The latest AICPA Economic Outlook Survey shows a mix of hope and concern among business executives as 2020 winds down, with 37% of respondents expressing optimism in the general outlook for the economy (up from 24% in the previous survey) but 54% expecting some negative impact to their organizations if a renewed round of economic stimulus does not materialize by early 2021. The fourth quarter edition of the poll surveyed 740 CPAs who hold leadership positions, such as chief financial officer or controller, during the period of Nov. 10 to Dec. 2.
Despite a surge in the pandemic, respondents had an improved outlook on the U.S. economy this quarter, albeit with some continued wariness. Fifty-five percent of business executives say their companies are back to – or exceed – pre-pandemic staffing levels, with another 13% expecting to get there within 12 months (though certain hard-hit sectors, such as hospitality and leisure, continue to show contraction). In the near term, 17% of respondents said their companies planned to hire immediately, up from 13% last quarter and 7% in the second quarter.
Among the other key findings in this edition of the survey:
- Profit and revenue expectations no longer show contraction. Revenue is now projected to increase at a rate of 1.2% over the coming 12 months, up from a projected decline of 0.6% last quarter, and profits are projected to climb 0.2%, up from a projected decline of 1.2%.
- Forty-seven percent of respondents said their companies plan to expand in the next 12 months, up three percentage points from last quarter.
“Business executives overwhelmingly say containment of the pandemic is the most important thing government can do right now to help them, eclipsing renewed stimulus, business relief or keeping taxes and regulation in check,” says Ash Noah, AICPA managing director of CGMA learning, education and development. “There are signs of optimism from our survey respondents that some answers lie ahead on the pandemic – stronger profit and revenue expectations, for example, and a better hiring outlook.”