CFOs around the world are taking a more aggressive approach to spending and investment over the next year, but CFOs in the U.S. remain cautious amid concerns about regulations and political gridlock, according to a new survey by American Express.
The American Express/CFO Research Global Business and Spending Monitor found that a 75 percent majority of U.S. respondents predict economic expansion. However, 40 percent of finance executives in the U.S. expect regulatory changes will have a negative impact on growth over the next year.
The poll found the U.S. ranks second among countries that expect other countries' political changes to have a negative effect on their company's growth for the next year. The top five include Russia at 30 percent, the U.S. at 25 percent, China at 29 percent, Japan at 23 percent and the United Kingdom at 20 percent.
Only 13 percent of U.S. respondents plan to increase spending and investment by 10 percent or more this year and only 9 percent are taking an aggressive stance toward spending. This may explain the declines in spending on headcount and other assets while spending in other areas remained relatively flat this year. However, there are signs that the U.S. is slowly becoming less conservative on spending and investment. For example, 36 percent of U.S. finance executives are taking a tightly controlled approach this year, a drop from 41 percent in 2013.
Overall, 72 percent of CFO respondents globally predict economic expansion this year, while 17 percent said they plan to pursue aggressive spending and investment plans, compared to just 10 percent last year. Only 3 percent of the CFOs surveyed said they plan to decrease spending, down from 8 percent last year.
European CFOs—whose economic expectations had been trending downward since 2010—are now indicating a more positive outlook for growth. European confidence in the economy this year surged, with 68 percent of senior finance executives predicting economic expansion in their respective countries, up from 48 percent in 2013. The European region’s economic expectations are now closer to the expectations reported in Asia (down from 80 percent in 2013 to 70 percent in 2014) and Latin America (down from 80 percent in 2013 to 79 percent in 2014).
The United Kingdom accounts for part of the significant boost in optimism seen in Europe. Ninety-three percent of U.K. respondents are predicting economic expansion in 2014, compared to just 50 percent the prior year. This increase is likely the result of improvements in the U.K. economy over the past year, including several consecutive periods of GDP growth. Still, it may be some time before this improving outlook translates into increased spending and hiring.
While 70 percent of European respondents said they plan to spend the same or more this year on headcount, just 60 percent of U.K. CFOs say the same down from 64% last year. While other countries also saw slight drops in plans for headcount spending, the overall trend remains positive. Three-quarters of the finance executives surveyed indicated they plan to spend the same or more on headcount this year.