Research Triangle Park – Optimism reflected in some recent surveys about companies hiring across the U.S. certainly weren’t reflected in the findings of the latest chief financial officer survey from Duke University and CFO Magazine earlier this week.

In fact, the survey that dates back 46 consecutive quarters found CFO optimism to be at a record low.

Slow growth in earnings, strike 1.

Slow growth in capital spending, strike 2.

Slow growth in acquisitions, strike 3.

No growth in hiring – You’re out!

Recession in?

Want more concerns? The CFOs are worried about weak consumer demand, rising labor costs, and the shaky credit markets.

This survey is fresh, too. The September survey concluded on the seventh and it’s global in scope. More than 1,300 CFOs responded with less than half of those being in the U.S.

If you don’t want more bad news, stop reading.

What, are you a glutton for punishment?

OK, here are some other lowlights, as opposed to highlights, from U.S. CFOs:

• Pessimists outnumber optimists 4-to-1 with 61.7 percent of the respondents being more pessimistic about the U.S. economy than last quarter. A whopping 13.6 percent were more optimistic.

• The “optimism index” is at its “lowest point,” Duke and CFO Magazine said.

• M&As have being a major boost to the economy. No longer. “The mergers and acquisitions boom will wither due to tighter and more expensive credit and weaker economic growth; there will be a shift away from private equity buyers toward corporate acquirers,” the report’s summary says. (Nice turn of phrase, at least – “buyers toward corporate admiers.”)

• Hiring will be flat in coming months

• Capital spending will increase, but “only” 3.2 percent

• The percentage of CFOs who were optimistic about their own firms also dipped to 39.5 percent from 49 percent in March

• Interestingly, increasing labor costs are a major concern even though fewer companies plan to hire. Good workers must indeed be harder to find.

And just as we head into the holidays, CFOs are worried about consumer demand. (Nothing like gloomy opinions from CFOs to further spook you and me about Christmas shopping, right?)

So, bottom line: Will we hear the dreaded “R” word more in coming days?


“With pessimists greatly outnumbering optimists, the prospects for the U.S. economy are very poor, with a recession a distinct possibility,” said Duke’s John Graham, who directs the survey.

The survey found that even a half-point cut in interest rates by the Fed at its Sept. 18 meeting might not even help chase away the gloom.


Did someone say three outs, game over – the boom is over?