Inflation Worries Continue to Drive Down Outlook on U.S. Economy, AICPA Survey Finds

 – December 2, 2021
Inflation Worries Continue to Drive Down Outlook on U.S. Economy, AICPA Survey Finds
  • Inflation cited as top challenge, followed by scarcity of skilled personnel
  • Percentage of business executives who hold an optimistic view of U.S. economy slides from 51 percent to 41 percent
  • Profit expectations decline, while projected revenue growth rebounds

Inflation fears and a tough hiring environment continue to drag down optimism in the U.S. economy, according to the fourth-quarter AICPA Economic Outlook Survey. The survey polls chief executive officers, chief financial officers, controllers and other certified public accountants in U.S. companies who hold executive and senior management accounting roles

Only 41 percent of business executives expressed optimism in the U.S. economy over the next 12 months, down from 51 percent last quarter and 70 percent in the second quarter. Survey takers also took a dimmer view of their own organization’s prospects, with 58 percent expressing optimism, down seven percentage points from the third quarter.

Inflation is now the top concern cited by survey respondents, nudging out the limited availability of skilled personnel. The tight labor market is a factor in an anticipated increase in salary and benefit costs, which are expected to rise 4.3 percent over the next 12 months, the fastest rate since before the Great Recession and a boost from the 3.7 percent projected rate last quarter.

Profit expectations are also under pressure, with the anticipated growth rate for the next 12 months dropping to 2.1 percent from 2.5 percent last quarter. Revenue growth projections, on the other hand, are up to 4.7 percent from 4.3 percent, quarter over quarter.

On hiring, 39 percent of business executives said their organizations were looking to hire immediately, while another 15 percent said they had too few employees but are hesitant to hire. Some 44 percent said they saw no improvement in their pool of potential job candidates after the end of extended federal unemployment benefits in September. About a third (32 percent) said they saw at least a slight improvement.

“Inflation, hiring difficulties and the pandemic are all factors in the diminished economic outlook,” said Ash Noah, CPA, CGMA, vice president and managing director of CGMA learning, education and development for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, representing the AICPA and CIMA. “Our survey was conducted before the potential impact of the pandemic’s omicron variant emerged, but the ongoing repercussions of COVID-19 are unmistakable. Almost a third of business executives said they were keeping safety protocols in place longer than expected, and another 15 percent said they continue to have delayed timetables for some reopening plans.”

The AICPA survey is a forward-looking indicator that tracks hiring and business-related expectations for the next 12 months. In comparison, the U.S. Department of Labor’s November employment report, scheduled for release tomorrow, looks back on the previous month’s hiring trends.

The CPA Outlook Index — a comprehensive gauge of executive sentiment within the AICPA survey — now stands at 74, down one point from last quarter. The index is a composite of nine, equally weighted survey measures set on a scale of 0 to 100, with 50 considered neutral and higher numbers signifying positive sentiment.

Other key findings of the survey:

  • Some 53 percent of business executives said the most difficult positions for their organizations to fill are entry-level jobs, while another 28 percent said their difficulties were across the board.
  • The strongest headcount growth over the next 12 months is expected in the manufacturing, retail trade and construction sectors.
  • Some 18 percent of survey takers said their organizations are still not ramping up business travel to the degree they had expected at this point
  • Optimism about the global economy slid to 33 percent, down five percentage points from last quarter
  • Business expansion plans remained flat, quarter over quarter.