LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's biggest companies think it will take longer for demand to return to pre-pandemic levels than they did a few months ago, another sign of how the outlook for the country's economy is worsening, a survey showed on Monday.
Accountants Deloitte said 62% of chief financial officers at major British companies thought it would take at least until the second half of next year before demand recovers, compared with 49% in the previous survey published in July.
A resurgence of the pandemic has forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to tighten containment measures, further dragging on an economic recovery that had already started to wane.
"British businesses are gearing up for a long winter with COVID-19, with a full recovery on the horizon only after next summer," Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte said.
"With further restrictions coming into effect, businesses have scaled back expectations and are focused on strengthening their businesses and their balance sheets."
Data published earlier this month showed Britain's economy grew in August at its slowest pace since May, when it started to recover from its record slump.
Nearly two-thirds of CFOs surveyed by Deloitte said they expected to retain the vast majority of staff returning from furlough, a bright spot in an otherwise downbeat survey.
While Deloitte said the pandemic topped the list of risks facing British companies, Brexit was another worry.
The survey was conducted before Johnson said on Friday that Britain should prepare to end its Brexit transition period with the European Union at the end of the year without a trade deal.
More than a quarter of CFOs said such an outcome would prompt them to cut investment and hiring plans.
"It's clear CFOs expect the type of exit the UK makes from the EU to make a difference to business activity," said Amanda Tickel, Brexit lead at Deloitte.
The survey of 102 CFOs took place between Sept. 22 and Oct. 6 and included responses from 21 FTSE 100 companies and 37 FTSE 250 companies.
(Reporting by Andy Bruce; Editing by William Schomberg)