The Economy

Employees Raiding 401(k)s, CFOs Say

The economic slump will cut into employee bonuses, new survey results show, even as many workers are already taking hardship withdrawals from their...
Alan RappeportDecember 5, 2007

The weakening American economy is beginning to take its toll on corporate employees where it hurts the most: their salaries and savings.

The latest Duke University/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook Survey, which polls 573 finance chiefs in the U.S. and 1,275 globally, finds that year-end employee bonuses will fall by 10 percent this year compared to 2006. That decline could be especially painful at a time when more employees are dipping into their retirement accounts in order to pay bills.

The survey finds that nearly 20 percent of companies have seen increased hardship withdrawals from 401(k) accounts, often to cover mortgage payments or to avoid personal bankruptcy.

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“In the last four or five months we have seen an absolute onslaught of people trying to do hardship withdrawals and loans out of 401(k)s,” Mark Anderson, CFO of Granite City Electric, told CFO magazine in October. “What has happened with housing and the economy has really blown up for people at the lower end of the spectrum.”

CFOs attribute the 401(k) withdrawals to the effects of the shaken credit markets and higher costs of living, among other reasons. Those concerns have affected companies from top to bottom. Nearly a third of CFOs polled in the survey said their firms have been directly hurt by credit conditions.

To make up for the prospect of slower growth in the future, many companies will raise prices and look for possible mergers. The survey finds that companies expect to raise the prices of their products by 2.8 percent in 2008, an increase from the 2 percent expected in the previous quarter. Meanwhile, 40 percent of U.S. firms said they would seek to buy either all or part of another company.