Optimism about the economy has plummeted on all fronts in the U.S. and Europe by more than twice the amount in previous quarters, diving to its lowest level in over a year, according to a new survey.

The quarterly survey of CFOs by Financial Executives International and Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business found that their CFO Optimism Index dropped eight points from the previous quarter (59.00 to 51.1 in Q3), the lowest since Q2 2009. 

The third quarter index for the global economy also experienced a survey low for both U.S. and European CFOs. Optimism among CFOs in the U.S. dropped nearly 14 points from the previous quarter (59.40 to 45.50 in Q3), and fell below CFOs in Europe for the first time. Optimism among CFOs in Europe also dropped eight points (55.10 to 46.80 in Q3).

U.S. CFOs’ optimism in their own companies also declined five points from the second quarter (72.30 to 67.30). While CFOs in Europe had a smaller drop in business confidence quarter over quarter (63.20 to 61.0 in Q3), it remains lower than their colleagues across the ocean.

In comparison with the projections made in the previous quarter, CFOs see smaller increases in several areas of their businesses over the next 12 months. U.S. CFOs this quarter expect a 16% increase in their net earnings (a decline from a 21% increase in Q2), a 13 percent increase in capital spending, and a 10% rise in technology spending. CFOs in Europe anticipate even smaller increases for the next year— technology spending, capital spending and revenue increases averaging about 2 to 3%, while seeing small decreases in hiring and inventory.

Between now and the 2012 election, the reduction of the national debt will be a key area of focus for U.S. CFOs. More than half of the survey respondents (54%) want Congress to direct its attention to decreasing the deficit by the $4 trillion needed to stabilize the debt in order to promote a better economic environment for U.S. businesses and increase job creation.  A third (33%) of U.S. CFOs believe the focus should be on tax-related measures (9 percent) and stimulus programs (7%), or a combination of the two (17%).

“With national debt looming as a big issue, U.S. CFOs no longer see an economic recovery as a near-term goal,” said FEI president and CEO Marie Hollein in a statement. “It is clear that this will have a direct impact on their decisions during the 2012 elections. CFOs remain critical of President Obama, and the administration’s handling of the deficit will influence how they ultimately choose to vote.”

-- This article first appeared on Accounting Today.



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