As a snapshot of business sentiment in China, the picture appears to be coated in a gloomy veneer. Results of a survey of chief financial officers employed by Chinese companies illustrate a crisis of confidence in the world’s second-largest economy.

While the polling sample by one of the world’s “Big Four” accountants, Deloitte, was narrow, the overall view was decidedly bleak.

More than half of the 108 senior executives surveyed from a mix of multinational, state-owned and private sector companies in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau reported their businesses had been hit by trade war tariffs.

When asked to describe the “changes in sentiment” during the past six months, 82% of those polled said the economic outlook had become less optimistic.

“There has been a sharp shift in sentiment,” William Chou, the national managing partner of the Deloitte China CFO Program, said in a release announcing the results this week.

Trade patterns

The reason for the downturn, he pointed out, was the ongoing trade war between the United States and China, despite planned peace talks to thrash out a deal, and concerns about slowing growth.

According to the study, 59% of those surveyed also felt that trade volumes would decline in the next 12 months, while 74% expected the yuan to weaken further against the dollar in the coming year.

These shifting trade patterns, in turn, would benefit Southeast Asia, 53% of those executives polled confirmed.

“Southeast Asia has been developing itself as a manufacturing hub and the changes may provide it unforeseen opportunities,” Deloitte said. “The region may also benefit from companies shifting manufacturing capabilities to avoid some of the trade protectionist measures.”

It seems every dark cloud has a silver lining.