Daily News: December 13, 2012

CFOs See Stability in Economy Despite ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Threat

Nearly 70% of chief financial officers of U.S. companies believe the U.S. economy will either improve or remain stable during the next six months, according to the 2012 Fall CFO Survey from Grant Thornton. The survey findings reveal that 39% of respondents believe the state of the U.S. economy will remain the same in the first half of 2013, while 30% believe it will improve. Of those surveyed, 31% said it will worsen, which is an increase of ten percentage points from the firm’s 2012 Summer CFO Survey findings.

That expectation of stability extends throughout the survey findings, with CFOs predicting that industry financial prospects (42%), pricing or fees charged (51%), and head count (49%) will all remain the same in the next six months.

And though the threat of a “fiscal cliff” looms large, 53% of respondents say it would not affect the first six months of 2013 for their companies. Further, 60% of respondents do not consider the uncertainty of the “fiscal cliff” resolution an obstacle to making business decisions.

“The turbulent years of the recent past have made businesses more adept at managing through economic uncertainty,” said Stephen Chipman, chief executive officer of Grant Thornton. “It is reassuring to see that CFOs are confident that we will not take any steps backward in our progress.”

Also encouraging, 34% of respondents believe industry financial prospects will improve, 35% believe pricing or fees charged will increase, and 34% say head count will increase.

In addition, according to the survey findings CFOs are committed to keeping several employee benefits the same as last year, including bonuses (55%), stock options (69%), 401K match (85%), and other company-matched retirement contributions (82%). On a positive note, 59% plan to increase salaries.

“While many companies don’t foresee the economy taking a turn for the worse in the next six months, there is still an absence of improving economic conditions that are needed to propel our country into growth mode,” Chipman added. “Only 34% of companies expect their financial prospects to improve in the next six months, which means that reluctance to increase hiring and make capital investments will continue to bog down our economy.”

Grant Thornton conducts its CFO Survey twice a year with CFOs and other senior financial executives across the United States. The fall 2012 survey took place between November 7 and November 30, with 1,582 CFOs and comptrollers participating.