NEW YORK–(PRNewswire)– Top financial decision makers in the U.S. share an optimistic outlook towards the sustained economic recovery and opportunities for their businesses, according to findings from the most recent survey of Chief Financial Officers conducted by Financial Executives International (FEI) and Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business. Despite concerns about the risks and costs associated with healthcare, CFOs maintain a more positive perspective as they enter the second half of 2013 than they did previously, especially towards hiring and employment opportunities.
Respondents to the “CFO Quarterly Global Outlook Survey,” which polls CFOs of public and private businesses in the U.S. on their economic and business confidence, are collectively more enthusiastic this quarter. The quarterly optimism index for U.S. CFOs toward their own businesses increased three points to 70.7 from 67.1 last quarter. Confidence toward the U.S. economy among respondents improved, rising to 61.2 from 58.5 in Q1, with nearly half of all respondents (49%) indicating they believe the U.S. economy to already be in the midst of a recovery. In the next 12 months, CFOs anticipate an 11% increase in net earnings and an eight percent increase in revenue. CFOs plan to increase technology spending by seven percent. More than half of the CFOs surveyed said that they are currently directing investments towards dashboard and performance metrics (53%), and CFOs are also investing in social media marketing and looking at R&D, cyber security and risk management. However, CFOs project a 10% increase in costs related to healthcare.
CFOs also weighed in on their concerns about various international economies. U.S. CFOs confidence in the global economy showed improvement, with an increase to 53.9, up three points from the previous quarter (50.8). Nearly three-quarters (73%) of U.S. CFOs believe their businesses will be unaffected by a slowdown in China’s and India’s economy and more than half of respondents (55%) estimate that the current government stimulus program in Japan will be unsuccessful. Businesses appear to be more vulnerable to the European economy, with 78% of respondents rating their concern about the fate of the Eurozone at a “three or higher” on a scale of one to five (with one being “not concerned”). Furthermore, 44% of respondents do not expect to see a recovery of the European economy until 2015 or beyond.
“The results of this quarter’s survey show that overall economic confidence among financial leaders in the U.S. has improved,” said Linda Allen, Professor of Economics and Finance for the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College. “Particularly encouraging is the attitude towards hiring: 61% of CFOs plan to hire within the next six months, and employee compensation is expected to increase by 3.5%.”
The respondents’ optimistic view on hiring and employment at their companies is reflected in their plans to hire mid-career professionals, entry-level college graduates and experienced and skilled technical workers. In addition to plans to hire, nearly three-quarters of U.S. CFOs (72%) said they did not have to reduce their workforce over the past 12 months. CFOs also expect the U.S. employment rate to improve, declining slightly to 7.3 one year from now.
“Previous surveys have shown reduction or minimal growth in the number of U.S. CFOs with plans to hire additional staff. However, the results of this quarter’s survey could indicate this trend is turning around,” said Marie Hollein, President and CEO, Financial Executives International. “It is hopeful to know that employment opportunities are expected to increase for professionals across a variety of levels, and that healthcare costs have not deterred many businesses from taking on full-time staff members.”
Other findings from the CFO Quarterly Global Outlook Survey include the following:
- Healthcare: The majority of U.S. CFOs anticipate their businesses will be affected by healthcare changes, with 58% of respondents expecting the new healthcare regulations will increase the employee co-pay within their companies and 43% expecting it will reduce the quality of healthcare packages available and/or reduce benefits for employees. When asked about the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) within the past six months, companies experienced on average a four percent increase in related costs as a result of this regulation.
- Cash/Capital: U.S. CFOs stated that they are most commonly accessing capital from banks, with a third accessing capital from equity and a quarter from debt markets. While the majority of respondents said they are not using or considering any alternative sources of funding, 16% said that they are considering asset-backed loans and 11% are considering an acquisition in the next 12 months.
- Quantitative Easing: The majority of U.S. CFOs believe that Quantitative Easing (QE) will taper off by the end of 2014, while a quarter believe it would taper off by the end of this year. CFOs are generally split on the impact of QE on their companies – while 52% do not anticipate an impact, 48% expect QE ease to affect their businesses, financing and equity/debt markets.
- Inflation: CFOs expect the rate of inflation will be two percent on average six months from now and close to three percent one year from now. CFOs continue to carry a low to moderate level of concern toward inflation, as evidenced by 75% of respondents selecting “three or lower” on a concern scale of one to five. The majority of respondents indicated that this level of concern is consistent with their level of concern in the previous quarter. However, for 61% of CFOs, the volatility of energy prices has increased expectations for inflation.
- Interest Rates: U.S. CFOs expect interest rates to remain below one percent over the next six months, and increase slightly one year from now. The majority of U.S. CFOs are not overwhelmingly alarmed about interest rates this quarter, with 69% of U.S. CFOs rating their concern at levels “three or lower” on a scale of one to five.
- Capital Spending: Based on responses from U.S. CFOs, there are more companies currently spending at a normal rate or making ambitious investments in capital expenditures (54%) than there are those spending cautiously or holding off on all or nearly all capital investments (46%). Of those making capital expenditures, the majority are directing investments towards technology (67%).
- Sequestration: This year, the majority of businesses (65%) were not impacted as a result of sequestration. Of the 18% that were impacted, revenue was the area most affected (82%). Contracts, customers and delays in orders were also commonly reported as being affected.
This quarter, the CFO Quarterly Global Outlook Survey, conducted by Financial Executives International and Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business, interviewed 226 corporate CFOs from the U.S. electronically from July 26 to August 9. CFOs from both public and private companies and from a broad range of industries, revenues and geographic areas, including some off-shore companies, are represented. The respondents are members of Financial Executives International. Financial Executives International has been conducting surveys gauging the country’s economic outlook from the perspective of CFOs for more than 12 years.