Chief financial officers' optimism about the economy and their own companies' prospects is the lowest it has been during the past 12 months, according to a survey of Financial Executives International members.

According to a second quarter survey of 186 CFOs conducted by FEI and Baruch College's Zicklin School of Business, the CFO Optimism Index of the economy is now 68.66, down 7 percent from a year ago. The Optimism Index of CFOs' own companies' prospects registers 74.09, a smaller drop of 3 percent from last year.

"The level of optimism in the U.S. economy is down, as would probably be expected as the recovery matures. Recent rises in short-term interest rates, oil prices and the dollar have likely taken some of the shine off the outlook," said Burton Rothberg, assistant professor of accounting at Baruch. "Nonetheless, CFOs continue to rate the prospects for their own companies at high levels."

Reacting to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.'s assumption of large portions of United Airlines' $9.8 billion in pension obligations, 65 percent of CFOs are quite or very concerned about the PBGC's future solvency. Despite their concerns, most think that the PBGC, which is not funded by general tax revenues, should stay that way. If PBGC premiums rose high enough, about a third of CFOs whose companies offer defined-benefit plans said they would consider a reduction in benefits or would consider no longer offering such a plan.

Meanwhile, CFOs expect health care costs to rise about 8 percent over the next 12 months, a lower expectation than previously.

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