Business executives who are also CPAs are adopting a more guarded viewpoint about the 12-month outlook for the U.S. economy than they were last quarter, according to a new survey by the American Institute of CPAs.

The second quarter AICPA Economic Outlook Survey polls CEOs, CFOs, controllers and other CPAs in executive and senior management accounting roles. Most of the survey respondents continue to see better prospects for their own companies than the economy as a whole, but concerns about hiring have intensified since the beginning of the year.

The CPA Outlook Index—a gauge of executive sentiment within the Economic Outlook Survey—fell two points, to 67, after two straight quarters of improvement. The index is a composite of nine equally weighted survey measures set on a scale from 0 to 100, with 50 considered neutral, numbers below signifying negative sentiment and numbers above signifying positive sentiment.

The second-quarter decline mirrors last year’s trend, when a surge of optimism in the first quarter was later tempered by fears of a stalled recovery.

“What we're seeing is the same ‘two steps forward, one step back’ cycle we encountered last year,” said AICPA senior vice president for management accounting Arleen R. Thomas in a statement. “There's no question survey takers have grown more pessimistic about the U.S. economy, and with expectations muted for profit, revenue and employment growth, there appear to be few catalysts to change that view.”

Optimism for the U.S. economy fell 9 percent this quarter, and only 34 percent of the survey respondents described themselves as optimistic or very optimistic about domestic conditions. Yet 54 percent of them continue to feel upbeat about prospects for their own companies or organizations, with only 13 percent expressing pessimism.

Fifty-six percent of the business executives in the survey said they have the right number of employees. But the percentage of those who said they have too many workers jumped from 7 to 10 percent this quarter, while the number of those who said they planned to hire soon dropped from 14 to 12 percent. For those eager to hire, half said they were having trouble finding job candidates with the right skills.

Executives from only two industries—health care providers (such as hospitals and nursing homes) and construction—expressed more sector optimism this quarter than in the previous one. Retail and wholesale trade were unchanged quarter to quarter, while all other industry categories dropped.

Sixty-one percent of senior-level CPAs said they expect their companies to expand over the next 12 months, a number unchanged from the first quarter. One area where there was a drop: expansion plans for businesses with more than $1 billion in sales, which fell from 65 to 62 percent. This is the first time since early 2010 that the nation’s largest businesses are not the most likely group to have growth plans.

Survey takers have identified the same top three business hurdles in each of the past three quarters: 1) domestic economic conditions, 2) regulatory requirements/changes, and 3) employee and benefit costs. There was movement within the rest of the Top 10, however; “domestic political leadership” continued its climb to No. 4, and “global economic conditions” jumped from No. 10 to No. 7 since last quarter.

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