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Hong Kong (AFP) Aug 7, 2012
Asia has been a ray of sunshine in the global economic gloom, but a confidence survey released Wednesday shows the region's executives are starting to worry as China's growth slows and exports sink.
The YPO Global Pulse Index for Asia declined 1.8 points to 60.1 in the latest quarterly survey, its lowest level since it began three years ago.
The pollsters at the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO), a not-for-profit network of 20,000 chief executive officers, said Asia's confidence level showed a marked decline from previous years.
"During the first several quarters of the survey, Asian confidence averaged nine points higher than the global confidence index reading," the YPO said in a statement.
Terry O'Connor, chief executive officer of retailer Courts Asia and chair of the YPO Singapore Chapter, said the results pointed to slower growth for a region that has so far weathered the global economic headwinds.
"Evidence of that trend accumulated during the past several months, as China reported that second quarter GDP growth fell to 7.6 percent, the Singapore economy actually declined last quarter, and South Korea and Japan both cut their full-year forecasts," he said.
"Nevertheless, it is important to note that the forecast is for a slower pace of growth, not a contraction by any means."
The Global Index dropped 4.1 points to 59.7 in the July 2012 survey, following three quarters of rising confidence.
The United States recorded the sharpest drop of 5.1 points to 60. Confidence amongst young executives in the European Union slipped 2.8 points to 52.0, reflecting the ongoing debt crisis in the eurozone.
In Asia, confidence levels ranged from a high of 70 in Thailand and the Philippines to lows of near 50 in Japan and South Korea. In China, CEO confidence "plummeted" almost seven points to the upper 50s.
The results were based on responses from 1,659 chief executive officers in the first two weeks of July, including 193 in Asia. Most YPO members are aged between 35 and 50, and to join candidates must be 44 or younger.
Carlyle Asia Investment Advisors Managing Director Patrick Siewert, a 56-year-old member of the YPO's Hong Kong chapter, said uncertainty about the drivers of future growth was "very, very high".
"I would observe that though many industry bodies have been predicting relatively good growth rates, that is going to begin to be spotty," he told AFP, referring to six straight quarters of slowing growth in China.
"People have been hanging on these medium-term growth rates for quite a while but now the numbers are coming in quite a bit softer than people would have expected."
A former president of Coca-Cola Asia, Siewert said the region would find it difficult to sustain a confidence premium over the rest of the world in light of soft demand from Europe and the United States for its exports.
Disappointing initial public offerings on regional stock exchanges, especially in Hong Kong, also hit confidence, he said.
"The IPO markets were very indiscriminate and there were a lot of companies that were IPOed that shouldn't have IPOed in the last five to seven years," he said.
Investment banks had ramped up their underwriting divisions but "now that capability is running in place or being laid off".
On the bright side, Siewert said mergers and acquisitions were "alive and well" as cashed-up Western companies sought growth in Asia, and Chinese companies hunted bargains in the United States and Europe.
"You're seeing Chinese companies going to the US and Europe because prices are low, and you're seeing European and North American companies who have cash coming to Asia to buy growth," he said.
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