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New macro-economic risks have emerged at the start of 2020 – creating a familiar sense of unease among finance practitioners. Treasurers are also under increasing pressure to transform their functions in search of new operational efficiencies, as maturing technologies and evolving business models take shape. J.P. Morgan has identified the key trends that will impact corporates and the areas of focus for treasurers for the rest of the year.
While uncertainties surrounding Brexit and the U.S.-China relations have eased, the outbreak of the new coronavirus have presented new risks for the global economy, that has already borne the brunt of the trade tensions in recent years. Year on year growth in global capex growth has declined by 8% since 2018 due to falling business confidence,1 while shifts in supply chains have also been noticeable, with US imports from Vietnam and Taiwan rising at the expense of China.2
We expect the contagion effects from geopolitical events to prevail throughout this year.
Against an uncertain backdrop, there has – since 2018 – been a synchronized global slowdown across leading economies. The good news is that accommodative monetary policies will help support financial markets throughout 2020.
China’s central bank in February lowered its interest rates on reverse repurchase agreements and injected over a trillion yuan into money markets, while required reserved ratio for banks have dropped to a decade low – to relieve pressure on the domestic economy. The U.S. Federal Reserve in March also delivered an emergency rate cut – the first since the global financial crisis – to counter risks to the economy as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, with other central banks around the world expected to follow suit. Such accommodative monetary policies, together with supportive fiscal measures by major economies, are expected to help prop up growth.
With macroeconomic uncertainty likely to persist, treasury practitioners should consider increasing their focus on capital optimization in order to unlock internal sources of cash to fund supply chain disruptions and better capitalize on M&A opportunities during periods of uncertainty. According to a research by BCG, shareholder returns on M&A deals executed during an economic downturn have been found to significantly outperform those transacted in a booming economy 4.
Cloud computing has provided ample opportunities for traditional businesses such as logistics, mobility and infrastructure to sell their solutions ‘as-a-service’, while others have adopted pay-as-you-go and subscription models as consumers increasingly seek convenience and cost-effective services. With growing demand for more intuitive, real-time and integrated solutions, we expect to see companies that have built digital business ecosystems (e.g. Amazon, Facebook, Uber) expanding from their core businesses and diversifying into other industries.
Technology deployment is finally gaining traction within the treasury space, as finance practitioners harness emerging technologies and data to support new digital-driven business models. About 44 percent of treasury functions are currently pursuing big data and artificial intelligence7, and the adoption is even higher among operations-focused shared service centers with 82 percent having or in the process of setting up a data analytics function8.
With new direct-to-consumer business models and instant payment rails gradually being rolled out globally, treasurers should sit with their banking partners to map out their objectives, and by deploying technology in-house or tapping into digitized banking solutions, work towards building a real-time treasury.
While technology provides tremendous opportunities, it’s also important to keep in mind the heightened risk of fraud and cyberattacks. A 2019 study by PwC revealed that only 15 percent of companies surveyed were not affected by attempts on payment fraud9. With cyberattacks becoming more sophisticated, treasury departments – being the nexus where money flows in and out of an organization – need to be increasingly vigilant and focus on strengthening its defenses against fraud.
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting – which tracks the sustainability and ethical impacts of a company – has garnered increasing attention from global investors in recent years. The global sustainability investment market has grown by 34 percent from 201610, increasing exponentially across all regions, while 49 stock exchanges worldwide have committed to publishing ESG disclosure guidelines11. At the same time, EU policymakers have also agreed on a regulatory framework around ESG that demands more corporate transparency, and we expect this to gain traction in other regions12.
The growing demand for ESG reporting is expected to directly impact the remit of corporate treasurers, as investors no longer focus solely on an organization’s financial performance, but also on the societal impacts of their business practices.
Companies today are under increasing pressure to deliver business growth, whilst positively contributing to social and environmental change. With 75 percent of companies now directing corporate responsibility from the C-Suite leve13, corporate treasurers can become more involved in ESG through the areas of sustainable financing, investment and supply chain practices – to align themselves closer to the firm’s strategic agenda.
Treasurers can consider raising finance through sustainability-linked loans or issuance of green bonds, while also incorporating ESG into investment policies and spends that focus on responsible activities. Companies also need to assess their end-to-end supply chain and consider evaluating their counterparties (banking partners, vendors) based on their ESG credentials.
For more information, please contact your J.P. Morgan representative.
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