Business executives’ optimism about the U.S. economy has reached its highest level in three years, fueled by government relief funds, vaccine rollouts, and relaxed workplace restrictions.

In its Economic Outlook Survey for the second quarter, the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants said 70% of respondents expressed optimism about economic prospects over the next 12 months, up 23 percentage points from the previous quarter.

It’s the first time a majority of executives have felt positive about the economy since the coronavirus pandemic began in the first quarter of 2020 and the highest level of optimism since the second quarter of 2018.

Overall, the CPA Outlook Index rose from 68 to 78, with all major index components improving.

“What we’re seeing is a broad expectation that things will really open up in the second half of the year,” Ash Noah, a spokesman for AICPA, said in a news release.

“Many issues remain, of course,” he added. “Supply chains are still straining to meet demand in a number of sectors. The global response to the pandemic still contains many uncertainties, which impacts the United States. But we are clearly seeing growing confidence on the part of business executives that the worst is behind us.”

According to AICPA, executives’ view of their own companies’ prospects over the next 12 months moved further into positive territory, with 76% expressing optimism compared with 58% percent last quarter.

Profits are expected to grow by 4% in the next 12 months, more than doubling last quarter’s 1.9% forecast, while revenues are expected to climb 5%, up from 3%. Both projections are at their highest level since 2018.

The hiring outlook is also continuing to improve, with 33% of executives saying their companies planned to fill positions immediately, up from 19% last quarter.

However, the availability of skilled personnel reemerged as the top-cited challenge for businesses as job recruitment picks up. In addition, two-thirds of business executives now express concern about inflation, up from 44% last quarter.

Many economists predict inflation will surpass 2% this year but Federal Reserve officials believe any increase will be mild and temporary.

The second-quarter AICPA survey was conducted from April 27 to May 24, 2021, and included 770 qualified responses from CPAs who hold leadership positions, such as chief financial officer or controller, in their companies.

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