In a new poll of 261 companies, CFOs predict that Gross Domestic Product will increase by 2.5% in 2001, a sharp reduction compared to annualized growth of 4.3% so far in 2000 and 4.2% in 1999. The executives also expect that the S&P 500 will gain 8% over the next 12 months. These numbers are from the latest Financial Executives International/Duke University Corporate Outlook Survey, completed on December 12, 2000.
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"The CFOs clearly do not expect the economy to slide into recession," says John Graham, a finance professor at Duke University''s Fuqua School of Business and the director of the survey. "However, they expect growth to slow enough that they will generally operate their companies conservatively in 2001." More details are provided below on the corporate reaction to the slowing economy.
Three-fourths of the CFOs indicate that their firm will host a holiday party this year, spending an average of $75 per employee. One in ten firms will spend at least $175 per employee on the festivities. The high-tech and transportation/energy industries will host the most lavish parties, spending $120 per employee.
Stock option repricing
Due to the recent stock market decline, 43% of public companies that issue stock options to executives will compensate the executives for the stock price reduction. Nearly 40% of firms will issue additional options to compensate for the reduced value of existing stock options. Three percent will increase cash compensation, and another 2% will reprice existing options. Another 4% will issue new shares or options based on book equity in exchange for outstanding stock options. (Survey respondents could choose more than one response to this question.)
Businesses will operate cautiously in 2001 in response to economic slowdown Plans for 2001 include a moderate reaction to the anticipation of slower growth. "This reaction generally takes the form of reducing or holding certain spending categories constant, even though sales revenue is expected to increase for most firms," notes John Graham. "This has the effect of reducing spending on these categories per dollar of sales, indicating a conservative reaction to a slowing economy."
-- Inventory: 36% of firms will hold inventory constant, and another 28%
will reduce inventory levels in 2001. The remaining 36% of firms will
increase inventory to keep pace with increased sales.
-- Overtime: 50% of companies will reduce overtime in 2001, and another
23% will decrease overtime hours.
-- Advertising/PR/marketing: 35% of firms will hold advertising, public
relations, and marketing constant in 2001, and another 14% will
decrease spending on these categories.
-- Bonus pool: 25% of the responding companies will keep the total dollars
dedicated to the bonus pool constant in 2001, while 14% will reduce the
-- Corporate Giving: 74% of firms will hold corporate giving constant;
another 9% will reduce corporate giving.
-- Borrowing: One-third of companies will maintain the same level of
borrowing from banks and the bond market, and another one-fourth will
-- Dividends: Half of the dividend-paying firms in the survey will hold
dividend payments constant in 2001, and 13% will reduce dividend
payments. (Note that 31% of the surveyed firms pay dividends, and the
69% of the respondents that do not pay dividends generally do not have
plans to start paying dividends in 2001.)
-- R&D spending: 53% of firms will hold R&D spending constant, and 7% will
Inflation, wages, and health care costs
-- CFOs expect to increase the prices of their companies' products
3% during the next year, in comparison to an expected increase of 2.2%
predicted in last quarter's survey. Among the 71% of firms that expect
to boost prices, the average price increase will be 4.2%.
-- Wages are expected to increase 6.4% at the average firm (median growth
of 4%) during the next 12 months. 98% of companies expect to increase
wages and salaries.
-- Health care costs continue to escalate, with an average increase of
10.7% expected during the next 12 months.
Earnings and Revenue
CFOs remain fairly optimistic about the bottom line for their firms. Eighty percent of the companies expect earnings to increase during 2001, with 10% growth in earnings for the typical firm. Eighty-six percent expect sales revenue to increase, with an increase of 10% for the typical firm.
In the face of a slowing economy, rising wages and health care costs, and modest increases in product prices, productivity continues to save the day for Corporate America. Nine in ten firms expect productivity to increase in 2001, with the average increase expected to be 4.4%.
About the Survey
The survey is conducted quarterly by FEI and Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Each survey polls a cross-section of CFOs from more than 5,000 U.S. companies. The current survey was completed on December 12, 2000. Complete survey results are available on the Internet at http://www.duke.edu/~jgraham.
About FEI and Fuqua
Financial Executives International is the leading advocate for the views of corporate financial management. FEI's 15,000 members hold policy-making positions as chief financial officers, treasurers and controllers at companies throughout the U.S. and Canada. For more information, visit http://www.fei.org/.
The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University was founded in 1970. Fuqua's mission is to educate thoughtful business leaders worldwide and to promote the advancement of business management through research. For more information, visit http://www.fuqua.duke.edu/.
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SOURCE: Financial Executives International
Contact: Jim Gray of Duke-Fuqua, 919-660-2935; or Chris Allen of FEI,
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800-758-5804, ext. 310650