Managing Director & Senior Partner
BCG’s 2023 Global Investor Survey finds that investors are optimistic about the next three years, pinning their hopes on stronger GDP growth and cooling inflation. Their medium-term bullishness and market-return expectations have climbed to the highest levels since the inception of our survey series in 2009.
In the short term, however, investors are concerned about high interest rates and the risk of a recession. As a result, they emphasize that companies should balance growth with financial resilience in order to be viewed as attractive investments. For corporate leaders, this means defining a compelling growth strategy for the next three to five years, while shaping an effective and efficient organization to deliver it. They must thoughtfully allocate capital to the best opportunities, taking into consideration investors’ priorities.
Below, we highlight the key findings of the survey. The slideshow provides a more detailed view of the results.
Across all regions, investors cited two primary macroeconomic concerns: first, interest rates and monetary policy, and second, consumer price inflation and its influence on consumer sentiment and demand. Other areas of concern vary by region. Geopolitical risks are seen as especially significant by respondents in Europe and the Middle East, while cost and wage inflation is a more prominent concern among those in North America and the Asia-Pacific region.
Macroeconomic concerns led nearly half of global investors to anticipate a recession in 2023. North American investors expressed the most apprehension, while their Asia-Pacific counterparts remain comparatively optimistic. BCG’s Q2 2023 pulse check of US investors, conducted in early June, found that inflation expectations and recession fears remained largely unchanged in the three months since BCG’s Q1 2023 pulse check.
Looking beyond 2023, investors foresee a rebound in GDP growth, albeit accompanied by inflation rates that are persistently higher than central banks’ target levels. Globally, investors project an annual real GDP growth rate of 3.1% and an average inflation rate of 3.8% in 2024 and 2025.
Considering the near-term recession fears, it is unsurprising that fewer than 20% of investors expressed bullish sentiments regarding the next 12 months—the lowest level recorded in BCG’s global investor surveys since the Global Financial Crisis. (See “About the Survey.”) Conversely, more than 70% of investors are bullish about the capital market outlook over the next three years, which is the most optimistic response since 2009.
Against this backdrop, investors anticipate an average total shareholder return (TSR) of about 8% from global capital markets over the next three years—the highest level since we began tracking TSR expectations in 2010. This optimism is largely fueled by diminished concerns surrounding current valuation levels, particularly outside of North America. Globally, only 45% of investors perceive capital markets as overvalued, a marked decrease from the previous five years when more than two-thirds of investors expressed such concerns.
Given the challenging near-term market conditions, investors said that they are being more cautious. More than two-thirds of investors are holding more cash, applying higher discount rates, dedicating more time to cash flow and balance sheet analysis, and transitioning their investment focus from growth to value. Although investors expect these changes to be temporary, they do not anticipate a quick reversion. For example, more than 60% of investors said the shift in preference from growth to value would persist for another one to three years. However, it is noteworthy that the S&P 500’s strong performance in the first half of 2023 was partially driven by growth-oriented technology stocks—a rally fueled by investors’ interest in AI.
As inflation moderates and recession fears subside, corporate leaders need to be multitaskers—investing in longer-term growth while also delivering short-term results and ensuring enough resilience to weather ongoing risks. Approximately 60% of survey respondents consider investing for growth or protecting revenue to be a top-three priority for financially healthy companies, while half of those surveyed emphasized the importance of building financial resilience and managing cash flow.
Striking a balance begins with defining a clear and compelling growth strategy for the next three to five years. Long-term organic growth is the clear-cut, number one investment consideration for investors, with 59% of respondents ranking it among their top-three considerations—more than twice the percentage for any other factor. For this growth to be durable and to create value, however, leaders need to ensure that their companies have the right foundations in place, including an appropriate cost base, a flexible organization structure, and updated capabilities. Leaders also need to ensure that their portfolio of businesses is set up for the long term.
Capital allocation will play a crucial role in achieving the balance. Investors underscored the importance of companies increasing organic investments, with more than half of investors ranking it in their top two capital allocation priorities for financially healthy companies. This was followed by strengthening the balance sheet by reducing debt, building cash reserves, and pursuing strategic and accretive M&A. Increasing dividends or aggressively repurchasing shares were less popular as the optimal way to deploy capital and free cash flow. Even so, many investors expect companies to continue paying dividends at least at the historical levels that preceded the pandemic.
The insights from BCG’s 2023 Global Investor Survey highlight the opportunities for financially healthy companies to benefit from investors’ medium-term optimism. Prioritizing both growth and financial resilience is a difficult balancing act that requires a well-considered approach to allocating capital among organic growth, M&A, and cash payouts. Leaders who devise a plan that takes into account investors’ wide-ranging priorities will position their companies to deliver stronger and more sustainable TSR even in the face of potential short-term headwinds.