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Survey: Chief financial officer optimism slides

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A survey of 254 chief financial officers and senior comptrollers in the central U.S. found that less than a quarter of the executives plan to make hires in the next six months.

The survey, which was conducted Sept. 27-Oct. 12 by Chicago-based accounting firm Grant Thornton LLP, comprises 48 public and private corporations in the banking and financing, financial services, construction, energy, government agency, health care, manufacturing, real estate, retail, technology and transportation sectors in Missouri and eight other states.

Roughly 78 percent of respondents said their companies aren't planning on increasing their employee count. Of that figure, 55 percent said headcount would remain the same, while 23 percent predicted a decrease. The executives largely cited increasing costs for health care benefits; about 75 percent expect an increase in costs both to their companies and to their employees. Six months ago, 39 percent of respondents said their companies would increase employee counts, according to a news release.

“Continuing economic stagnation continues to discourage investment geared to growth and expansion,” Grant Thornton CEO Stephen Chipman said in the release. "Ongoing high levels of uncertainty weigh heavily on business leaders today, stifling growth strategies in this volatile economic environment.”

Other survey findings:
  • Eleven percent of respondents expect the U.S. economy to improve during the next six months, 52 percent predict a flat economy and 37 percent said the country's economic situation will worsen.
  • Employee benefits were ranked as the greatest concern in pricing pressure, followed by energy costs, raw materials and company insurance.
  • During the next six months, 32 percent of the respondents said prices or fees charged by their companies would increase, 61 percent noted their companies would keep the same prices and fees, and 7 percent predicted a decrease.
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