Executives across the region remain largely upbeat about the economic outlook, although skills gaps risk preventing some member states from reaching their full potential, the 2019 edition of the Business Barometer: ASEAN CEO Survey carried out by Oxford Business Group (OBG) indicated.
As part of its survey on the economy, the global research and consultancy firm asked more than 400 C-suite executives from across industries in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar a wide-ranging series of questions on a face-to-face basis aimed at gauging business sentiment.
Investor sentiment appears to be largely buoyant across the four participating countries, with 75% of respondents saying their firm is likely or very likely to make a significant capital investment in the next 12 months. Confidence was highest amongst business leaders in Thailand (81%) and lowest in Indonesia (72%).
Results were more varied, however, on key domestic issues, such as the competitiveness of the local tax environment. Just 38% of CEOs surveyed told OBG they believed their tax framework to be competitive or very competitive, while 45% described it as uncompetitive or very uncompetitive. Executives in the Philippines were the most critical, with less than one-quarter (23%) of Manila-based respondents expressing a favourable opinion of their domestic tax environment.
Access to credit was another subject that drew mixed responses, with 39% of interviewees across all four participating members of the bloc describing it as easy or very easy, but a larger number (46%) choosing the opposite answers. While business leaders in Thailand and the Philippines were largely favourable in their views, the overall result was skewed by responses from Myanmar, where more than four-fifths (81%) of executives described accessing credit as difficult or very difficult.
With several ASEAN economies eyeing tech industries and advanced manufacturing as drivers of new growth, skills gaps are currently a key focus for CEOs in the region. Executives cited a range of skills as among those they felt to be in high demand across the workforce, led by leadership (33%), engineering (18%), and research and development (14%).
Unsurprisingly, a slowdown in Chinese demand was the biggest external concern to business leaders. From those surveyed, 28% cited this as the largest international threat to domestic growth, closely followed by trade protectionism (26%) and rising commodity prices (20%).
Commenting in his blog, Patrick Cooke, OBG’s Regional Editor for Asia, said that despite China’s influence in the region, there are reasons to believe that ASEAN can remain resilient to external pressures on its interests.
“Closer economic integration and trade linkages between the bloc of over 600m people can help safeguard against turmoil in the global economy, as well as providing the scale needed to commercialise new innovations that can address development bottlenecks,” he noted.
Cooke added that mixed results on questions related to the domestic business climate in the four countries surveyed reflected significant differences in domestic regulatory frameworks, despite efforts to strengthen integration, in line with the ASEAN Economic Community 2025 blueprint. He also noted that a lack of depth in the talent pool across all member states could hinder future economic development unless skills shortfalls are addressed.
“Despite challenges in the business environment, however, investor sentiment remains enthusiastic across the participating countries,” he said. “The broadly positive results indicate that ASEAN’s potent mix of aspirational consumers, digital natives and abundant natural resources continue to hold the promise of high returns.”
Cooke’s in-depth evaluation of the survey’s results can be found on OBG’s Editor’s Blog,
titled ‘Next Frontier’. All four of OBG’s regional managing editors use the platform to share their expert analysis of the latest developments taking place across the sectors of the 30+ high-growth markets covered by the company’s research.
The OBG Business Barometer: CEO Surveys features in the Group’s extensive portfolio of research tools. The full results of the survey on ASEAN will be made available online and in print. Similar studies are also under way in the other markets in which OBG operates.