Business leaders in the US are pressing ahead with investment plans regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election, with the exception of China, according to a new survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The latest iteration of PwC’s Road to Election 2020 Pulse Survey found that US executives say they are more likely to increase investment and trade with the EU, UK, Mexico, Canada and other countries, no matter who wins the presidency.

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However, executives diverge significantly in relation to their plans in China under a new administration. Some 42% of the 537 C-Suite and other executives surveyed between September 29 and October 5 said they would decrease investment and trade with China if President Trump is re-elected. 

On the flipside, if Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins the election, 20% of executives said they would decrease involvement in China – while 28% of respondents said they plan to increase trade and investment in China if Biden wins.

Greenfield investment monitor fDi Markets finds that the number of outbound greenfield projects announced by US companies in China totalled 663 during Trump’s first three and a half years in office. This marks a downward trend from previous presidencies – projects were lower in the corresponding period during both President Obama’s second (800) and first term (1166) in office, and the second administration of George W. Bush (1327). 

Policy risks

While the top policy-related risk cited by executives under both a Trump or Biden presidency is a change in US corporate tax policies, there is significantly more concern about potential changes if the Democratic candidate is elected.

Some 62% of executives cited US corporate tax policy as introducing new risks to their business with a Biden administration, compared with 39% under a second Trump term. Meanwhile, executives were equally likely (35%) to view the Covid-19 pandemic response as a policy risk under Trump and Biden, ranking as the second most pressing risk for both.

The vast majority of executives (76%) expect business tax rates will rise in order to pay for the Covid-19 relief, regardless of which party controls Congress – an increase of 6 percentage points from the first survey conducted a month earlier.

Appetite for deal making remains high going into 2021, the survey found. The majority of business leaders say they are equally likely to pursue an acquisition in the next 12 months under either Trump (64%) or Biden (62%). However, executives expect regulatory scrutiny is more likely to intensify under Biden (61%) than Trump (41%).

Tim Ryan, PwC’s US Chair and senior partner, said “despite the global pandemic and uncertainty about policy outcomes related to the results of the US election, business leaders are laser-focused on pursuing growth strategies, whether it’s foreign investments, evaluating new deal opportunities or looking to increase international trade.

“CEOs know they have to do everything they can to expand their businesses in order to keep their people employed and help rebuild the economy,” he added.