The world’s markets may believe that the worst of the financial crisis in Europe is over after three turbulent years, but those people who control the purse strings of the world’s businesses are not breathing any easier.
An annual survey of finance directors from global business consultancy BDO found that the crisis over too much government debt in Europe remains one of their key concerns — so much so that Greece is considered a riskier place to invest and set up business in than war-torn Syria.
Only Iran and Iraq are considered riskier than Greece, which is struggling to convince its international creditors that it deserves bailout loans to avoid bankruptcy and a possible euro exit.
“CFOs [chief financial officers] are becoming increasingly wary of southern Europe, parts of which they now see as risky as the politically unstable countries of the Middle East,” BDO chief executive Martin Van Roekel said.
Greece is not the only country in the 17-country group that uses the euro in the survey’s top 10 riskiest countries to invest in. Spain — the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy, with a long-standing relationship with Latin America — stands at No. 7.
This reluctance by finance directors, particularly from fast-growing economies such as Brazil and China, to invest in Europe’s indebted countries goes to the heart of the financial crisis. A major part of these countries’ recovery is dependent on the private sector stepping in to fill the investment gap left by cuts in government spending.
While countries like Greece and Spain are struggling to convince international business that they are good places to invest, others are prospering. Despite recent signs of slowing down, China is considered the most attractive country for expansion, closely followed by the US. Others such as Brazil, India, Germany and the UK also feature in the top 10 of countries ripe for expansion.
Overall, the survey from BDO found that CFOs around the world are finding it more difficult to conduct business abroad. Other than an uncertain global economic situation, they cite increased regulation and greater competition.
Van Roekel said he was “surprised” that more finance directors did not voice concern about the heavy debts of countries outside of Europe, notably Japan and the US.
Though Japan’s debt is about double the size of its economy, the country has managed to avoid stoking too many investor concerns because most of it is self-financed by its own pension funds.
The US, which has the advantage of having the world’s reserve currency, has problems of its own and the winner of the presidential election will soon have to grapple with the “fiscal cliff” — a package of huge tax hikes and spending cuts that will automatically be introduced if the different arms of government do not come to a budget agreement.
BDO surveyed 1,000 CFOs from medium-sized firms planning foreign investment.