Pessimism about the economy among CFOs and senior-level executive CPAs appears to have eased in the second quarter, according to a new survey.

The survey, by the American Institute of CPAs and the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, showed that 52 percent of CFOs and CPA executives expressed pessimism about the U.S. economy over the next 12 months, a decline of 30 percentage points from the first-quarter’s all-time high of 83 percent who indicated they were either “pessimistic” or “very pessimistic.” Optimism rose in the current quarter to 19 percent, up from only 5 percent of respondents who had said that they were “optimistic” about the U.S. economy three months ago. Twenty-eight percent were “neutral” on the U.S. outlook in the latest survey.

“For the first time in a year, sentiment is improving in our quarterly economic outlook survey,” said AICPA senior vice president for member competency and development Arleen Thomas (pictured) in a statement. “We see a significant shift from pessimistic to neutral on the economy, which suggests a leveling of confidence. At the same time, CFOs and CPAs are remaining cautious as they continue to grapple with difficult decisions within their organizations.”

Respondents still expect the downturn to last until 2010. Forty percent expect a recovery to occur in the first half of 2010, consistent with the 41 percent in the prior survey who didn’t expect a recovery to begin until then. Nineteen percent don’t expect to see a recovery until the second half of 2010, which is also in line with the first-quarter results, when 20 percent of the respondents predicted recovery in the second half of 2010. Twenty-eight percent said they expect a turnaround sooner in the second half of this year. 

Increases in consumer spending (31 percent) and improvement in the housing market (23 percent) are seen as two primary drivers of a recovery, according to respondents who were generally more optimistic about their own organizations than the economy at large. Seventeen percent said they are looking for an increase in manufacturing to be a primary driver of improvement in their own businesses.

Fifty-three percent expect a decrease in sales and revenue over the next 12 months, a slight decline in negative outlook from 60 percent of respondents who held the same outlook in the first quarter. Similarly, 45 percent expect to see a reduction in employment, down five percentage points from the 50 percent who said three months earlier that they expect the number of employees to decrease.

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