21 January 2020

CEOs see slower economic growth in 2020

- CEOs in every region across the world predict slower economic growth

- Confidence in companies’ own revenue growth lowest since 2009

- Findings from PwC’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey

CEOs are showing record levels of pessimism in the global economy, says PwC, with 53% predicting a decline in the rate of economic growth in 2020.

Source: PwC. Regression analysis on change in CEO confidence against GDP growth.
Source: PwC. Regression analysis on change in CEO confidence against GDP growth.

This is up from 29% in 2019 and 5% in 2018, the highest level of pessimism since the consultancy started asking the question in 2012. In contrast, the number of CEOs projecting a rise in the rate of economic growth dropped from 42% in 2019 to 22% in 2020.

These are some of the findings of PwC’s 23rd survey of almost 1,600 CEOs from 83 countries across the world, launched at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

The pessimism is even more pronounced in Singapore with 84% of CEOs expecting global GDP growth to decline over the next 12 months and only 6% expecting it to improve. Two years ago CEOs in Singapore had a record level of optimism, where 57% expected an increase in GDP growth.

Yeoh Oon Jin, Executive Chairman, PwC Singapore said: “2019 was not an easy year for business leaders in Singapore, with record low GDP growth in Singapore and a highly volatile geopolitical environment globally. In addition to external pressures, many businesses are still on their digital transformation journeys and are embarking on upskilling programmes for their employees, both of which will require significant investments in the near term. It is therefore not surprising that while GDP is expected to pick up in 2020, only about one in four CEOs in Singapore are confident in revenue growth for the next 12 months.”

CEOs are also not as positive about their own companies’ prospects for the year ahead, with 25% of CEOs in Singapore saying they are “very confident” in their own organisation’s growth over the next 12 months (27% globally, 29% in the Asia Pacific region).

Global CEO sentiment about their own revenue growth prospects has proven to be an excellent predictor of global economic growth. Analysing CEO forecasts since 2008, the correlation between CEO confidence in their 12-month revenue growth and the actual growth achieved by the global economy has been very close. If the analysis continues to hold, global growth could slow to 2.4% in 2020, below many estimates including the 3.4% October growth prediction from the IMF.

In 2019, when asked about the top threats to their organisation’s growth prospects, uncertain economic growth ranked outside the top 10 concerns for CEOs globally, at No. 12. This year it leapt to third place, just behind trade conflicts – another risk that has risen up the CEO agenda – and the perennial over-regulation, which has topped the table as the No. 1 threat for CEOs globally.

In Singapore, trade conflicts* (97%) emerged as the top concern for CEOs, followed by uncertain economic growth (94%) in second and then protectionism (88%). The top three concerns point towards the strong influence that the global environment has on Singapore as a globalised economy.


While CEOs around the world express clear concerns about the threat of over-regulation, they are also predicting significant regulatory changes in the technology sector. Globally, over two-thirds of CEOs (75% in Singapore) believe that governments will introduce new legislation to regulate the content on both the Internet and social media and to break up dominant tech companies.

A majority of CEOs (51% globally, 59% in Singapore) also predict that governments will increasingly compel the private sector to financially compensate individuals for the personal data that they collect.


While the shortage of key skills remains a top threat to growth for CEOs and they agree that retraining/upskilling is the best way to close the skills gap, they are not making much headway in tackling the problem with only 16% of Singapore CEOs (18% globally) saying they have made “significant progress” in establishing an upskilling programme.

Top challenges Singapore CEOs faced when it comes to upskilling were employees’ ability to learn new future skills (22%) and retaining upskilled employees (19%). Despite the challenges around digital upskilling, there are visible signs of progress. A third of CEOs in Singapore said that upskilling programmes were very effective in driving greater innovation and accelerated digital transformation while two-fifths of CEOs linked it to higher workforce productivity.

Yeoh said, “In the quest for greater innovation, transformation and productivity through upskilling of the workforce, a key factor for success is a clear plan that is strategically aligned to meet business needs. Organisations must clearly identify skills gaps and mismatches, build a futureproof skills strategy and lay the necessary cultural foundation. Without these building blocks in place, business leaders risk implementing programmes that are not in line with their futureproofing strategies.”

Climate change

Globally, CEOs are also increasingly concerned about cyber threats and climate change and environmental damage. Climate change is still not in the CEOs’ top 10 threats to growth, having been overshadowed by other threats despite the increasing number of extreme weather events and the intensity of debate on the issue.

Although climate change does not appear in the top ten threats to CEOs’ growth prospects, CEOs are expressing a growing appreciation of the upside of taking action to reduce their carbon footprint. Compared to a decade ago, when we last asked this question, CEOs are now twice as likely to “strongly agree” that investing in climate change initiatives will boost reputational advantage (30% in 2020 compared with 16% in 2010) and 25% of CEOs today compared with 13% in 2010 see climate change initiatives leading to new product and service opportunities for their organisation.

Views from CEOs in Singapore are even stronger with 50% saying they ‘strongly agree’ that there will be reputational advantages and 41% seeing new product and service opportunities.

However, for these opportunities to turn into long term success stories, the principles of climate change need to be embedded right across a businesses’ supply chain and customer experience.


Read PwC’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey – Singapore Report

Download the global report

Watch the associated video

*PwC conducted 1,581 interviews with CEOs in 83 countries, of which 32 were from Singapore, between September and October 2019.

The sample is weighted by national GDP to ensure that CEOs’ views are fairly represented across all major regions. Seven percent of the interviews were conducted by telephone, 88% online, and 5% by post or face-to-face. All quantitative interviews were conducted on a confidential basis.

Forty-six percent of companies had revenues of US$1 billion or more; 35% of companies had revenues between US$100 million and US$1 billion; and 15% of companies had revenues of up to US$100 million. Fifty-five percent of companies were privately owned.

**It should be noted that the survey was conducted in September and October 2019, before the US-China trade war deal signed in January 2020.