Employment Picture and CFO Optimism Bleak

USA TODAY, November 2010 | Go to article overview

Employment Picture and CFO Optimism Bleak


Optimism about the U.S. economy has fallen back to recession levels among chief financial officers who foresee minimal increases in expected hiring, weak consumer demand, and heightened economic uncertainty. Credit remains tight for small firms and many companies continue to hoard cash. Without improvement in the economy, CFOs say earnings growth and capital spending will falter within six to 12 months.

These are some of the findings of the most recent Duke University/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook Survey. The research has been conducted for 58 consecutive quarters.

A summary of the findings includes:

* CFO optimism about the U.S. economy has fallen to 49 on a zero-to-100 scale, well below the rating of 58 from the last quarter. Pessimists outnumber optimists four to one.

* Half of CFOs report they will cling tightly to cash due to economic uncertainty and as a liquidity buffer. The other half will spend some cash reserves in the next year, primarily for investment, to pay down debt, and to make acquisitions.

* CFOs expect to increase domestic full-time employment by 0.7% in the next year. Nearly 25% of all recent hires have been contract and temporary employees, up from 17% prior to the recession.

* Credit markets remain fight, especially for small companies. Most CFOs believe financial reform will add costs and restrictions that will dampen lending.

* CFOs' economy-wide concerns include Federal government policies, weak consumer demand, price pressure, and the poor national employment outlook. By a wide margin, the top concern among CFOs about their own businesses is the ongoing struggle to maintain profit margins, followed by rising health care costs and low employee morale.

* Optimism about the overall economy fell at 53% of U. …

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