Business executives who are CPAs intend to do more hiring and business expansion in the year ahead, according to a new survey from the American Institute of CPAs.

[IMGCAP(1)]The first-quarter AICPA Economic Outlook Survey also found increased optimism about the U.S. economy among CEOs, CFOs, controllers and other CPAs at U.S. companies who hold executive and senior management accounting roles. They expect to see modest growth in recruitment, staff training and targeted capital spending in 2014 as economic conditions improve.

When asked about their hiring plans for this year, a 56 percent majority of respondents said their companies have the right number of employees. However, 15 percent indicated they planned to hire immediately, up from 13 percent in the fourth quarter, while the percentage of survey respondents who said their companies had too many employees fell from 10 to 8 percent.

The talent search at companies is becoming more competitive. Among the top 10 challenges identified within the survey, “availability of skilled personnel” rose from the No. 6 spot a quarter ago to No. 4.

Nearly 69 percent of the survey takers said their companies will offer bonuses or incentives this year— predominantly in cash—while another 12 percent are weighing their options. Bonuses became less prevalent during the recession, but appear to be on the rise again, the survey found.

A 75 percent majority of companies with hiring plans said they are seeking full-time workers. Only 2 percent of the respondents said they were predominantly seeking part-time or temporary workers.

“We’re seeing signs that businesses are thinking more concretely about resources they’ll need in place, from expanded staffing to investments in technology and other capital projects, to handle future growth,” said AICPA senior vice president of management accounting and global markets. Arleen R. Thomas in a statement.

“Business expansion expectations, while still tempered, are the highest they’ve been in three years.”

Some 63 percent of business executives said they expect their companies to grow at least a little in the coming year, the highest percentage since the first quarter of 2011.

Among the key performance indicators on the survey, anticipated revenue growth was flat compared to last quarter. However, expectations for profit and headcount showed improvement.
Survey takers are feeling even better about their prospects for their own company or organization, though the rate of increase quarter over quarter is narrower (59 percent said they are optimistic, compared to 57 percent last quarter).

Technology continued to build on its position as the most optimistic sector, followed by construction. Health care and health care providers were the least optimistic. The finance and insurance sectors, meanwhile, rebounded strongly in sentiment in the first quarter.

The CPA Outlook Index—a comprehensive gauge of executive sentiment within the AICPA survey—rose a single point in the first quarter to 70, a post-recession high. The index is a composite of nine, equally weighted survey measures set on a scale of 0 to 100, with 50 considered neutral and greater numbers signifying positive sentiment.

The biggest gainer among the index components was U.S. economic optimism, typically the most volatile category from quarter to quarter. Approximately 49 percent of survey takers now say they are optimistic or very optimistic about the economy, compared to 38 percent last quarter. The first quarter’s tally matches the post-recession high set in the second quarter last year.

CPA Outlook Index

[IMGCAP(2)]