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CPA Execs Tighten Forecasts for Profit, Revenue Growth in Q4

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A fourth-quarter survey of CPAs who hold leadership positions in their companies found that these executives were more optimistic about the U.S. economy than they had been in the previous quarter.

The American Institute of CPAs reported Thursday that half of survey takers expressed optimism about the U.S. economy’s overall outlook over the next 12 months, up from 42% in the third quarter.

The report noted that that was still way down from the 79% of executives who had a favorable view on the economy in early 2018.

Respondents’ outlook on the global economy was much more pessimistic, though improved from the July-to-September period, with 28% expressing optimism, up four percentage points.

The survey found that executives expected profit growth over the next 12 months to be 2.7%, down from 2.8% last quarter and significantly below the outlook of 4.3% a year ago.

Similarly, 12-month revenue growth expectations fell by a tenth of a percentage point to 3.4% quarter over quarter, down from 5% a year ago.

“We saw a sharp drop in U.S. economic optimism in the third quarter due to the U.S.-China trade war really driving uncertainty, so this quarter represents a correction of sorts, with prospects of a reasonable outcome,” Ash Noah, the AICPA’s managing director of CGMA learning, education and development, said in a statement.

“But there also is a continued sense of unease and uncertainty about trade and growth prospects, and we’re seeing that in some of these more conservative forecasts.”

The survey was conducted from Oct. 31 to Nov. 20 and included 907 qualified responses from CPAs who hold executive positions, such as chief financial officer or controller, in their companies.

The AICPA’s fourth quarter CPA Outlook Index, a comprehensive gauge of executive sentiment within the survey, remained unchanged from last quarter at 72 points.

The index is a composite of nine equally weighted survey measures set on a scale of 0 to 100, with 50 considered neutral and higher numbers signifying positive sentiment.

The fourth-quarter AICPA survey turned up a relatively bright spot when it asked executives about their hiring plans.

Forty-three percent said they had too few employees, compared with 38% last quarter. Of these, 28% said they planned to hire immediately, and 15% said they needed employees but were hesitant to hire.

The number of respondents who reported that their companies had too many employees dropped a percentage point to 8% quarter over quarter.

According to the survey, 58% of executives expressed optimism about their own company’s prospects over the next 12 months, unchanged from the third quarter.

At the same time, respondents who said they expected their organizations to expand in the coming year fell two points from last quarter to 59%.

The AICPA reported that availability of skilled personnel remained the top challenge for businesses, a position it has occupied since the third quarter of 2017.

Domestic economic conditions held on to the second spot, followed by domestic competition, employee and benefit costs, and regulatory requirements.