Chief Financial Officers have taken on a Scrooge-like attitude toward the U.S. economy.

In a new survey from Duke University and CFO Magazine, the CFOs complain that a mixture of weak consumer demand, fuel costs, rising labor costs and the jittery credit markets are going to impact on corporate bottom lines in coming months.

CFO optimism fell to a “record low,” the survey, which is conducted quarterly, found.

As a result, look for corporations to slow capital spending and hiring as growth in earnings also slows.

Only nine percent of CFOs are more optimistic about the economy than they were last quarter, but a whopping 72 percent are more pessimistic as consumers wrestle with $3-gallon gas and Wall Street battles the mortgage crisis.

In fact, a tightening credit market has expanded far beyond the mortgage industry. One third of firms have been affected with most CFOs complaining about “decreased availability of credit”

Dr. Mike Walden, an economics professor at North Carolina State, said he understood what the CFOs are thinking. But he noted that most CFOs still do not expect a recession in 2008.

“The survey reveals many concerns, all of which are valid,” Walden told

“Interestingly, a minority (40%) believe a recession will occur in 2008, which means a majority think a recession will not occur,” he added. “This is in line with surveys of economists.”

Walden agreed that the credit and housing markets are reasons for concern.

“Clearly, the credit market is the main focus of worries, rightly so as the housing market will likely get worse before it gets better,” he said.

However, Walden said that economic growth rather than recession still appears to be on the horizon despite the growing gloom as shown by the CFOs’ attitudes.

“I think everyone is agreed the economy is slowing – the difference of opinion is whether the slowdown will lead to a retreat (recession) or simply very modest, but still positive, growth,” he said.

“It appears that CFOs and economists are in agreement, at least now, that the latter is more likely.”

Highlights from the report include:

• “Weak consumer demand, high labor and fuel costs, and credit market turmoil are the top concerns of CFOs.

• “Credit conditions have directly hurt one-third of companies, most through decreased availability of credit.

• “Year-end bonuses will fall by 10 percent relative to last year.

• “Among firms with greater than one-fourth of sales in foreign locations, more than 60 percent have taken actions in response to the depreciated dollar by increasing hedging (expanding the range of investments to reduce risk) or changing location of investments and outsourced employment.

• “Capital spending is expected to increase only 4.1 percent, and domestic employment will increase only 0.5 percent, though outsourced employment should rise 5.6 percent. “

“CFO optimism is spiraling downward, surpassing the record low for optimism set last quarter,” said John Graham, who is the director of the survey and a finance professor at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. “This is dramatic because CFOs have a track record of accurately predicting future economic activity, and their predictions run one or two months ahead of other common economic indicators. With pessimists greatly outnumbering optimists, we expect weak capital spending, employment and earnings in 2008.”