Finance chiefs were feeling better about the economy in the first quarter than they did three months earlier, according to a survey of nearly 370 CFOs conducted by Financial Executives International and Baruch College's Zicklin School of Business. FEI's index of CFO optimism on the economy posted an increase for the last four quarters, rising to 58.14 in the first quarter, up from 56.98 in the fourth quarter. That's well above the all-time low of 38.96 in the first quarter of 2009.

The CFOs also were more confident about the outlook for their own companies; that index rose to 69.49 in the first quarter, up from 67.09 in the fourth quarter.

John Elliott, dean at the Zicklin School of Business, sees a correlation between the CFOs' views and recent economic news. "If you're watching the earnings announcements coming out, you're seeing very substantial increases in profit," Elliott says. "The CFOs say they're looking for revenue growth of 13% and earnings growth of 26%" over the next 12 months.

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