Two recent surveys showed accounting firms displaying a wide range of outlooks on the near-term future of the U.S. economy.In the first, 13 percent of the CPA firms polled over the summer for the CPA Firm Statistical Analysis Reference Handbook 2009, published by the Institute of Management and Administration, said that they expect to see negative changes in revenues for the year ahead. While 37 percent of firms still anticipate a 5 to 10 percent revenue increase in the fiscal year ahead, 55.6 percent rated the economy as the most significant factor that could curtail revenues.

Owner compensation rose slightly over the prior year's averages at the firms surveyed, with the highest-paid partner groups averaging compensation (pay only, without any bonuses, perks or benefits) of $347,071. Owners in the middle range averaged $204,292, while the lowest-paid averaged $153,918.

Billing rates have not yet been altered, despite the early effects of the downturn being felt through fiscal 2008. The survey found that 51.5 percent of the CPA firm respondents raised their rates during the fiscal year.

The survey found that 45.1 percent of firms reported shortages in staff with three to five years of experience, and 44.0 percent were lacking in staff with six-plus years of experience.

The second survey, however, reported that more than a third of CPA firms plan to supplement their workforce in the next 12 months.

The survey, by the American Institute of CPAs' CPA2Biz unit and the Bay Street Group, found that only 16 percent of the CPA firms polled plan to reduce their headcount next year. Meanwhile, nearly half the firms polled intend to keep their headcount steady. Nevertheless, the economy is prompting more tax and accounting professionals to look for new jobs. Twenty percent of the CPAs polled reported concerns that their firms were downsizing.

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