Financial executives expect to continue hiring in the third quarter, but the rate of growth is anticipated to ease somewhat from second-quarter levels, according to the Robert Half International Financial Hiring Index.

Among 1,400 chief financial officers polled, 7 percent said that they plan to expand their full-time staff, while 4 percent forecast reductions in personnel. The net 3 percent increase is three points below the second-quarter projection. The majority of respondents, 87 percent, expect no change in employee levels.

"Businesses are trying to gauge the strength of the economy before determining whether or not to add new full-time employees," said Max Messmer, RHI chairman and chief exectuive. "Uncertainty related to issues such as energy costs, along with rising health care expenses, have contributed to the cautious environment. In addition, high productivity has allowed firms to remain competitive without having to expand staff levels."

Messmer noted that, while companies are taking a deliberate approach to ensure that they find the ideal person for each opening, some firms are finding a shortage of skilled candidates due to the accelerated hiring that took place at the beginning of the year.

Of those CFOs who expect to bring in staff in the next three months, 55 percent cited anticipated business growth as the primary factor fueling demand, while 17 percent said that rising workloads are creating the need for additional personnel.

The East North Central states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin) are projecting the most active hiring, with a net 7 percent of CFOs expecting to add full-time accounting and finance professionals.

Hiring in the Middle Atlantic region (New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania) and West North Central region (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota) is forecast to exceed the national pace as well, with a net 6 percent of finance executives in those areas anticipating expanding personnel levels in the coming months.

The business services sector is expected to see the greatest hiring activity among industries, with 19 percent of those polled in that sector expecting to bring in staff and 4 percent predicting personnel reductions, a net 15 percent increase.

Wholesale and retail companies also project strong growth. A net 10 percent of wholesale CFOs and a net 5 percent of retail executives plan to add full-time accounting and finance employees in the third quarter.

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