In a signal that the local business community wishes to consign the COVID-19 pandemic to history, the majority of CEOs participating in PwC Malta’s CEO Confidence Tracker (57 per cent) hold a stable business outlook for the next six months.

This is an increase from the equivalent 50 per cent of CEOs surveyed in the previous quarter during PwC Malta’s first edition of the confidence tracker. A third (33 per cent) are optimistic and anticipate that businesses will perform better – and this is consistent with the outlook expressed in the previous quarter. Only 10 per cent hold a negative outlook – and this, when benchmarked with the previous quarter mark, which stood at 16 per cent – also signals an increasing level of confidence.

The above levels of confidence are expected to be under stress again given the new local and international developments. The confidence tracker predates the announcement of a general election at the end of March – and intense political campaign activity which anticipates this – which was being nonetheless anticipated and more significantly, the surprising news of turmoil which was unleashed in the Eastern Europe via Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and which is likely to push the EU and global economies, to yet another unchartered territory, in a time when business was reeling from the effects of a devastating pandemic.

PwC Malta’s CEO Confidence Tracker aims to track business sentiment levels on an ongoing basis by soliciting feedback from Malta’s top CEOs in a wide range of industries, namely Financial services, Construction, Gaming, Hospitality, Import & Distribution, Retail and Manufacturing.

In September 2021, PwC Malta rolled out its first CEO Confidence Tracker in which over 50 CEOs of the top local companies participated. The survey gauged the CEOs’ outlook for the following half a year. Five months in, how have their predictions fared?

In introducing the results, David Valenzia, PwC Malta’s Territory Senior Partner, stated that businesses are currently navigating in a time of unprecedented economic complexities which has been triggered by the pandemic and the very recent geo-political developments. He further elaborated that the latest PwC CEO tracker plots Malta’s top CEOs insights during a period of time when the disruption brought about by the COVID-19 peaked. Whilst the results suggest a drop in business when compared to the previous quarter, a strong resolve of resilience emanates from the CEO’s outlook for the next quarter. This, in view of the recents motions in Eastern Europe, might now be again under stress. Valenzia stated that, at PwC, our ambition continues to be that of being close to our base – our clients, in times when threats, uncertainties and tensions abound.

Did September’s predictions come to pass?

Half of the CEOs who participated in the 2021 survey held a very conservative outlook for the last quarter of that year and the entry months of 2022, and anticipated that in the forthcoming months their businesses would fare broadly on the levels of the time. One third (34 per cent) were positive, and suggested that their business is expected to recover further, while 16 per cent said they thought they would do worse.

Five months have now elapsed, and the CEOs’ predictions appear to have been broadly accurate. Half reported that their businesses performed on the levels of the past 6 months. Twenty-seven percent (27 per cent) reported better-than-predicted results, while 23 per cent reported worse-than-predicted numbers.

Looking back at performances and forward to the future

The feedback emanating from the latest run of the confidence tracker suggests lower business levels when benchmarked to the previous quarter, arguably in view of the adverse developments connected to the COVID-19 pandemic which have been experienced during the festive period, when business typically is expected to peak.

The backdrop to the September 2021 CEO confidence tracker was the roll out of a number of support measures, such as wages supplements, loan guarantees and vouchers which propelled business levels during the unprecedented distress brought about by the COVID pandemic. In the latest confidence tracker, 27 per cent of CEOs reported a better performance over the past quarter (compared to September’s 52 per cent), whereas 23 per cent stated they performed worse (compared to only 8 per cent in September). On a positive note, the number of CEOs that stated performance had been the same rose from 40 per cent in September to 50 per cent in January.

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