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Duke CFO Survey: Economic Outlook for 2022 Deteriorates

Views on the economy among CFOs have worsened for 2022, according to the latest results of The CFO Survey, a joint project of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta.

Optimism about the U.S. economy continued to fall in the second quarter. When survey participants were asked between May 25 and June 10 to rate their optimism about the overall U.S. economy, the average index was 50.7, compared to 54.8 last quarter and 60.3 two quarters ago.

Price pressures have increased, real revenue growth has stalled, and optimism about the overall economy has fallen sharply,” said John Graham, a Fuqua finance professor and the survey’s academic director. “Monetary tightening is one of several factors dampening the economic outlook.”

The quarterly survey of 320 U.S. financial executives was conducted May 25-June 10. Among its findings were:

Company-specific numbers worsen

  • Expected price pressures worsen for 2022

  • CFO expectations of input cost growth rose for 2022. The median CFO expectation last quarter was for a 6 percent increase in unit costs for 2022; this quarter the expectation was an 8 percent increase.

  • Unit cost increases are expected to moderate in 2023.

CFOs continue to cite labor quality/availability and cost pressures/inflation as top concerns.

  • Inflation-adjusted revenue growth is expected to stagnate

  • Adjusted for inflation, average revenues are not expected to grow in 2022, down from real revenue growth of approximately 3 percent on average in last quarter’s survey.

  • Employment growth is expected to moderate for the typical firm in 2022.

National economic outlook deteriorates

  • CFOs on average expect real GDP to grow 1.5 percent over the next 12 months, down from an expectation last quarter of 2.5 percent.

  • The average probability of negative GDP growth over the next 12 months was 21 percent, compared to a 12 percent probability last quarter.

Increasing interest rates expected to reduce capital spending and borrowing

The survey asked CFOs whether capital spending plans would be affected by increases of 1, 2 or 3 percent in their borrowing interest rate. The survey closed prior to the Federal Open Market Committee’s recent 0.75 percentage point increase in the federal funds rate target.

  • Approximately 60 percent of responding firms said they do not plan to borrow to fund operations in the next 12 months, so may be buffered from interest rate hikes.

    • Most firms that do not plan to borrow report having enough cash on hand to fund operations for the next 12 months.

  • In response to the question about borrowing costs increasing by 1 percent, among firms that plan to borrow, 80 to 90 percent said the increase would not affect the amount they plan to borrow, nor their capital spending plans.

  • If borrowing costs were to increase by 2 percent, half of borrowing firms indicate they would reduce their capital spending plans.

  • If borrowing costs were to increase by 3 percent, two-thirds of borrowing firms indicate they would reduce their capital spending plans.

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