Keith NunesKANSAS CITY — Business leaders entered 2018 with a heightened sense of optimism about global growth, according to the consultancy PWC’s Annual Global C.E.O. Survey. The mood among chief executive officers shifted significantly entering 2019, with the latest survey showing what PWC called a “record jump in pessimism” about global growth prospects and, even more concerning, a noteworthy dip in the sales outlooks of their own companies. Adding to the challenges, many of the c.e.o.s say, is a data availability gap between the information they receive and what they need to make effective strategic decisions.

PWC has been conducting the C.E.O. Survey for the past 22 years, and its results often correlate with actual annual G.D.P. movement, according to the consultancy. The survey features responses from more than 1,300 chief executives from a variety of industries around the world.

“Hunkering down” is a general theme this year, PWC said. The business threats leaders considered most pressing in the past included overregulation, terrorism and geopolitical uncertainty. This year the ease of doing business around the world is seen as a significant challenge, with overregulation, policy uncertainty and trade conflicts cited as primary topics of concern.

Optimism among North American c.e.o.s plummeted from 63 per cent going into 2018 to 37 per cent for 2019. The percentage projecting slower global growth rose from 3 per cent last year to 28 per cent for 2019.

Asked to assess their confidence in their company’s growth prospects for the next 12 months and during the next three years, responses were worrisome.

“The only previous survey where three-year confidence dipped below 12-month confidence globally was in the precursor stages of the recession of 2007-08,” PWC said. Specific regions where three-year confidence fell below 12-month levels were North America, Western Europe, and Central and Eastern Europe.

More disquieting is what c.e.o.s said in the survey about the information they use to make strategic decisions. Great leaps in data generation, organization and mining capabilities have been made during the past decade. Yet the leaders surveyed cited an information gap between the data they need and what they receive. That gap has not closed in the 10 years since PWC last asked about the topic.

The issue isn’t that the data aren’t available; it is the inability to organize and use the information effectively.

“Data about customer preferences and needs remains the most valuable followed by financial forecasts, then data about brand and reputation, business risks, and employee views and needs …,” PWC said. “Has the ‘comprehensiveness’ of the data c.e.o.s receive on these measures improved over the last 10 years? Not really.”

Apart from financial forecasting, the survey shows fewer than a third of c.e.o.s consider the data they receive on critical matters to be sufficiently comprehensive.

Data may be the currency of the future, and companies capable of managing intelligence effectively will have an edge in their respective markets. Such an advantaged position will be critical if the clouds global c.e.o.s see on the horizon bring a storm.