Chief financial officers’ outlook for the economy and their own companies, according to the most recent quarterly “CFO Outlook Survey” by Financial Executives International and Baruch College.

The CFO Optimism Index for the U.S. economy rose more than 10 points, from 55.20 in the third quarter of 2010 to 65.50 in the fourth quarter—one of the biggest gain’s in the survey’s history. U.S. CFOs’ outlook for their own companies rose nearly four points, from 69.1 to 73.

In Europe, however, CFOs expressed slightly lower confidence about the prospects for their own company (65.60).

Asked about their outlook for the global economy, U.S. CFOs again were more confidence (64.30) than European CFOs (58.20).

Asked whether they plan on hiring within the next six months, 64% of U.S. CFOs said yes, up from 56% in the third quarter. In Europe, however, only 46% in the fourth quarter planned to hire.

“CFOs of all of the countries surveyed are seeing improvements in the economic landscape from 2009, when they were hardest hit, although U.S. CFOs are trending higher than those in Europe,” said John Elliott, dean of the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch.

Asked what they believe will be their biggest challenges in 2011, 39% of U.S. CFOs said revenue growth, followed by domestic economic growth (23%) and consumer spending (22%). Other worries include government regulation and healthcare costs.

While 47% of U.S. CFOs say they are “spending cautiously,” 30% are “spending at a normal rate,” up considerably from only 19% who were spending at a normal rate six months ago. The major focus spending is technology for 69% of U.S. CFOs, followed by expanding into new and emerging markets (21%) and machinery (36%).

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