Half of CFOs in Duke Survey See U.S. in Recession Within a Year

(Bloomberg) --

More than half of U.S. chief financial officers anticipate the economy will be in a recession within a year, with optimism at its weakest point since 2016 as deteriorating prospects for earnings and difficulty finding qualified workers weighed on companies.

Some 53% expect the economy will be in a downturn by the third quarter of 2020, while 67% see a recession occurring by the end of that year, according to the Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook released Wednesday. The report showed an index of sentiment dropped to 62.6 in the third quarter from 65.7. The survey was based on responses from 225 U.S. firms.

By comparison, economists surveyed by Bloomberg see a 35% chance of a downturn within 12 months.

“In many parts of the world for the last six or eight years CFOs have been optimistic. Not anymore,” Duke finance professor John Graham, who authored the report, said in a video. “In the United States, the number of CFOs growing more pessimistic outnumbers those growing more optimistic by a five-to-one margin.”

Economic uncertainty was the top concern among CFOs, according to the survey, as sluggish global growth and tariffs dimmed the outlook for earnings growth and capital spending. The second-biggest concern, consistent with surveys over the past several years, was the difficulty attracting and retaining skilled employees.

Interestingly, 36% of U.S. CFOs underscored the negative effects of the sustained, low-interest rate environment, including firms taking on too much debt and the inability of investors to earn a reasonable investment return.

While pessimism about the U.S. economy increased in the latest quarter, CFOs in other regions were even more downbeat. About seven in 10 respondents in Europe and Asia said they believe recessions in their countries will have started by the third quarter of 2020.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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