Gloom among U.S. business executive is darker now than an any time in the past year as corporate leaders increasingly worry about the effects of the "fiscal cliff," swelling national debt and expiring federal tax cuts.
According to an economic outlook survey conducted in the immediate weeks after the presidential election, executive confidence in the fourth quarter fell by every measure surveyed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants,
The Durham organization, with 386,000 members in 128 countries, measures the confidence of CPAs in executive positions and tabulates responses in nine categories, including business expansion, hiring, revenues, profits and IT spending.
"Pessimism has deepened steadily over the past three quarters, but this time there were no offsetting bright spots," the AICPA said in a statement. "Every major measure of economic expectations in the survey fell, quarter over quarter and year over year."
The quarterly survey was conducted by email Nov. 8 through Nov. 29 and included 1,668 responses. The AICPA ranks responses on a scale of 0 to 100, with 50 representing a "neutral," or flat, expectation.
The fourth quarter shows an overall expectation of 59 for economic growth, which signifies expectations of moderate economic expansion, the lowest since the third quarter of 2011.
The AICPA surveys show that responses fell below 50 for one year -- from the fourth quarter of 2008 through third quarter of 2009 -- and have since risen as high as 69 before dropping back to lower levels.
AICPA employs 715 nationwide, including 523 in Durham.
While the survey shows that business leaders bemoan government debt and the federal deficit, they also express anxiety about steps that would reduce the debt. Among the fear factors executives cite are mandated federal spending cuts, which signify government belt-tightening, and expiring tax cuts, which would supply the feds with more money for paying off debt and for offsetting looming spending cuts.