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Deloitte Global CFO Signals™: CFO optimism worldwide dampened by uncertainty and economic gloom


New York, NY — Caution and uncertainty are the shared sentiment of many global Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) in the Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (DTTL) member firms’ third quarter Global CFO Signals survey, entitled “Directionally Challenged.”

The report, which includes survey results from 14 Deloitte member firms, cites a long list of global uncertainties facing CFOs, including the ongoing eurozone debt crisis and the possibility of a breakup, the looming fiscal cliff in the U.S., the slowdowns in China and Germany, and the unsuccessful efforts by some individual countries to stem the fallout from the financial crisis. As a result, many CFOs around the globe still feel insecure about the future and wary of capital investment, M&A, and hiring.

“Given continued high levels of economic uncertainty and volatility, CFO confidence is understandably tenuous in many countries,” said Sanford Cockrell III, Leader, Global CFO Program, DTTL. “And even with one of those uncertainties – the elections in the United States – now resolved, CFOs seem particularly wary of stepping up investment as we head into 2013 due to continued concerns over the ‘fiscal cliff’ in the U.S. and broader economic turmoil in Europe.”

Instead, many CFOs are responding to the uncertainty by emphasizing defensive measures. In Switzerland, for example, almost 90% of CFOs cited cost reduction as their number one priority. Included in those reductions are often jobs: in Sweden, 44% of CFOs said the number of employees in their companies will decline in the next six months; in Australia, 37% of CFOs expect hiring levels to fall; and in North America, domestic hiring expectations fell to a survey low of 0.6%.

Drop in optimism

Optimism about their own companies’ prospects has gone down in several countries as compared with previous Global CFO Signal survey findings. In Germany, for example, six months ago, the percentage of optimists outweighed that of pessimists 28% to 16%. Today, only 21% of CFOs report greater optimism, while 34% are pessimistic. And in the U.S., net optimism (the percentage of CFOs citing rising optimism less the percentage citing falling optimism) fell to -16% this quarter.

The news was not all bad. Several countries, including Norway and the Netherlands, reported solid CFO optimism figures. And in Ireland, where net optimism rose by 31%, 50% of respondents expect profitability to increase in the next six months.

CFO sentiment by country:

Argentina: Holding steady - In the next 12 months, CFOs’ main strategic focus will be on growth/preservation of revenue (29%), followed by a reduction in direct costs (18%).

Australia: Proceed with caution - More than 50% of CFOs intend to increase capital expenditure both in the short-term (one year) and the longer term (two to three years). However, more than a quarter are planning to reduce capital expenditure next year.

Austria: Negative mood remains – More than 50% of CFOs expect economic conditions to deteriorate; 25% anticipate a recession or economic crisis.

Belgium: The new normal is normal – The dominant view among CFOs is that the Belgian economy will not return to growth before the first half of 2014.

Finland: On the defensive – Uncertainty about the economic environment continues to rise. Some 40% of CFOs say the level of uncertainty is high or very high compared to 29% in the last survey.

France: Staging a strategic retreat – Fifty-six percent of CFOs say they are pessimistic about the French economy. The vast majority (96%) think taxation and labor costs in France are major obstacles to investment.

Germany: Controlled defense strategy – Concerning the eurozone, an equal number of CFOs (44%) expect it to shrink as expect it to survive by retaining the current number of member states.

Ireland: Optimism amid reality – All surveyed CFOs (100%) believe that their ability to service debt will improve or remain unchanged in the next three years.

Netherlands: Facing long-term uncertainty – Risk appetite levels remain low, with some 84% of CFOs thinking now is not a good time to take greater balance sheet-related risks.

North America: Running out of steam – Year-over-year sales growth expectations are projected to be just 4.8%, a significant decrease from the 6.6% projected last quarter.

Norway: Financing climate changing – Bank loans keep decreasing as a favorable and available source of financing, while corporate bonds are considered the most available source of financing.

Sweden: Conditions remain tough – CFOs who view the overall financial position of their companies as very favorable has decreased significantly in the last year and is currently below 4%.

Switzerland: Uncertain horizons drive caution - Almost 90% of CFOs say that cost reduction is their top corporate priority.

United Kingdom: Strategies for uncertainty – Increasing cash flow is a high priority for 44% of CFOs; 42% cite reducing costs and 31% say introducing new products/services or expanding into new markets.

About The Deloitte Global CFO Signals™ Survey:
Twenty-four Deloitte member firm CFO surveys, covering 39 countries, are conducted by Deloitte member firms on a quarterly, biannual, or annual basis. The objective of these surveys is to collect CFOs’ opinions on a range of areas including economic outlook, financial markets, business trends, their organizations, and CFO careers. The focus and timing of each member firm’s survey varies.

About The DTTL CFO Program
The Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (DTTL) Global Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Program is a CFO-centric strategic initiative that brings together a multidisciplinary team of senior Deloitte member firm partners and experienced professionals to help CFOs effectively address the different challenges and demands they experience in their role. The DTTL Global CFO Program and network of Deloitte member firms harness the breadth of Deloitte member firms’ capabilities to deliver forward thinking perspectives and fresh insights to help CFOs manage the complexities of their role, drive more value in their organization, and adapt to the changing strategic shifts in the market. For more information about the DTTL Global CFO Program, please contact or visit

About Deloitte
Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a UK private company limited by guarantee, and its network of member firms, each of which is a legally separate and independent entity. Please see for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited and its member firms.

Deloitte provides audit, tax, consulting, and financial advisory services to public and private clients spanning multiple industries. With a globally connected network of member firms in more than 150 countries, Deloitte brings world-class capabilities and high-quality service to clients, delivering the insights they need to address their most complex business challenges. Deloitte has in the region of 200,000 professionals, all committed to becoming the standard of excellence.


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