U.S. CFOs are growing more pessimistic about the American economy, with hiring and spending plans significantly weakening since last quarter. Finance chiefs say that their business spending plans are not sensitive to moderate changes in interest rates, suggesting that there is little that the Federal Reserve can do to stimulate investment at this time. In addition, CFO concerns about Europe also have increased in the past three months.

These findings are included in the most recent Duke University/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook survey, which concluded September 7. The survey asked nearly 1,500 CFOs from a broad range of public and private companies about their expectations for the economy.

The survey has been conducted for 66 consecutive quarters, and spans the U.S., Asia, Europe and Latin America, making it the world’s longest-running and most comprehensive poll of senior finance executives. Presented results are for U.S. firms unless otherwise noted.


  • U.S. finance chiefs say that interest rate reductions of 1 or 2 percentage points would not alter their capital spending plans, indicating that potential monetary policy actions by the Federal Reserve are unlikely to spur the corporate sector to action.
  • The Optimism Index for CFOs in the U.S., Asia, Latin America and Europe all dropped this quarter compared to last quarter. – CFOs plan to increase hiring by 1.5%, capital spending by 3.7% and earnings by 6%, all down from last quarter.
  • Forty-four percent of U.S. CFOs say that have become more pessimistic about the economy, twice as many as the 22% that say they have become more optimistic. The Optimism Index decreased to 52 (on a scale from 0 to 100), down from 56 last quarter and 59 in the spring.

    Corporate plans for earnings, spending and hiring all softened this quarter. Earnings for public U.S. firms are expected to increase 6% over the next year. CFOs say they plan to increase capital spending by just 3.7% over the coming 12 months, down from 4.9% last quarter and 7.3% in the spring. Hiring is expected to increase by 1.5% in the next year, down from greater than 2% growth reported in the last two surveys.

    For detailed results, including tabular summaries of the numbers in this release and results from previous surveys, click here.