Confidence falls as CEOs prepare for more shocks

Wed Jan 25, 2012 2:31pm EST
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By Ben Hirschler

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Corporate executives are struggling to find paths to growth as the euro zone crisis stokes fears of a return to recession and developing economies lose momentum.

Leaders of top companies meeting in Davos this week are braced for further shocks in 2012 and, at the personal level, the strains are growing as the backlash over top pay increases at a time of rising unemployment.

This month's stock market rally may have leavened the mood but it has failed to dent the world's growing queue of jobseekers. Worryingly, that coincides with acute skill shortages in parts of the labor market and finding the right talent is a top concern for executives.

"Twelve months ago we were all looking forward to a pretty good 2011," said Manpower (MAN.N: Quote) Chief Executive Jeff Joerres. "Twelve months later, here we are in a completely different world."

Only 40 percent of chief executives are "very confident" of revenue growth for their companies in the next 12 months, down from 48 percent in 2011, according a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) survey of 1,258 CEOs published on Tuesday.

Even so, business leaders, who are optimists by nature, remain more upbeat than two years ago and are a lot more hopeful for their own firms' prospects than for the wider economy. Just 15 percent expect the global economy to improve in 2012.

After the shocks of last year -- Europe's worsening debt and banking crisis, the downgrading of the United States credit rating, the Arab Spring and Japan's earthquake -- bosses believe they have learnt how to deal with increased volatility.

"There is a sense that we are living in a world where shocks come at us very quickly and we're getting better at living with that," said Joerres.   Continued...