LONDON The majority of big British businesses that favour Britain remaining in the European Union has dwindled over the last six months, according to a quarterly survey of chief financial officers published on Monday.
Accountancy firm Deloitte said 62 percent of CFOs from FTSE 350 and other large private companies backed Britain's continued membership of the EU, down from 74 percent in the second quarter of 2015.
The survey also showed business confidence fell to its lowest level since 2012, with companies putting more emphasis on cost cutting rather than expanding through acquisitions or raising capital expenditure.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum by the end of 2017 on whether Britain should stay in the EU but last month gave a strong hint he hopes to hold the vote in 2016.
"A clear majority of CFOs continue to favour the UK remaining in the EU, but the proportion of those expressing unqualified support has fallen. This mirrors what we have seen from the broader public in opinion polls in the last six months," David Sproul, Deloitte's chief executive said.
A poll of Britons published last month showed nearly half are leaning towards voting to leave the EU.
Just over half of CFOs expect to see revenue growth in 2016, the lowest proportion in two-and-a-half years and down from around two-thirds in the third quarter of last year, Deloitte said.
Still, 68 percent said they were optimistic about British economic growth in 2016.
A separate survey from the Confederation of British Industry showed Britain's economy finished 2015 strongly, although it warned there were significant risks from the global economy.
Hurt by slow demand for exports from a flagging global economy, gross domestic product grew 0.4 percent in the third quarter, matching its lowest rate since late 2012 when Britain was struggling to recover from the financial crisis.
(Reporting by Andy Bruce; Editing by Janet Lawrence)