that felt this way in both 2015 and 2016, but lower than the 46 per cent in 2014.
However, almost a quarter of the CEOs admitted they are experiencing a more restrictive trade environment, in particular on hiring of foreign labour (23 per cent) or moving goods across borders (19 per cent).
One in five business leaders (19 per cent) believe their biggest competitor in the next three to five years will be a multinational firm from an emerging economy, or regional companies in Apec economies (22 per cent).
Nearly a third (32 per cent) feel that multinationals in developed countries are their biggest rival.
PwC's global chairman Robert Moritz said the higher level of confidence among business leaders today suggests they are eager to push ahead with their investment plans.
Half of the CEOs surveyed said they will increase their global investments (including those outside the Asia-Pacific region) in the next year, up from 43 per cent in 2016. Seven in ten who said they were raising investment will direct them into Apec economies in 2018.
Mr Moritz said a majority of business leaders are "bullish for growth" and see Apec becoming more economically linked over time.
Businesses are also making greater use of technology in their operations, with 58 per cent of them already automating certain functions, and 40 per cent investing in machine learning and emerging technologies. Mr Moritz said that Apec economies could serve as a test bed for the integration of automation with the workforce of tomorrow.
"Businesses know best what skills they need, and now the public and private sectors need to work together to create practical ways to train, develop and access those skills," he said.
Opening the Apec CEO summit, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang noted his country has made much progress on the international stage after 30 years of reform and as an Apec member for nearly 20 years.
"Vietnam has become a developing middle-income economy and an important link in a network of 16 free trade agreements," he said.
"As an economy with a high level of openness, the future of 90 million Vietnamese people is increasingly linked to the future of the Asia-Pacific. Many Apec member economies will continue to be among Vietnam's biggest investors and leading trade partners."