Recession to last through 2009, chief financial officers warn in Duke survey

Pessimism among chief financial officers worldwide is the worst in the 12-year history of the Global Business Outlook Survey. A majority of executives say their firms will cut jobs, slash spending.

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Chart shows plunging CFO confidence of U.S. CFOs
DURHAM, N.C. — Don’t expect the global recession to end any time soon.

That’s the dreary outlook from the quarterly “Global Business Outlook Survey” from Duke University and CFO Magazine.

In fact, pessimism among the 1,275 chief financial officers who participated in the quarterly survey is the worst in its 12-plus-year history.

According to CFOs, the recession will last through 2009.

As a result, most CFOs said their companies would cut jobs, slash spending and incur financial losses.

“Throughout the history of our survey, CFOs have shown remarkable ability to predict future economic conditions,” said John Graham, the director of the survey and a finance professor at the Duke Fuqua School of Business. “Therefore, the record pessimism CFOs are currently expressing is ominous. Eighty percent of U.S. CFOs have grown more pessimistic about the economic outlook for 2009, and pessimists outnumber optimists by a 9-to-1 margin.”

The survey results run somewhat counter to some other recent projections.

In North Carolina, for example, the state’s economy will begin to grow out of the current recession in the second quarter of 2009, according to UNC-Charlotte economist John Connaughton.

However, by the time the economic downturn ends, it will be the longest in 26 years, Connaughton wrote in a quarterly assessment published Tuesday. And even when the recovery occurs, he noted, it will be “modest.”

Also on Tuesday, the employment services firm Manpower reported that many U.S. employers, including a slightly higher percentage in Raleigh-Cary and in Durham, were planning to add rather than cut workers in the first quarter next year.

Little positive news could be found in the Duke/CFO report, however. And Michael Walden, an economist at North Carolina State University, said the survey didn’t surprise him.

“The poor sentiment about the economy expressed by CFOs is in line with forecasts for a challenging business climate in 2009,” he told “Concerns about credit access, policy direction, and consumer buying are all worries we would expect when the economy is in a deep recession.”

Sixty-two percent of CFOs at among companies hit by the tight credit crisis reported that they could not get “credit they need,” the survey said.

Unemployment, which is already at 7 percent in North Carolina and nearing that mark nationally, will increase across the globe, but most sharply in the U.S. and Europe, the CFOs predicted.

Capital spending will drop 10 percent “in all regions,” according to the survey.

In the U.S., 81 percent of CFOs are pessimistic about the economy; in Europe and Asia, that percentage hit 85. The U.S. percentage doubled from the previous quarter.

A recovery will not come before the fourth quarter of next year or later, according to almost 60 percent of CFOs in the U.S. and 71 percent in Europe.

Walden did see one positive note for technology-related firms.

“One interesting aspect I noted was the expected 10 percent cut in capital spending but only 4 percent cut in technology spending,” he said. “This further indicates the increasing importance of technology in the globalized economy – that CFOs are trying to protect this component of their inputs even in the face of extreme uncertainty.”

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