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'Global employment freeze' looms as economic confidence plummets among hirers

More half of firms are either cutting or freezing employment as business optimism fell to lowest point in four years during the first quarter, according to the latest Global Economic Conditions Survey from ACCA and IMA.

The report is based on 1,200 responses from ACCA and IMA members around the world. Nearly half are small and medium-sized enterprises.

"Take North America out of the equation and the economic picture painted by this survey isn't a pretty one," said Faye Chua, ACCA head of business focus.

"Emerging markets are besieged. Revenues for commodities firms have collapsed since mid-2014. And business confidence in China has fallen to its lowest level since our records began.

"Almost half of businesses reported a drop in income in Q1. As a result, every region except North America saw a jump in the number of businesses cutting capital expenditure. With emerging economies continuing to struggle with low commodity prices and many businesses on a spending lockdown, the outlook for the global economy is becoming increasingly gloomy."

Chua said it is in the emerging markets where bottom lines are under the most pressure.

"Wages are rising rapidly in many parts of the world and businesses are finding it harder to cope as revenues come under increasing pressure," she said.

"The sharp drop against the dollar experienced by many currencies will also have pushed up costs, making imports more expensive and raising the value of dollar-denominated debts. All this means that firms in emerging-market economies are very pessimistic about their prospects."

Chua also warned that policymakers could be running low on ammunition in the fight to turn things around.

"In developed economies, governments have worked hard to stabilise their debt-to-GDP ratios. Will they want to reverse that good work and risk the wrath of bond investors? It's highly unlikely," she said.

"Instead, we'll see the heavy lifting left to central banks in the main. The problem with this approach is there are serious doubts around their ability - or indeed inclination - to provide more support.

"Once income begins to drop and businesses stop hiring, getting them to a point where they are confident enough to begin doing so again is difficult - but vital.

"The one positive is business confidence in non-OECD economies did pick up slightly in Q1, led by central and eastern Europe - and Russia in particular. Let's hope that is a sign of more positive news to come."

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