The money men are becoming more optimistic.
U.S. and Asian chief financial officers say they expect hiring to be strong this year. European CFOs say 2012 will be an improvement over 2011.
Those are among the findings of the Duke University/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook Survey. The quarterly survey, which ended March 1, polled 873 CFOs from global public and private companies out their expectations for the economy.
The survey has been conducted for 64 consecutive quarters, making it the world’s longest running research on senior finance executives and one of the most comprehensive surveys of its kind. Presented results are for U.S. firms unless otherwise noted.
— Earnings and capital spending are both expected to rise more than 7 percent.
— U.S. CFOs plan to expand their workforces by slightly more than 2 percent on average over the next 12 months, a staffing increase that would bring the unemployment rate below 8 percent.
— Sixty-eight percent of U.S. CFOs say they are actively trying to fill vacant job positions, and many firms are recruiting more aggressively to fill the slots.
— Nearly 40 percent of U.S. CFOs say their firms will be active in mergers and acquisitions this year.
The U.S. CFO Optimism Index, in which CFOs rate their confidence in the economy on a scale of 0 to 100, increased from 53 last quarter to 59 this quarter, equaling the index’s long-term average.
“This rebound is encouraging because increases in CFO optimism have historically preceded improvements in the overall economy,” John Graham, a professor of finance at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and director of the survey, said in a statement.
Graham said optimism also was up in Europe and Asia, but that European optimism lags behind the rest of the world.”
That's not to say CFOs don't have concerns. According to the survey, they're still worried about weak consumer demand, pressure on profit margins, and the difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified employees.