CFOs reported rising costs, growing revenues and unchanged optimism about U.S. economic prospects in the fourth quarter, according to the results of The CFO Survey, a collaboration of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta.
The most pressing concerns among CFOs in the fourth quarter were around labor availability, cost pressures and inflation, and supply-chain disruption.
Cost increases were a mounting challenge for respondent businesses. Almost 90 percent of firms reported larger-than-normal cost increases — a sharp rise from the second quarter of 2021.
“The share of firms with abnormally large cost increases in at least some of their costs grew from 80 percent to almost 90 percent in just six months,” said Atlanta Fed economist Brent Meyer. “CFOs indicate that these cost pressures are not abating and will likely be with us for some time. Many firms, especially large firms, are passing on at least some of these cost increases.”
Less than 20 percent of firms expect cost increases to abate within six months. Most firms anticipate that the cost increases will last at least another 10 months, if not into 2023. To handle the rising costs, firms reported two strategies. First, the overwhelming majority (about 80 percent) of firms experiencing these unusual cost pressures are passing on at least some of these cost increases to customers through higher prices. Second, firms report absorbing cost increases, including reducing margins, reducing costs in other areas, eliminating or substituting product offerings, adding contingency clauses into contracts, and turning down work.
Despite continuing production challenges, firms anticipated employment and revenue growth in 2021 and 2022. Meanwhile, optimism for both the U.S. economy and their own firms changed little in the fourth quarter. When asked to rank optimism about the overall U.S. economy on a scale of 0 to 100, the average rating from CFOs was 60.3, little changed from the 59.9 reading in the third quarter. Firms also expressed relatively unchanged optimism for their own firms, with average optimism at 70.8, up very slightly from the third quarter reading of 70.2.
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.