Reversing a trend of positive reviews on the global economy, the latest Bank of America survey of 275 U.S. corporate finance chiefs found that they had backed off from the optimism they expressed in a spring review in which they were high on world economic matters, and the manufacturing, services, and commodities sectors.
The telephone or web-based interviews done for BofA between July 5 and Aug. 2 — updating a spring study that glowed with optimism — showed that 37% were anticipating greater economic expansion, with 51% saying they believed the level of expansion will stay the same. In the previous survey, fully 70% had predicted an expansion of the national economy in 2011.
At the same time, 58% of the CFOs questioned said they expected to expand their revenues outside the U.S. over the next three years.
The spring report had marked the highest CFO ratings of the economy since the global recession began in 2008, BofA said. But the latest results showed them only about as optimistic now as they were at the end of 2010.
This year, BofA expanded its annual CFO Outlook to add two smaller updates designed to measure changing CFO viewpoints. The latest review, for the fall, was conducted by Granite Research Consulting, focusing on financial executives with U.S. companies in the manufacturing sector, and the services and commodities sector, with annual revenues between $25 million and $2 billion.
On a 100-point scale, CFOs gave the U.S. economy an average score of 49, down from 54 in the spring update.
Among the sectors the survey focused on, manufacturing remained healthiest, with a 53-point score that was down only from 57. In terms of outlook, CFOs gave a strong 60-point rating to both the services and the commodities sectors.
Although down from 57 in the previous update, the U.S. manufacturing sector remains healthy with an average rating of 53 on a 100 point scale. The outlook for the U.S. services and commodities sector remained positive, despite a decline in the rating from 63 to 60.
The CFOs rated the budget deficit as the No. One factor to affect the U.S. economy over the next six to nine months (with a rating of 62%.) In the prior update, the deficit had ranked second to healthcare reform. In the latest update, oil prices ranked second (50%), with the housing market third (41%) and healthcare close behind it (41%.)
Listed as the top five corporate financial concerns were revenue growth, healthcare costs, energy costs, cash flow, and cost of materials, supplies or equipment.
Expectations for 2011 corporate revenues had also been tempered by the CFOs. Now, 61% expect their own revenues to increase. That’s down from 70% in the prior survey. But the 14% who expect a decrease in 2011 represented more than a doubling of the spring-review percentage that had expected lower revenue.
Currently, 46% of CFOs predict profit margin growth, the same as previously in the spring report, although those predicting lower profit margins have risen to 26% from 14%.
The survey showed that half of all U.S. companies had no short-term plans to change work-force size. The 37% that did anticipate hiring additional permanent employees was down from 45%.
Slightly more than a third of the companies involved in the survey currently have no international business. But 64% of all mid-sized U.S. companies said they did business internationally — buying from foreign markets (50%), selling to foreign markets (48%), and/or having foreign operations (28%).
That their international business will represent a greater percentage of total revenues within the next three years was the position of 58% (61% in manufacturing and 52% in both services and commodities.)
The top overseas challenges that emerged from the survey: logistics (43%), local laws and regulations (41%), culture (34%), currency risk (33%), and vendor performance (33%).