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CFO SignalsTM: 2010 Q2 Results

Optimism in a time of ambiguity


As the second quarter of 2010 draws to a close, optimism prevails. CFOs of top North American companies are predominantly optimistic about their companies’ prospects despite considerable change and uncertainty. 

This optimism is prevalent on a personal level as well, where CFOs are focused on raising their impact on their firms. 

CFO Optimism 

Across industries, leading CFOs are projecting substantial growth in both revenues and earnings (9% and 17%, respectively), while costs are expected to be held in check. Dividends are expected to rise 6.5% and capital spending by 12%. This view is consistent with positive trends in GDP and credit markets across the continent. 

The calm and optimism in North America stands in sharp contrast to Europe, where sovereign debt turmoil is substantially disrupting economies and capital markets. 

CFO optimism shines against a backdrop of ambiguity and uncertainty –especially around business strategies and the selection of new investments. There is a general wariness of the increased role of governments in post-recession economies, with CFOs in most industries already taking action to influence, plan for, or adapt to government action. 

Social and environmental policy, regulation, and health reform topped CFO lists of major challenges –not only at company and industry levels, but also a personal career level. Moreover, CFOs frequently rank government-related challenges ahead of other concerns like unemployment, cost of capital, capital availability, and currency exchange rates. 

Although most CFOs regard recent government actions as negative for their industries, this skepticism does not appear to translate into dominant levels of pessimism.


Now that health reform is underway within the United States, CFOs generally expect the cost of employee health care to increase –and at a rate that outpaces wage growth. Although a large proportion of CFOs do not expect reform to significantly affect the benefits they provide to employees, there are notable factions who expect benefits to increase or decrease for at least some staff –and some who expect both. 

Industries with high concentrations of temporary workers expect the biggest increases in benefits, while manufacturing-oriented firms are most likely to decrease benefits.


Despite their positive business outlook, CFOs expect only modest increases in employment –suggesting that the productivity of current, often-reduced staffing can support growth in at least the near term. Where there is employment growth, it will likely be limited to particular industries and dominated by offshore hiring and outsourcing.

Personal Level

At a personal level, CFOs are focused on emerging from defensive activities and leading their companies into recovered, albeit changed, economies. They indicate strong ambitions to increase their personal impact on their organizations –through elevated roles (many aspire to be CEOs), through increased work as catalysts and strategists, and through facilitating others' business decisions.

Though CFOs in different sectors have similar responsibility and ambition, they live in distinct worlds governed to a large extent by the idiosyncrasies of their industries. For example, technology CFOs appear more likely than most to encounter strategic ambiguity, internal power struggles, and difficulty attracting the financial talent they need. They are also the least likely to desire a move to CEO. Not surprisingly, CFOs in energy and resources, financial services, and health care are considerably more likely to be feeling the stresses of new and potential government actions.

Read the attachments below for additional insights; Full Report and Highlights.

About CFO SignalsTM: 2010 Q2 Survey

Seventy five percent of the CFO respondents are from companies with more than $1 billion in annual revenues, and 75 percent are from publicly-traded companies. The findings were collected from a total of 136 CFOs who responded to the survey during the last two weeks in May 2010. 

For the launch of the survey in the second quarter of 2010, the survey sought responses from client CFOs across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The sample includes CFOs from public and private companies that are predominantly over $3 billion (USD) in annual revenues. Respondents are nearly exclusively CFOs. Participation is open to all sectors except for government.  

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All participating CFOs have agreed to have their responses aggregated and presented. 

Please note that this is a “pulse survey” intended to provide CFOs with quarterly information regarding their CFO peers’ thinking across a variety of topics; it is not, nor is it intended to be, scientific in its number of respondents, selection of respondents, or response rate – especially within individual industries. Accordingly, this report summarizes findings for the surveyed population but does not necessarily indicate economy- or industry-wide perceptions or trends. Except where noted, we do not comment on findings for segments with fewer than ten respondents. Please see the appendix in the attachment for more information about survey methodology. 

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, tax, legal, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decisions that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. 

As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte & Touche LLP and Deloitte Services LP, separate subsidiaries of Deloitte LLP. Please see for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries.

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