Finance officers taking axe to budgets and jobs

2008

The fear of recession is causing American chief financial officers to trim their budgets, cut spending, put a freeze on hiring and even, in some cases, start laying people off.

A study by Financial Executives International and Baruch College's Zicklin School of Business has found more than four out of 10 CFOs believe the U.S. is already in a recession, with another third gloomily believing it is likely to do so in the next six months.

Fewer than a fifth remain diehard optimists and believe the country will not go into a recession during 2008.

Given this pessimistic mood, it is hardly surprising that more than a third of CFOs had delayed the implementation of business-related spending during the first quarter of the year, the survey suggested, with General Motors CFO Ray Young just last week saying that some capital projects were being put on hold to conserve cash.

"What we are hearing from CFOs is, recession or not, they are taking defensive measures to combat the economic slowdown," said John Elliott, dean of the Zicklin School of Business.

"This quarter's survey revealed that almost half of the CFOs are in agreement with U.S. economists and believe we are currently in a recession," he added.

Close to half of the CFOs surveyed identified hiring as an area for cutbacks, with nearly a quarter saying they were starting to lay people off.

North American fund managers are also grimly convinced that the U.S either already has or will enter a recession this year.

Seven out of 10 are now forecasting a full-blown recession, according to a survey carried out by consultancy Greenwich Associates.

The only chink of light is that more than a third also said they were actively seeking opportunities to pick up bargains, suggesting they thought the bottom of the market had now been reached, the survey said.

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