Large-company CFOs' optimism fell markedly this quarter, the result of renewed and rising economic and political concerns that are turning companies away from aggressive growth and toward a more inward and defensive stance, according to Deloitte's second-quarter CFO Signals survey.
After a bump up in CFO optimism in the first quarter, CFOs' outlooks are now back in line with fairly pessimistic levels tracked in the last two quarters of 2011. Only 39% of CFOs indicated rising optimism in the second quarter compared with 63% in the first quarter, and 29% reported rising pessimism, up from 15% last quarter. CFOs with U.S.-based companies have the bleakest outlook, with equal numbers of CFOs more pessimistic and more optimistic.
Rising uncertainty about economic conditions in Europe and at home has companies hunkering down and focusing more on industry- and company-level issues. In particular, unrelenting high unemployment is driving rising concerns about consumer demand at home, and that appears to be shifting CFOs' attention inward toward things over which they have direct control—such as competitive tactics, process efficiency and working capital levels.
The second-quarter survey marks the first time that unemployment has topped CFOs' economy-level concerns in the survey's two-plus years, with 59% of U.S. CFOs naming it among their top-three concerns. The ripple-through effects of unemployment are driving CFOs to increasingly cite competitive pressures, declining sales volume and missed financial targets as top challenges as well.