TORONTO, ONTARIO -- (Marketwire) -- 01/09/13 -- Continuing uncertainty about the global economy and measures the United States might take to deal with its budget deficit has pushed net optimism among North American CFOs in the fourth quarter of 2012 to its lowest level of the year. The decline was particularly large in Canada, where net optimism (the difference between the percentage of CFOs expressing rising and falling optimism) fell from +47 in the third quarter of 2012 to -6 in the fourth, while U.S. CFOs reported their net optimism fell from -16 last quarter to -21 this quarter. As a result, companies in both countries have lowered their growth expectations for capital investment, R&D, and marketing and advertising spending, and don't expect much growth in domestic hiring.
Despite the drop in net optimism, the quarterly Deloitte CFO Signals Survey - which tracks the thinking and actions of chief financial officers representing North American companies averaging more than $5 billion in annual revenue - found that earnings growth expectations were improving in both Canada and the United States. But while U.S. CFOs also raised their sales growth expectations in the fourth quarter, Canadian CFOs lowered theirs to the lowest level in more than a year.
"Canadian companies appear to be increasingly concerned about a negative impact on their operations caused by ongoing economic problems in the United States and Europe," said Trevor Nakka, co-leader of Deloitte Canada's CFO program. "This is leading many of them to take steps to preserve cash and protect revenues from existing markets rather than investing and expanding."
Canadian CFOs have lowered their estimates for sales gains to 5.5% this quarter from 6.5% last quarter (and 7.4% in the first quarter of 2012), while U.S. CFOs raised their estimates slightly, from 4.3% to 4.8%. Nevertheless, CFOs in both countries expect earnings growth will outpace sales growth, a trend that has continued for several quarters. Domestic hiring expectations have fallen considerably among Canadian CFOs, dropping to just 0.2% in the fourth quarter, down from 1.1% in the third quarter and 3.7% in Q1. U.S. hiring expectations recovered slightly to 0.7% from 0.2% last quarter but are still below the 1.9% in Q2 and 1.8% in Q1. Expectations for growth in capital investment, R&D spending and marketing and advertising are at new survey lows.
"Unlike in previous quarters, when companies had relatively high expectations for hiring and capital expenditures, we now see them pulling back on investments as they await greater certainty about what is going to happen in the United States and Europe," said Dick Cooper, co-leader of Deloitte Canada's CFO program. "It's no surprise that a lack of clarity on fiscal policy is one of the top challenges facing North American businesses."
The survey also showed a continuing evolution of the CFO role to include more responsibility for information and related technologies, with about half of all CFOs expressing dissatisfaction with the either the quality of the information they receive or with the flexibility of their IT systems. CFOs expect the top business-changing IT trends in 2013 to be mobile and social business, followed closely by customer data.
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