Menlo Park, Calif. (March 4, 2004) -- Chief financial officers are showing more optimism about their hiring plans for the second quarter of 2004, driven primarily by business expansion, according to a survey by Robert Half.

Seven percent of executives surveyed expect to add staff during the second quarter, while just 1 percent anticipate personnel reductions. The net 6 percent increase in hiring is up 4 percent from the first-quarter estimate and is the highest net increase projected by CFOs since the third quarter of 2001, according to the Robert Half International Financial Hiring Index, a national poll of 1,400 CFOs from companies with 20 or more employees. Ninety percent of respondents anticipate no change in hiring.

The net hiring increase has risen steadily for the past three quarters, noted Max Messmer, RHI chairman and chief executive. "Companies are still cautious in their approach to hiring, but many recognize additional accounting and finance personnel can help them address workloads postponed during the downturn," said Messmer, adding, "Other firms seek qualified assistance in effecting corporate governance reforms and ensuring more accurate financial reporting."

Forty-six percent of CFOs with plans to hire accounting and finance professionals during the second quarter said business expansion is the primary reason, up from 37 percent in the first quarter. Twenty-six percent of executives cited staffing issues such as turnover and the need for specialized expertise, while 15 percent said their primary motivation is heavier workloads.

CFOs in the Middle Atlantic and Pacific states anticipate the most active financial hiring activity during the second quarter. Nine percent of CFOs in the Middle Atlantic region plan to add full-time staff and none anticipate personnel reductions. In the Pacific region, 11 percent of executives said they plan to hire, while 2 percent expect to decrease staff. Hiring within the South Atlantic and West North Central regions is also expected to outpace the national average, with net increases in financial hiring of 8 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

"Healthcare, manufacturing, distribution and financial services firms in the Mid-Atlantic states are beginning to lift hiring freezes that have been in place for the last several years," Messmer said. "In particular, companies are seeking financial analysts, internal auditors, and tax and cost accountants. In the Pacific region, expansion at financial services institutions as well as a still-strong real estate industry are driving demand for professionals with banking- and mortgage-related expertise."

Second quarter hiring is forecast to be most active among finance, insurance and real estate companies and in the wholesale industry, with a net 9 percent hiring increase projected in both industry categories, according to the report. Ten percent of executives with finance, insurance and real estate firms expect to hire, while 1 percent anticipate staff reductions. Within the wholesale industry, 13 percent of CFOs plan to add full-time employees and 4 percent expect a decrease in personnel. The manufacturing, retail and business-services industries also project financial hiring activity above the national average. Manufacturing and retail executives both forecast a net 8 percent hiring increase in the second quarter. CFOs of business-services firms expect a net 7 percent increase in hiring activity.

-- WebCPA staff

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