UK overtakes China to become most important market for US business leaders says PwC

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The UK is now the number one market that US CEOs are looking to for growth, according to PwC’s 25th Annual CEO Survey.

  • UK overtakes China to become US CEOs’ favoured growth market, and has also become more important for CEOs worldwide.
  • Record levels of confidence among CEOs globally, with UK CEOs especially optimistic – 82% of them believe global economic growth will improve over the next twelve months. 
  • 75% of UK CEOs plan headcount increases.

The survey of almost 4,500 CEOs in 89 countries, conducted in October and November 2021, also found the UK is a more important growth prospect to CEOs globally this year. 

Over a third (37%) of US CEOs identified the UK as one of the three countries or territories that are most important for their companies’ revenue growth prospects over the next twelve months. This is a 16 percentage point increase from the previous survey and means the UK has now overtaken China (26%) – US company leaders’ preferred target for the last two years. Germany follows at 24%. 

Likewise, the US has become a more attractive investment proposition to UK CEOs – over half (54%) see the US as an important growth target, up from 44% in both the previous two years. Germany came next for UK CEOs, at 32%. 

Kevin Ellis, Chairman & Senior Partner at PwC said:

“It’s not hard to see why US businesses have their sights on the UK. Aside from long standing draws such as our trusted legal and business environment, certain factors make us ripe for investment now. Successful vaccine roll out and significant government funding have given us a head start on recovery. Meanwhile our listed assets represent good value, at a time when many investors have full war chests to spend on resilient businesses. The challenge and opportunity is to attract the right investments and partnerships to deliver sustainable growth across the UK.”

Business sectors with capital to invest include private equity. The CEO survey shows that private equity CEOs are the most confident about their firms’ revenue prospects –  with over two thirds (67%) of these globally extremely or very confident. Leaders of tech firms came next (64% of these being similarly confident).

The US remains the top country that CEOs worldwide are prioritising for growth. Some 41% of CEOs globally selected the US as a top three growth target (35% last year), followed by China (27%) and Germany (18%). 

The UK remains fourth in the ranking but has closed the gap with Germany – with just one percentage point difference between the countries, compared with six percentage points in the previous survey.

Some 17% of CEOs globally selected the UK as a top three growth target, up from 11% in 2021 and 9% in autumn 2019.

UK CEOs are optimistic about the future 

The CEO survey has proved a good indicator of economic outlook over the last decade and the latest research reveals that optimism is high. Some 77% of CEOs globally expect global economic growth to improve in the year ahead – this is a one percentage point uptick from last year and the highest percentage recorded since the survey first included this question in 2012. 

Optimism about the global economy is particularly high among UK CEOs, with 82% anticipating it will improve during the year ahead – up from 77% last year. This contrasts with business leaders in the US, China, and Germany who are less optimistic than they were a year ago. Moreover, almost one in five (18%) UK CEOs think the global economy will improve significantly, compared with 11% of global CEOs. 

With regards to the UK economy, 73% of UK CEOs believe conditions will improve in the next 12 months. On headcount, three in four (75%) plan to increase the number of people they employ – a 16 percentage point rise on last year’s 58%. 

Kevin Ellis, Chairman & Senior Partner at PwC UK, said:

“While sectors including hospitality and those with enduring supply chain issues such as automotive are undoubtedly under pressure, business leaders are confident the economy is on an upward trajectory. This optimism is reflected in headcount plans – three in four UK CEOs planning to hire more people is a big vote of confidence. The extent to which the headwinds of rising inflation and the continuing impact of Omicron dampens confidence remains to be seen.”

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