The CFO Survey: CFOs Report Optimism About Economic Growth

Expected investment among firms remains limited

April 7, 2021
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CFOs and other financial decision-makers are increasingly optimistic about strong U.S. economic prospects for 2021, according to the results of The CFO Survey, a collaboration of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta.

CFOs expressed growing optimism for their own firms, with average optimism at 73.2 on a scale of 0 to 100 — above the fourth-quarter 2020 reading of 71. When asked to rate their optimism about the overall U.S. economy, the average rating was 67.7, which was a marked increase from the 61.6 reading in the fourth quarter.

“This pick-up in optimism is evident in the robust expectations firms have for revenue and employment growth in 2021,” said Brent Meyer, senior advisor and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. “Most firms also anticipate economic growth for reasons separate from the American Rescue Plan Act — the majority of respondents did not expect the fiscal relief plan to impact employment or revenue growth.”

Investment plans are relatively muted, according to results of the survey, which was fielded from March 15 to 26. Only about one-third of firms anticipate investing in structures or land over the next six months. Nearly two-thirds of firms anticipate spending on equipment in the near-term, but among these firms many said they were investing to replace or repair existing equipment, rather than to increase capacity.

The majority of firms not intending to invest in either equipment or structures over the next six months cite adequate or excess capacity as the reason. Relative to our September 2020 survey, fewer firms indicated “uncertainty” or “need to preserve cash” as restraints on their investment plans, an indication of diminishing pessimism over economic prospects

The CFO Survey is issued by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta. The latest survey, as well as historical data and commentary, can be found at Sign up to receive email notifications when new results are posted.

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