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Execs Predict Negative Impact Without New Round of Stimulus, AICPA Survey

December 14, 2020, 07:22 AM
Filed Under: Economy

More than half of business executives (54 percent) say they expect some negative impact to their organizations if a renewed round of economic stimulus does not materialize by early 2021, according to the fourth-quarter AICPA Economic Outlook Survey. The survey polls chief executive officers, chief financial officers, controllers and other certified public accountants in U.S. companies who hold executive and senior management accounting roles.

Most survey respondents said a lack of renewed stimulus would have a slight (28 percent) or moderate (18 percent) negative impact on their companies, although 8 percent predicted it would have a significantly negative impact.

Just over a third of survey respondents (34 percent) said a stimulus package would have no impact on their company’s fortunes. Seven percent predicted a positive impact, while five percent said they weren’t sure what consequences would emerge.  

Timing of the implementation of stimulus is also important: 23 percent of business executives said it would have to come in the next month or two to be effective.  

Despite rising cases of COVID-19, business executives had an improved outlook on the U.S. economy this quarter, with 37 percent expressing optimism about prospects over the next 12 months, compared to 24 percent last quarter. Survey takers’ optimism about the outlook for their own companies also rose from 41 percent to 49 percent. Both indicators continue to show wariness about economic conditions, however.

“Business executives overwhelming 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,” said Ash Noah, CPA, CGMA, managing director of CGMA learning, education and development for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. “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.”

Some 55 percent of business executives say their companies are back to – or exceed – pre-pandemic staffing levels, with another 13 percent expecting to get there within 12 months. This isn’t evenly distributed, however, as the hospitality and leisure sector, for one, continues to show contraction. Some 14 percent of companies say they don’t expect to get back to pre-pandemic staffing levels for several years.

In the near term, 17 percent of business executives said their companies planned to hire immediately, up from 13 percent last quarter and 7 percent in the second quarter.

The AICPA survey is a forward-looking indicator that tracks hiring and business-related expectations for the next 12 months. The CPA Outlook Index—a comprehensive gauge of executive sentiment within the AICPA survey— rebounded into positive territory. It now stands at 62, up from 54 last quarter. 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.

Other key findings of the survey:

  • Profit and revenue expectations no longer show contraction. Revenue is now projected to increase at a rate of 1.2 percent over the coming twelve months, up from a projected decline of -0.6% last quarter. Profits are now projected to be positive 0.2 percent, up from a projected decline of -1.2 percent.
  • Some 47 percent of survey respondents said their companies plan to expand in the next 12 months, up three percentage points from last quarter.
  • Some 27 percent of business executives expressed optimism about the global economy, up from 17 percent last quarter
  •  “Domestic economic conditions” and “domestic political leadership” remained unchanged as the No. 1 and No. 2 issues impacting business. “Availability of skilled personnel” edged back into the third spot, displacing “employee and benefit costs.”

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