Is the economic recovery sustainable? The improvement in the stock market, quarterly earnings and March retail sales prompts some optimism, while nagging fears about the continued joblessness, high debt levels and cratered real estate markets argue otherwise. The Icelandic volcano spewing ash and grounding flights across Europe in late April isn't helping.
But CFOs and senior comptrollers were feeling out of sorts even before Mother Nature kicked in, according to a national survey from Grant Thornton. Just 44% expect the economy to improve over the next six months, down from the 49% who were optimistic about the economy six months ago. And while 52% expect their own business to do better, up from 45% six months ago, that doesn't translate into more jobs. And only 29% say they plan to increase hiring vs. 22% that plan to decrease it. Those intentions are flipped among Fortune 500 companies, 31% of which plan to decrease hiring vs. 23% that plan to increase it.
Actually, most of the nearly 500 senior financial executives Grant Thornton surveyed are still waiting for the recovery to start: 6% say the U.S. will come out of the recession in the first half of 2010, while 22% see the recovery starting in the second half, 48% in 2011 and 24% after 2011.
Meanwhile, the economic anomalies of the last year exerted a yo-yo effect on CFO pay, according to a survey of the compensation of 50 Fortune 500 CFOs conducted for Treasury & Risk by research firm Equilar. CFO pay packages are expected to experience countervailing pressures again in 2010, writes contributing editor Anne Fields. The good news: It's the best of times to be a CFO. Just ask Kurt Kuehn of UPS.