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CPAs Express Wide Optimism Gap

A survey reveals that CFOs and other certified public accountants feel more optimistic about their own businesses than the rest of the economy.
Kathy HoffelderMarch 11, 2013

A big gap between the optimism that CFOs, controllers, and chief executive officers with CPAs feel about their own firm and how upbeat they are about the U.S. economy has persisted for at least a year, according to an American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’s (AICPA) survey in February.

Indeed, half of the 1,376 senior executives with CPA designations (47% of them CFOs) who responded said they feel better about the prospects for their own business this quarter, which is up 9% from the 41% who felt that way last quarter. At the same time, optimism for the U.S. economy as a whole remains low, however.

The overall CPA Outlook Index (which gives equal weight to a composite of nine indicators, including U.S. Economy Optimism, Organization Optimism, Expansion Plans, Revenue, Profits, Employment, Information Technology, and Other Capital Spending) rose 7 points, to 66, in the first quarter of 2013 from the fourth quarter of 2012, the largest quarterly rise in more than two years. (But it’s still below its postrecession high of 69, which occurred during the first quarter of 2012; a reading above 50 generally indicates a positive sentiment.)

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This quarter, the index has registered a jump in executives’ optimism about their organization to 67 from the 61 recorded in the last quarter of 2012, second only in the prior year to the 72 recorded in the first quarter of 2012.

To be sure, the component measuring optimism for the overall U.S. economy jumped even more this quarter, to 50 from 36 in the fourth quarter of 2012. Yet it still trails the 61 recorded in the first quarter of 2012 and 54 recorded in the second quarter. About a third (or 32%) of the respondents said they were either optimistic or very optimistic about the prospects for the overall U.S. economy, an improvement over the 21% who believed that last quarter. The number of pessimists also declined from 49% in the fourth quarter of 2012 to 31% this quarter.

Optimism at the company level is what Jim Blake, CFO, vice president, and treasurer of Morey’s Piers, an entertainment concern based in Wildwood, New Jersey, feels. “Most businesses are optimistic about their own businesses. They are not optimistic about the overall economy,” he says. “We will continue to expand. This fiscal year, revenues will go up probably as much as 5%. That’s a nice increase.” Morey’s Piers takes in about $50 million in revenue on an annual basis.

The beachfront entertainment-and-water-park outfit has 1,000 jobs to fill in the coming months. Morey’s Piers, according to Blake, plans to entice new customers and keep the old ones coming back. 

That will take capital, the finance chief notes. “Most people would say the amusement business isn’t that capital-intensive, but we are as capital-intensive as a manufacturing concern. We have to constantly improve our offering to customers: new rides, new facilities, upgrading, new rehabs. Those have to happen constantly or people will go someplace else,” he says.

Overall, the respondents indicated their companies will be expanding their operations with spending plans rising across all categories: information technology, up to 2.7% in this quarter from 2.1% in the fourth quarter of 2012; other capital spending, up to 1.9% from 1.3%; training spend, 1.3% from 0.7%; marketing spend, 1.5% from 1%; R&D spend, 0.9% from 0.6%.

In terms of hiring, 54% said they have the right number of employees. A third of the respondents say they have too few employees. Of those, 12% said they plan to hire, up from the 8% who said that during the fourth quarter of 2012, and 21% say “they are hesitating to hire,” according to the survey. 

Arleen Thomas, the AICPA’s senior vice president for management accounting and global markets, says that while corporate executives are still concerned about unemployment and other issues, a solid “majority of survey takers now expect to see their business expand in the coming year, and we’re seeing a slight uptick in hiring plans.”

According to the survey, more hiring is being done by companies in the largest tier — those with revenues greater than $1 billion — (18%) than companies in the smallest tier — those with revenues less than $10 million — (10%).