CPA financial executives are optimistic for the first time in two years about the economy, according to a new survey.

The quarterly survey, by the American Institute of CPAs and the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, found that measures of optimism versus pessimism among CPA financial executives registered a combined 28 percentage-point swing toward a more positive outlook, the largest shift in sentiment since the fourth quarter of 2007.

“Our latest survey shows a significant shift toward optimism among our CPA members serving in executive positions in business, industry and government,” said AICPA vice president Carol Scott in a statement. “These results should be taken as a very positive indicator. As financial executives charged with running companies and meeting payrolls, CPAs are on the frontlines in this economy and their views on the direction of business conditions are well-informed and sophisticated.”

Fifty-one percent of the survey respondents expressed more confidence about the prospects for their own organizations, an increase from 41 percent in February. The proportion of CPAs who are pessimistic about their own organizations dropped to 20 percent, down from 24 percent in the prior quarter.

Forty percent of CPA executives expressed optimism about the broader U.S. economy in the latest survey, a sharp increase from the 25 percent who were optimistic in February. Twenty-five percent were pessimistic about the economy, down from 38 percent earlier this year.

As optimism has returned, so have concerns about inflation. Forty-two percent of CPA financial executives are now concerned about the impact of inflation on their business in the next six months. Last quarter only 32 percent were concerned.

Pessimism continues to be strongest among companies in the construction, real estate and health care sectors. While the construction sector remained the most pessimistic, with 36 percent of respondents expressing pessimism, this was an improvement from the first quarter, when 50 percent of respondents were pessimistic. Optimism was most prevalent in the agriculture, manufacturing, wholesale, transportation and warehousing industries, along with the technology sector.

Sixty-three percent of respondents believe U.S. business conditions will not return to pre-recession levels until 2012 or later. Thirty-one percent said conditions would return to pre-recession levels in 2011, and 2 percent said activity would rebound this year.

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