Exec-level CPA Hopes Dim for Early Rebound

Quarterly survey by AICPA and UNC shows the 40 percent who expected a late-2009 turnaround now slipping to 30 percent.
Roy HarrisFebruary 19, 2009

Already-pessimistic executive-level CPAs appear to be sharply reducing their expectations for an early recovery from the current economic downturn, a new survey says. Now, 41 percent look for the turnaround in next year’s first half, with 20 percent not expecting it until the 2010 second half.

The quarterly Economic Outlook report — based on 1,183 interviews from late Jan. 28 to Feb. 12 with CPAs who are corporate CEOs, COOs, CFOs, and controllers — was prepared by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountings and the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

It found 83 percent of respondents describing themselves as pessimistic or very pessimistic about the U.S. economy over the next 12 months, with only 5 percent saying they were optimistic — results similar to those of prior quarter. But a breakdown of the numbers expecting a recovery to begin this year showed the biggest change. In the last quarter, 40 percent of respondents were looking for the turn in late 2009, whereas now only 30 percent expect that early a comeback.

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Since last quarter, organizations experiencing problems with customer collections rose to 35 percent from 28 percent. Meanwhile, the number of respondents who have experienced restricted credit or had difficulty obtaining credit “remained stable at slightly more than 20 percent,” AICPA said. The results also showed 60 percent indicating that their own organizations expect decreased revenue and profits, and more than half saying that employment in their companies will shrink.

“I had hoped we might see a bottoming out this quarter,” said UNC Professor Mark Lang, “but conditions continue to deteriorate, albeit at a slightly slower rate than last quarter. Companies are feeling the effects all of the way through the business cycle. Most striking, the general malaise is prevalent in all sectors of the economy.”

AICPA’s findings track fairly closely the quarterly results of the CFO Magazine survey of corporate finance chiefs, done with Duke University. The last CFO/Duke report showed 39 percent of CFOs expecting the recovery to begin next year, with 19 percent looking for it in the 2009 fourth quarter. Results of the current quarter’s CFO/Duke survey will be available in about a week.