Menlo Park, Calif. (Aug. 31, 2004) -- Chief financial officers remain cautious, with the vast majority of those polled (89 percent) anticipating no change in hiring during the fourth quarter, according to a survey conducted for Robert Half International Inc.

Just 8 percent of 1,400 CFOs surveyed plan to add staff during the fourth quarter, and 2 percent anticipate personnel cuts. The net 6 percent hiring increase is up two percentage points from the third-quarter 2004 forecast and up five points from this time last year, according to the latest RHI Financial Hiring Index.

"Although some companies appear to be laying the groundwork for bringing in new personnel, many are monitoring economic developments before committing to additional full-time employees," said Max Messmer, RHI chairman and chief executive. "One constant is the continued hiring of accounting and finance professionals who can help companies with projects stemming from corporate governance compliance efforts."

Among CFOs who said that they plan to hire accounting and finance professionals before the end of the year, 58 percent cited expansion in their business as the primary factor driving the need -- similar to the previous quarter's response of 59 percent. The percentage of respondents who identified rising workloads as the main factor fueling demand for new staff jumped seven points over the last quarter, from 8 percent to 15 percent.

CFOs in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) are the most optimistic about hiring activity in the fourth quarter, with 14 percent planning to add financial staff and 3 percent foreseeing reductions, for a net increase of 11 percent.

The need for accounting and finance professionals in the construction and insurance industries, in particular, is contributing to the strong hiring forecasts in New England, according to Messmer. He noted that Sarbanes-Oxley compliance initiatives continue to drive demand for internal auditors, and increased accounting workloads are prompting many businesses to seek qualified accounts payable and receivable specialists, and payroll professionals.

Executives from the East North Central states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin) also project above-average hiring activity, with a net 9 percent of CFOs in the region expecting to add full-time accounting and finance staff during the quarter.

By industry, CFOs in the construction industry forecast the greatest increase, with 14 percent planning to increase hiring, and none expecting to reduce staff levels. The wholesale sector is also projecting hiring activity above the national average, with a net 11 percent of respondents planning to add staff. Demand for accounting professionals is also expected to be strong among manufacturing firms and in the finance, insurance and real estate industry. CFOs in those sectors forecast net hiring increases of 10 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

-- WebCPA staff

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