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Optimism rising among financial officials

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Consumers remain skittish, but corporate finance officials are becoming a bit more optimistic about the U.S. economy, another sign that recovery is coming.

In a quarterly survey conducted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School, 39 percent of financial officers said they were "slightly more confident" about the economy. Forty-one percent said they were "pessimistic" about the U.S. economy over the next year, down 12 percentage points from the second quarter.

Twenty-six percent said they are "optimistic," up from 19 percent three months ago.

However, 62 percent still expect the downturn to last until 2010. And 12 percent said the recovery won't happen until 2011 or later.

Since they oversee companies' books, financial officers are widely considered good predictors of future economic trends.

"The trend is definitely in the right direction," said UNC accounting professor Mark Lang. "However, CPA executives are not projecting significant increases in sales and profits and are not projecting significant increases in the types of spending that will fuel a rapid recovery.”

Top challenges include weak customer demand and health-care costs. Access to capital has dropped to No. 3 from No. 2.

And 34 percent of those surveyed expect their companies to reduce employment over the next 12 months, down from 45 percent three months earlier.

The survey of 1,093 CPAs was conducted July 22 to Aug. 9. Read more and get full poll results here.

Watch a video interview with Lang about the latest survey here.

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About the blogger

Assistant Business Editor Alan M. Wolf joined the N&O in 1999 covering the business of health care. He became an editor in 2001, and helps oversee the paper's daily business coverage and Sunday Work&Money section. He lives in Clayton with his wife and two children. Reach him at 919-829-4572 or e-mail him.