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CFOs See Growth Ahead

Finance executives are cautious, but hopeful about the economy.
Josh Hyatt and Celina Rogers, CFO Magazine
June 15, 2012

Like doctors standing over a slowly improving patient, senior finance officers in the United States remain guardedly optimistic that the country will realize at least moderate economic growth this year, according to a recent global survey.

Seventy-eight percent of U.S.-based CFOs foresee economic expansion this year, second only to the 86% of finance executives in India who forecast growth in the next 12 months, according to the fifth annual American Express/CFO Research Global Business & Spending Monitor. The U.S. findings are consistent with results from last year, when 79% of U.S. finance chiefs predicted growth. Among all respondents, lofty economic expectations fell to earth this year, with 64% anticipating growth, compared with an almost-giddy 75% last year.

Paul Reilly, CFO of Arrow Electronics in Colorado, says that companies that survived the economic downturn are focused on constructing a strategic vision that doesn't sway with every passing economic indicator. "We can't be overtaken with enthusiasm in a period of expansion," he says. "Nor can we allow ourselves to think, in a period of contraction, that things are only going to go down and stay down." Reilly was among the 20 senior finance executives around the world interviewed for the study, which included a survey of 541 CFOs in Asia/Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East/Africa, and North America. Overall, finance leaders echoed Reilly's sentiment, extolling the virtues of applying discipline to finding and delivering value.

As wary as they are, CFOs seem more inclined to spend and invest than they were last year. In 2011, 62% of all respondents said their companies were deliberately pursuing "cash-preservation" strategies. This year, more CFOs say they are likely to tap their cash reserves than say they aren't. Among U.S.-based respondents, 56% say that their companies are likely to increase head count; 59% said they would likely invest more in expanding market access. Juan Figuereo, CFO of Newell Rubbermaid, the Atlanta-based consumer-products giant, says that his company will focus on gaining traction in new Latin American and Asian markets, where, he says, "there is some level of initial investment required, but it's relatively small."

To download this year's Global Business & Spending Monitor, "The New Era of Value Discipline," go to cfo.com/research.

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