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Deloitte CFO Signals™ Survey: Despite Greater Optimism, CFOs At America's Largest Companies Still Fear Stagnation, Public Policy Obstacles

NEW YORK, March 25, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- According to Deloitte's Q1 CFO Signals™ survey, the current state of the North American economies is both the main driver of growth – and the top impediment. Positive economic indicators appear to be boosting CFOs' optimism, but fears of further stagnation are restraining their expectations for 2013 sales and domestic hiring.

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The quarterly survey, which tracks the thinking and actions of chief financial officers (CFOs) representing North American companies with collective annual revenues of more than $680bn, did indeed record greater optimism after two dismal quarters. Led by the U.S., net optimism (the difference between the percent of CFOs expressing rising and falling optimism) rose from -11 last quarter to +32 this quarter. Moreover, about half of CFOs expressed rising optimism, while just 20 percent expressed rising pessimism — a major shift.  The dominant cause may be a cyclical bias toward optimism at the beginning of the year.

"Every year we've done the survey, we've seen optimism peak in the first quarter only to decline considerably in the following quarters," said Sanford Cockrell III, national managing partner, CFO Program, Deloitte LLP. "For 2013 to be different, CFOs need some clarification on the public policy front and enough economic consistency and momentum to feel comfortable investing in growth."

Public policy uncertainty seems to be a major drag at this point. In fact, more than 90 percent of CFOs say that current and recent policy decisions/debates – ranging from debt ceiling and sequestration policies to possible defense cuts – are having at least some impact on companies' plans. It is tax policy that appears to be having the most substantial impact across industries, with some 75 percent of CFOs claiming at least some impact, and 40 percent indicating substantial or strong impacts.

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