Business confidence in the U.S. declined in the fourth quarter of last year despite reports of increased opportunities for business, investment and employment, according to a new survey by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and the Institute of Management Accountants.
The U.S. emerged as one of the least optimistic of the world’s major economies, according to the survey. Only 23 percent of U.S. respondents to the survey reported confidence gains in their own businesses in Q4—a drop from 25 percent in the previous quarter—while 35 percent reported losses, up from 31 percent. U.S. optimism about the state of the economy also fell 7 percent.
“What we are seeing in the U.S. and some other markets around the world is a series of good business indicators, such as improved investment and job creation, but low confidence levels in their own business prospects,” said ACCA senior economic analyst Emmanouil Schizas in a statement. “Finance professionals can see the improvements on paper, but this hasn’t impacted their optimism. These puzzling results might be partly due to concerns over the recent problems faced by many emerging markets. That pessimism reflects how U.S. finance professionals view the overall economy. What happens over the next year will be a clearer indicator as to whether this confidence slump is a blip rather than a longer term problem.”
The substantial increase in business capacity-building, including investment and employment in the U.S., was offset by a lack of improvement in demand and cash-flow conditions in Q4 2013, breaking a strong, year-long trend.
“At the industry level, results from the U.S. point to continued structural rebalancing, although perhaps not in the manner that policymakers or industry might have chosen,” said IMA vice president of research Raef Lawson. “The manufacturing and engineering sectors encountered positive business confidence for the first time in nearly two years, but the IT and high-tech sectors saw a disappointing final quarter, ending a year-long period of gains in confidence.”
Much of the rest of the world had rosier expectations than the U.S. Globally, the survey revealed that finance professionals had more faith in the strength of the economic recovery in Q4 2013 than at any time over the last five years. In addition, 55 percent of the respondents indicated they believed conditions were improving or about to do so, up from 53 percent in Q3 2013, while only 42 percent felt economic conditions were deteriorating or stagnating, down from 43 percent.
However, when it came to their own organizations, finance professionals’ confidence still fell marginally in Q4 2013. About 30 percent reported confidence gains, up from 28 percent, but there were more respondents reporting losses in confidence (35 percent), up from 32 percent in Q3 2013. Despite this, the Q4 2013 results still represent the second-strongest year-on-year confidence gains since mid-2010.
The ACCA and IMA’s joint Web site, roleofcfo.com, contains ACCA and IMA reports, research and insights, including the full results of the survey.