In a time of incredible change and uncertainty, it’s pretty tough to get a read on the road ahead. To help, we surveyed CEOs and CFOs across all industries, geographies and company sizes to and asked them to handicap 2022—in the markets, the economy and politics. Here’s what they had to say:
THE STOCK MARKET
While the majority of CEOs and CFOs expect the Dow Jones Industrial Average to end 2022 within the 35,000 to 40,000 range—not a far stretch from where it’s at today—many also predict the benchmark could decline. Two respondents out of 5 (36 percent of CEOs and 39 percent of CFOs) expect the Dow to end the next year below current levels, compared to only 8 percent who expect it to continue its ascent and rise above 40,000.
“I believe the economy for the average person is headed for disaster in the next 12 months due to inflation and labor shortages. Big corporations and the Dow will flourish to the detriment of average U.S. residents,” said the CFO of a global professional services organization based in D.C. “Frankly I think we are being trained to expect a bad weak economy and a devastated dollar. Printing money has always been a bad idea.”
America’s business and finance chiefs have been keeping a close eye on key economic indicators in 2021, amid great volatility and uncertainty. Inflation and interest rates have repeatedly been cited as reasons for their declining profit growth forecasts in the year ahead.
According to our December polling, 48 percent of CEOs and 50 percent of CFOs expect inflation to get worse over the next 12 months, with an additional 35 and 27 percent, respectively, saying they don’t expect things to change either way. Only 17 percent of CEOs and 23 percent of CFOs predict inflation will subside in 2022.
“Rapid inflation, shortages, regulatory overreach, increased taxes and polarization will lead to a loss in government confidence,” said the CEO of a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based small media company, who expects deep stagflation in 2022. He says combined with social unrest and polarization, “2021 will be considered a ‘calm and boring’ year compared to 2022.”
“Inflation is my biggest worry that leads us to a recession. Somewhere the amount of debt the U.S. consumer and government has taken on has to be paid back,” said the CEO of a mid-sized industrial manufacturer headquartered in California.
But not everyone agrees.
“Inflation fears are overblown,” said Robert Hensel, president of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin-based industrial manufacturer Multi-Fab Products. “The order pipeline is full for the next 9 months, demand will stay strong until the supply chain clears, so the chance of a recession in 2022 is very low.”
“2022 will be ok to good,” said the CFO of a large credit union in the south. “[But] 2023 will be horrible when tax increases fully kick in and inflation is still here.”
When asked about the trajectory of interest rates, the majority of respondents in both roles say they don’t expect the Fed to increase them by more than three-quarters of a point. Still, 27 percent of CEOs and 37 percent of CFOs forecast them to be 1 percent or higher.
“The underlying economy is really strong,” said Will Symonds, president of Anaheim, California-based houseware manufacturer Oggi Corp. “If supply chain issues improve and the Fed doesn’t hike interest rates too fast, it will be a good year”
Overall, most CEOs and CFOs polled don’t expect a recession in the U.S. in 2022—61 percent of CEOs and 54 percent of CFOs—although 33 percent of CEOs and 40 percent of CFOs expect only but a mild version.
“The economy will suffer a minor recession over the next 6-12 months as general conditions deteriorate, driven by inflation and the associated increase and necessity of Fed funds rate increase,” said the CFO of a Michigan-based industrial manufacturer.
The political divide has also been frequently cited as a factor in the C-Suite’s business forecasts in our monthly polls this year. While some voiced their disagreement over the current Democratic administration’s spending and tax and regulatory policies, others expressed discontent with the Republicans’ approach to social issues and its impact on business and communities’ wellbeing.
Regardless of their personal beliefs, when asked to predict the outcome of the upcoming midterm elections, the great majority of CEOs expect a so-called red wave, with Republicans taking control of both House and Senate in November, while CFO opinions are slightly more divided: 49 percent expect the same outcome as CEOs, but 21 percent say Republicans are more likely to only win back the Senate, leaving the House to Democrats; and 11 percent say the opposite, with the Senate going to Democrats and the House to Republicans.
Fifteen percent of CFOs—and 9 percent of CEOs—say they expect the balance of power will remain unresolved following the election.
“The only caveat to the flip of political power could be the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion,” said the CEO of a Nasdaq-traded retail company, who says it’s “the greatest risk to the economy because if it causes the elections to flip blue then the movement to a socialism leaning economy will pick up momentum and inflation will rocket.”
Many of the respondents in our surveys agreed on one point: stability and balance will be key.
“The House, the Senate and the White House have been out of control for at least 16 years, probably much more than that,” said Fred Pieplow, CEO and chief question asker of Manna Management LLC, a professional services firm in Saint Joseph, Michigan. “I pray that the next President will have the leadership skills and the desire to help get Congress working as it was designed and stop legislating by executive order.”
“Chaos in Washington will continue. Business must proceed in spite of the bickering,” concluded Denise McIntosh, CEO of industrial manufacturer Custom Powder Systems/Integrated Containment Systems in Springfield, Missouri.
“I’m really tired of a government that spends all its time making sure the other side doesn’t look good,” said the CFO of a consumer manufacturing company based in California. “It would be nice if they actually did something for the country”
About the CEO Confidence Index
The CEO Confidence Index is America’s largest monthly survey of chief executives. Each month, Chief Executive surveys CEOs across America, at organizations of all types and sizes, to compile our CEO Confidence Index data. The Index tracks confidence in current and future business environments, based on CEOs’ observations of various economic and business components. For additional information about the Index and prior months data, visit ChiefExecutive.net/category/CEO-Confidence-Index/
About the CFO Confidence Index
The CFO Confidence Index is a monthly survey of CFOs and finance chiefs on their perspective of the economy and how policies and current events are affecting their companies and strategies. Every month, StrategicCFO360 surveys hundreds of CFOs across America, at organizations of all types and sizes, to compile our CFO Confidence Index data. The Index tracks confidence in current and future business environments, as well as their forecast for their company’s revenue, profit, capex and cash/debt ratio for the year ahead. Learn more at StrategicCFO360.com/CFO-Confidence-Index