Turning economic tide requires reassessment of strategic priorities

16 April 2019 Consultancy.eu

Risks of a downturn in Europe continue on the horizon as various risks to (global) growth come together. A new survey of operations managers in Europe shows that around half expect a downturn somewhere in 2019, although few expect a recession. Leaders in financial services are the most pessimistic, while automotive respondents are the most likely to expect a downturn.

The financial crisis, born from a chain of activities on the back of risky lending by banks combined with poor risk governance as well as an inflated real estate market in the US, nearly collapsed the global economy. The decade that followed saw recovery, with recent years seeing sustained economic growth in Europe, booming equities and positive sentiment among companies and investors.

However, stability may be giving way to uncertainty in Europe. Global headwinds from a trade spat between the US and China, fallout from Brexit, as well as the rise of populism – particularly in Italy, Austria and the Netherlands – means that the tide is turning. Changes to monitory policy are also on the cards, with interest rates expected to rise in Europe and in the US. Meanwhile, the Chinese economy is projected to slow, while growth of other fast growing emerging market economies is stagnating.

Economic expectations - Overview

A new report by Roland Berger, titled ‘Operations Efficiency Radar’, highlights the changing sentiment among European business leaders. According to the study, the number of respondents expecting a downturn this year stands at 48%, up from 17% last year. Few, 2%, however expect a recession, comparable to the view last year.

The sentiment comes on the back of worsening key economic indicators, the researchers note. The number of restructuring cases has increased, global stocks fell 10% over 2018, and there are an increasing number of profit warnings across industries. Market volatility is also up, while business confidence and expectations have trended down over 2018. Profit warnings by companies have gone up, in particular in Europe’s largest economy Germany, and further interest rate hikes are looming around the corner.

Different industries have considerably different expectations. The most pessimistic industry is financial services – 11% of its professionals expect a recession this year and 33% a downturn. The automotive industry meanwhile has the highest number of leaders expecting a downturn, at 92%, followed by industrial products, at 56%. The most optimistic industry is chemicals/pharma, with 36% expecting a boom, followed by consumer goods and retail at 33%.

Economic expectations by industry

The changing market conditions are prompting leaders to change some of their strategic planning and priorities going forward. The automotive industry operations leaders are set to focus on production (79%), working capital management (79%), and product portfolios (77%). Aerospace and defence firms are set to focus largely on production (73%) and controlling & finance (66%), followed by procurement (64%) and product portfolios (61%). Industrial products companies are set to focus their operation priorities on product portfolio (75%), production (69%), and procurement (63%).

For four other industries studied – chemicals & pharma, consumer goods & retail, industrial services and financial services – product portfolio, which includes rationalising, optimising and innovating products, is the top strategic priority.

Commenting on the findings, the authors state, “The first consequences of the fragile environment are already visible in a number of indicators. Company leaders should use the results to challenge priorities throughout 2019, review their early warning systems, fine-tune and/or re-assess budgets and investments and consider crisis preparation scenario’s.”

Related: 13 business and technology trends for 2019.


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