StrategicCFO360’s latest survey of U.S. CFOs shows optimism in future business conditions continuing to slide in September, down 2.5 percent to 6.6 out of 10 on our 10-point scale where 10 is “Excellent.” That is the lowest level on record since we began tracking confidence in October 2020.
CFOs’ assessment of current business conditions also fell, albeit slightly, also to 6.6 from 6.7—the same rating given by CEOs earlier this month. Those polled say supply chain disruptions, inflation, and increasing taxes and regulations are their main concerns for the future. Lack of skilled labor and new Covid outbreaks are also cited as challenges to navigating the months ahead.
Those are the key findings from StrategicCFO360’s September reading of CFO confidence, conducted among 135 senior finance executives between September 20 and 22. CFOs are now the least optimistic members of the C-Suite, according to similar polls conducted by our sister publications—Chief Executive, StrategicCIO360 and StrategicCHRO360—this month.
At 41 percent, the proportion of CFOs expecting conditions to improve by this time next year is fairly in line with peers across the C-Suite—except for CHROs whose latest rating, recorded in August, showed a majority forecasting improvement. (September CHRO data will be available on September 30.)
The proportion of CFOs forecasting worsening conditions, however, is now at its highest on record, at 35 percent—up 9 percent since August. Those CFOs say supply chain constraints slowing economic growth, inflation—including wage inflation—and continued Covid outbreaks are their main concerns.
“I am concerned about inflation, supply chain disruption and challenges, increasing taxes and government regulation,” says Leon Tsimmerman, CFO of Marvin Engineering Company, a global manufacturer of U.S. Military products based in California. For those reasons, he predicts future business conditions to rate as 5 out 10, down from a 6 today.
For Robert Gold, CFO of an Indiana-based vehicle manufacturer, “continued price increases and raw material shortages” are what’s driving his forecast of 6 out of 10—down from a 7 today. “I anticipate a rough winter with Covid and continued inflation and shortages,” he says.
“Extremely poor labor environment causing extreme labor inflation, combined with 20%+ raw material inflation will cause consumer prices to rise,” says Keith Gregory, CFO of Oregon-based personal care product manufacturer Highland Laboratories. He projects business conditions by September 2022 to worsen to a 4 out of 10—or “Weak”—from a 6 today.
Ali Firoozi, CFO of Michigan-based global consulting firm The PAC Group, says his downgrade of business conditions from an 8/10 today to a 6 /10 in 12 months from now is due to “expectation of upward move of interest rates, continued supply chain and shipping problems, and continued pandemic related slowdowns.”
“Demand is increasing, but supply chain backlogs/long lead times/increased costs are putting a damper on fulfilling demand,” says Jeffry Bohleber, CFO of Illinois-based Elastec, a global manufacturer of oil spill cleanup and surface water pollution equipment.
“Pent-up demand is driving a lot of economic activity now and increasing wage rates should support continued consumption next year. After that 12 months from now, though… I’m not so bullish,” says Joe O’Connell, CFO of Endeavor Schools in Florida. He rates both current and future conditions an 8 out of 10, or “Very Good” according to our rating scale.
Forecasting for the Year Ahead
The proportion of CFOs forecasting increases in revenues grew by nearly 5 percent in September, to 78 percent from 74 percent in August, while those projecting increases in profits held steady, at 65 percent.
The proportion of CFOs forecasting increases in capital expenditures rose 9 percent to 55 percent, clawing back half the losses recorded in August.
The number of CFOs anticipating adding to their company’s workforce in the coming months fell by 4 percent this month, to 58 percent—the lowest proportion recorded this year.
Sector & Size View
Forecasts for business were down across most sectors this month, with retail and advertising/media CFOs as the sole exceptions (+8 percent, +5 percent respectively). The largest declines in optimism were in the consumer manufacturing, technology, energy and gov/nonprofit sectors—all of which show double-digit drops compared to August ratings.
When looking at forecasts by company size (by annual revenues), sentiment is also down across all groups this month. The biggest concern for the majority of declining forecasts is disruption in the supply chain, which most CFOs say is affecting their ability to keep up with otherwise strong demand.
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