U.S. business executives are feeling a bit better about their companies’ prospects but are still deeply concerned about the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

In the AICPA Economic Outlook survey for the third quarter, 43% of respondents said their companies plan to expand in the next 12 months, up from 24% last quarter, while optimism about their companies’ prospects rose from 30% to 41%.

Twenty-four percent of respondents had an optimistic view of the U.S. economy over the coming year, a slight increase from 20% last quarter, which represented the dimmest outlook since the fourth quarter of 2011.

The CPA Outlook Index — a comprehensive gauge of executive sentiment within the AICPA survey — moved back into positive territory with a reading of 54 after hitting 38, the lowest level since early 2009, in the previous quarter.

A year ago, however, 61% of respondents were optimistic about their companies’ prospects.

“In the midst of most trends being upended, we’re seeing improvement in a number of categories this quarter but it’s worth remembering we’re digging out of a very deep hole of pessimism. Comparisons are still tracking with the years immediately following the Great Recession,” Ash Noah, managing director of CGMA learning, education and development for AICPA.

“We’re also seeing the usual uncertainty over the outcome of the presidential election, which — given our current state of political polarization — adds to businesses’ sense of unease, uncertainty and volatility,” he added.

As companies reeled from the pandemic, AICPA’s second-quarter survey showed massive drops in expansion plans and revenue and profit expectations. Ninety-two percent of respondents reported being negatively impacted by the pandemic.

According to the association, “Revenue and profit expectations have stabilized somewhat,” with executives now predicting declines of 0.5% for revenue and 1.2% for profits compared to slides of 5% or more in the second quarter.

“Domestic economic conditions” remain the top challenge for businesses but “domestic political leadership” jumped four spots from last quarter to No. 2, reflecting concerns about the Nov. 3 election.

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