CFO Survey Highlights:
· Worst of crisis is behind them
· Low-to-moderate growth in 2011, 2012
· Credit market conditions improving
Stronger companies hiring at healthy rate
GE Capital’s latest survey of U.S. chief financial officers (CFOs) showed that middle-market companies believe the worst of the crisis is behind them and expect to grow at a low-to-moderate pace over the next few years.
The third-quarter 2010 survey covered 530 CFOs of companies with revenues ranging from $50 million to $1 billion, operating across seven major industries, including: (1) Metals, Mining and Metals Fabrication; (2) Food, Beverage & Agriculture; (3) General Manufacturing; (4) Healthcare; (5) Retail; (6) Technology & Business Services and (7) Transportation.
While maintaining a cautious tone, 84% of the CFOs said they expect the U.S. economy to be stable (47%) or improving (37%) over the near term, suggesting little chance for a double-dip recession in the months ahead.
“CFOs at middle-market companies, which are a significant engine for economic growth in America, believe the recovery will continue, if at a slower pace,” said Dan Henson, president and CEO of GE Capital, Americas. “Many companies that had been sitting on the fence before moving ahead on a major transaction, because of uncertainties in the economy and in credit markets, are now moving forward.
“We are seeing a healthy corresponding pickup in our commercial activity levels in the Americas,” Henson said. “Our corporate lending businesses are up dramatically with lending volume up 69% through the third quarter. Activity levels in our equipment finance businesses are growing but more modestly, up 10% in a market growing at about 5%.”
CFOs across all seven industries found themselves more positive about the current state of their respective industries than in January. Companies in the food industry expressed the highest level of positive sentiment, followed by technology, metals, and healthcare and retail, which shared the same level of sentiment.
Looking forward, 86% of the respondents see low-to-moderate growth for their businesses continuing over the next few years. Technology companies were the most optimistic, with 59% expecting moderate-or-better growth in the next few years, followed by metals (50%) and general manufacturing companies (45%).
Despite some optimism about their own industries and the future, CFOs continue to feel concerned about the current, broader business environment. Their view of the general health of the U.S. economy improved slightly since the January survey, however the U.S. economy remains somewhat weaker in their view than the broader global economy.
Credit market conditions are seen as generally improving, with a full 85% of CFOs surveyed expecting the amount of credit available to them in their next round of financing to remain the same (56%) or improve (26%). A larger share (75% versus 60% in January) expects their company’s cost of capital to improve or remain stable this year.
“Middle-market CFOs are generally more comfortable with their access to credit today,” said Henson. “There’s more liquidity in the lending markets now, so it’s a better time to be borrowing.”
Bringing the Workforce Back
Sixty-two percent of CFOs surveyed said they had begun hiring in 2010, with 56% expecting to continue adding jobs through the rest of the year. A large majority (77%) of the CFOs expected operational positions to make up the greatest percent of new hires. Transportation CFOs who expect to hire led the average in anticipated growth, projecting workforce growth of 11% this year. Overall, CFOs who indicated they would be hiring expected to increase their workforce by an average of 7%.
"Market activity has increased, causing us to begin rebuilding our staffing at almost all levels," Randy Polk, Vice President and CFO of Worldwide Equipment of Prestonburg, Kentucky. "While market activity is often hard to predict, we believe this is more than a short-term upward swing. As the trend continues, we expect gradual and sustainable staffing level increases."
Other Top Findings:
• M&A – Surveyed CFOs’ expectations dropped for M&A activity within their respective industries since January (48% vs. 60%); healthcare and retail CFOs expected the most activity (60% and 55%, respectively) through 2010;
• Cap-Ex – The 12-month outlook for capital expenditure spending is up; while both surveys showed 78% of CFOs seeing flat-to-higher spending ahead, in Q310, 33% see higher spending ahead vs. 28% in January; technology is the most optimistic industry (38% see higher spending), with food industry CFOs the least optimistic (27% see higher spending);
• U.S. Budget Deficit – U.S. Budget Deficit, by a two-to-one majority, was the biggest concern among all industries, with the exception of the healthcare industry, which cited Healthcare Reform instead;
• Healthcare Costs – 83% of respondents see a moderate (53%) or significant (26%) impact on their business.
“Although economic recovery will be slow, these findings are a positive reinforcement that the worst appears to be behind us,” Henson said. “We do expect the trend of ‘smarter borrowing’ and highly strategic spending to continue, but workforce growth is a positive indicator of things to come.”
Among the CFO surveys published in the U.S., the GE Capital CFO Survey is one of the few that examines businesses across distinct sectors, providing a more comprehensive picture of how financial executives view the world today and their outlook for the months ahead. CFOs surveyed were from an independent Dunn and Bradstreet source of middle-market companies with revenue between $50 million and $1 billion, and average revenue of $144 million.
Industries in the survey included: (1) Metals, Mining and Metals Fabrication; (2) Food, Beverage & Agriculture; (3) General Manufacturing; (4) Healthcare; (5) Retail; (6) Technology & Business Services and (7) Transportation.
Individual industry analysis is available upon request. To share your view and register for an executive summary of the GE Capital Mid-Market CFO Survey, visit gecapital.com/americas.
GE Capital (ge.com) offers consumers and businesses around the globe an array of financial products and services. For more information, visit gecapital.com or follow company news via Twitter (@GECapitalNews). For more information on GE Capital in the Americas, visit gecapital.com/americas. GE (NYSE: GE) is Imagination at Work - a diversified technology, media and financial services company focused on solving some of the world's toughest problems.