The 2024 Economic Outlook: A View from CFOs

December 19, 2023
Finance
CFO Survey_Q4 2023_Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta

Financial decision-makers were slightly more optimistic about the U.S. economy in the fourth quarter, and many firms expect their price growth next year to remain above pre-COVID levels.

This is according to the results of The CFO Survey, a collaboration of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks for Richmond and Atlanta, that was fielded from November 14 to December 1.

When asked to rate optimism about the overall U.S. economy on a scale from 0 to 100, the average rating from CFOs was 58.0, up from 56.2 in the third quarter. Optimism about their own firm’s prospects remained higher than economic optimism, at an average of 67.3, but fell from 67.8 in the third quarter.

“Alongside an increase in economic optimism, respondents’ expectations for national economic growth rose from the previous survey,” says Sonya Ravindranath Waddell, Vice President and Economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. “At the same time, almost 60 percent of firms expect their price growth in 2024 to remain elevated relative to pre-COVID norms. Expectations for compensation growth also remain above what firms consider normal.”

Revenue and employment expectations for 2024 remained solid.

  • Median expected employment growth stands at 2.7 percent for 2024—up from 2.2 percent in 2023.
  • Median revenue growth is expected to remain steady at 5 percent for 2024.
  • Median price and unit cost growth are expected to slow from 5 percent this year to 3 percent and 4 percent, respectively, in 2024.

In spite of generally positive expectations for 2024, there was some indication that firms were cutting back—for example, the share of firms that report increased spending continued to shrink. Meanwhile, 70 percent of respondent firms—and almost 90 percent of large firms—have existing debt, much of which is expected to come due in the next few years. Firms that intend to roll over their debt are facing higher interest costs, which suggests that there could be some headwinds to economic growth in 2024.

Still, respondents’ average expectation for GDP growth over the next four quarters is 1.7 percent, up from 1.3 percent in last quarter’s survey. “The probability that firms assigned to a decline in economic activity has fallen considerably since the beginning of the year,” says Waddell, “which, combined with the increase in optimism is a positive development for the business outlook for 2024.”

The CFO Survey is issued by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta. The latest survey, as well as historical data and commentary, can be found at www.cfosurvey.org.

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