What does the 2023 PNG 100 CEO Survey tell us about business confidence in Papua New Guinea? [analysis]


The results of the 2023 PNG 100 CEO Survey, Papua New Guinea’s annual business confidence survey, have been released. Westpac’s Senior Economist, Justin Smirk, draws on 12 years of survey results to highlight the changes in business conditions and the issues faced by business.

The PNG 100 CEO Survey has been run annually since 2012. (Picture: Looking out over Ela Beach towards Koki in Port Moresby. Credit: BAI.)

PNG 100 CEO survey 2023

Westpac’s Justin Smirk.

The 2023 PNG 100 CEO Survey charts a lift in business optimism for profits, investment and, in particular, employment.

While this sets a positive tone for the year, the survey continues to highlight the ongoing difficulties PNG firms face accessing foreign exchange (forex), the unreliability of telecoms services and the problems with security/law and order.

Concern for inflation has lifted to a level not seen since 2013. However, with global inflation already showing signs of moderating and the kina holding firm, it is likely that inflation in PNG is close to a peak.

‘Profit, investment and recruitment expectations have improved, with recruitment sentiment at a record high.’

The lack of access to forex is the number one hindrance to PNG businesses, replacing COVID restrictions in 2021 and regulatory uncertainty in 2022. At a weighted average of 4.1 (out of 5), this is the strongest business leaders have felt about this issue since 2017.

From the 2023 survey, we’ve identified four key highlights:

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1. Business conditions bounce back to levels not seen since 2019

We have combined the expectations for profits, investment and recruitment into a single index: the Business Conditions Index.

This index improved in 2023, lifting to 58.8 from 49.1 in 2022, for the strongest performance since 2019, when GDP lifted by 5.9 per cent.

2. Profit, investment and recruitment expectations have improved, with recruitment sentiment at a record high

Profit and investment expectations both rose this year, although not to their 2019 peaks.

Looking at profit expectations only, the Profit Expectation Index is 15.5 per cent stronger than its historical average.

Meanwhile, the Investment Expectation Index lifted to 97.4 – a significant improvement on 2022’s 55.5.

More significant was the surge in the Recruitment Expectation Index, which hit a historical high of 84.6, up from 56.8 in 2022. This is a very promising sign for stronger growth in formal employment.

3. Lack of forex returns as most critical impediment

From 2016 to 2019, as liquidity improved, forex dropped down the list of impediments. By 2020, however, it was back and was only beaten in 2021 by COVID restrictions.

However, reduced market liquidity, resulting from the Bank of Papua New Guinea’s increased emphasis on currency stability, saw forex resurface as a critical impediment. Last year, it eased further to 3.5 (out of 5), its lowest since 2015. Its score of 4.1 this year is the highest since 2017.

4. Inflation is a greater concern, but not of the top rank

Inflation rose to 3.5 (out of 5) in 2023 from a low of 2.6 in 2021. However, it is less of a concern than foreign exchange, security, skill shortages, unreliable telecoms and utilities, lack of government capacity and regulatory uncertainty.

Security/law and order lifted this year to the highest level of concern since 2016.

Telecommunications had been improving, so it is disappointing to see it lift to 3.9 in 2023. The unreliability of utilities is also an increasing concern.

Meanwhile, concern about the lack of expertise and skills is at its highest since 2019. Given the expectation for an increasing demand for labour it is not surprising that the lack of expertise and skills is also becoming an increasing concern. 

Justin Smirk is Senior Economist at Westpac. A version of this article was first published in the 18th annual edition of Business Advantage PNG, Papua New Guinea’s premier business magazine.

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