NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Americans got some decent economic news last week as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the November unemployment number slid to 8.6% and there was a big improvement in the holiday shopping picture from 2010 to 2011.
But it’s 2012 that’s got tongues wagging in executive boardrooms across the U.S. After years of false starts, inflated estimates, and ultimately, dark economic clouds as far as the eye could see, finance professionals see 2012 as a potential bright spot for long-suffering American consumers.
According to the American Institute of CPAs' Economic Outlook Survey, the outlook for the U.S. economy in the fourth quarter was positive and looking “improved” going into 2012. The group, comprised of high-level senior financial executives and certified public accountants, found that in this most recent quarter, the outlook index rose six points to 64 out of 100.
“We saw improvements in every category of the index, including sentiment about prospects for the U.S. economy,” said Carol Scott, the AICPA’s vice president for business, industry and government, in an official statement. There is no shortage of caveats though, as Scott explains that “serious concerns about the business climate remain, reflected by continued reticence for new investment and hiring.”
A closer look at the index does show remarkable growth in optimism among financial types, but the bar was set pretty low in the first place. The AICPA reports that the percentage of survey respondents who say the economic landscape is brightening rose by 10 percentage points this the quarter – but only from 9% to 19%.
Far higher is the number of senior financial professionals who are pessimistic about the economy: 40% of survey respondents say they are either “pessimistic” or “very pessimistic” about the direction of the economy. Financial professionals are also more bullish on their own company’s prospects than they are the overall economy: 59% expect their companies to expand in 2012.
But that doesn’t mean they’ll be spending cash liberally. “Executives are feeling better about their own company’s prospects than they are about the U.S. economy as a whole,” notes Jim Morrison, chief financial officer of Teknor Apex Co., a participant in AICPA’s survey. “But caution is still the word of the day for most businesses.”
Some other takeaways from the survey:
- Fewer than half (45%) of survey respondents believe the economy is headed for a double-dip recession, down from 61% last quarter.
- 50% said their organizations do not plan to return to pre-recession employment levels for at least 12 months, and a third do not expect to reach that level again in the foreseeable future. Yet one in four respondents reported that their companies have too few employees, but remain reluctant to hire because of economic uncertainty.
- Among industries, real estate and construction remain pockets of pessimism. Technology, manufacturing, retail trade and finance and insurance are the sectors with the most optimistic outlooks.
- Asked which part of the President’s Job Council recommendations on job creation would benefit them most, 37% said “none,” the most common response to the question. The No. 2 answer was regulatory streamlining (22%).
Considering the gloom that has clung to the U.S. economy during the past four years, the AICPA index is welcome news – and about the best consumers can expect given the financial woes inflicted on consumers of late.
Let’s just hope that the index’s optimism is well-placed, and not another false alarm.