February 1, 2011

Executives Worldwide See Spending Cuts as Top Fix for Government Debt

In RBC Capital survey, business leaders say tax increases are less likely

A survey by RBC Capital Markets found that top business executives worldwide, concerned about the level of debt in their nations’ economies, saw spending cuts, not tax increases, as the chief remedy for governments.

The third semiannual RBC Capital Markets Global Survey released Monday, which polled 461 finance and global business leaders, found that 46% believed their countries’ external debt was growing at an unsustainable level. Almost half of those—49%—said they believed their governments would turn to spending cuts to control the level of debt. Three in 10 believed their governments would instead rely on raising taxes. Only 13% thought that their governments would utilize inflationary policies as the primary means of approach.

More than 60% of U.S. and U.K. respondents believe that their government’s debt is growing at unsustainable levels. Among European respondents, euro zone periphery nations, including Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain, are most pessimistic. Canadians were the most optimistic.

Marc Harris, co-head of global research for RBC Capital Markets, said in a statement, “The debt that hangs over individual countries is casting a long shadow in the minds of corporate executives and investors. The results of the RBC study are a clear call to action by the world's business leaders.”

Concerns over large amounts of debt to be refinanced in the next year led 12% of executives to predict that their governments will experience a funding shortfall that they will not be able to cover over the next one to three budget cycles. More than one third (36%) said their countries could cover such shortfalls, albeit with difficulty, and 34% said their governments could easily handle shortfalls.

The euro zone brings pessimism, as well: 85% believe that one or more countries will leave it in the next three years. Asked whether they believe the euro zone itself will split up in the next three years, 60% said yes and 40% said there was zero chance of that happening. Regarding inflation, 84% expect it to increase in their countries. In May of 2010, during the last survey, only 58% anticipated an increase.

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