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Data & Results – Q4 2020

Dec. 22, 2020

CFOs Optimistic but Uncertain About the Pace of Recovery

Corporate financial decision-makers are generally optimistic about U.S. economic prospects, but note downside risks for 2021, as well as a trend towards workforce automation.

News Release

March 23, 2022

CFO Survey data from Q2 2020 to Q4 2021 have been revised in accordance with an annual revision process. Revised historical data are available for download. Comparisons of revised and previously published estimates are also available.

Historical special question results are unrevised and available on archived quarterly results pages.

For more information on the annual data revision process, please refer to The CFO Survey Methodology.

  • Special Questions on Automation and Uncertainty

    Automation

    While hiring is expected to rebound in 2021, more than half of large firm CFOs say their companies are implementing technology to replace labor, and for most of those firms, at least some of the automation was intended to solve labor-related challenges caused by the pandemic. Much of the increase in automation was also intended to replace low-skilled workers.

    Note: Data reflect results for 55 U.S. large firms (over 500 employees) and 246 U.S. small firms responding to the Q4 2020 survey (November 30 to December 11, 2020).
    Note: Data reflect results from the Q4 2020 survey (November 30 to December 11, 2020). The chart shows responses from 31 U.S. large firms (over 500 employees) and 77 U.S. small firms that indicated they had implemented or planned to implement automation to reduce their reliance on labor.
    Note: Data reflect results from the Q4 2020 survey (November 30 to December 11, 2020). The chart shows responses from 31 U.S. large firms (over 500 employees) and 77 U.S. small firms that indicated they had implemented or planned to implement automation to reduce their reliance on labor. Low-skill positions are defined as routine, manual tasks that do not require a college degree or specialized training. High-skill positions are defined as nonroutine, creative tasks that require specialized training or a college degree.

    Uncertainty

    Respondents in the fourth quarter expressed considerable uncertainty about revenue expectations. When asked for the highest and lowest possible percentage changes in revenue for 2021, the average respondent’s forecast ranged from -1.6 percent to 13.7 percent. The CFOs who are most uncertain about revenues in 2021 are also least optimistic about the economy, and, particularly, the financial prospects of their own firms.

    What would be your estimate for the highest and lowest possible percentage changes in your revenue for calendar years 2021 and 2022?20212022
    Lowest possible percentage change-1.6%1.0%
    Most likely percentage change6.7%8.1%
    Highest possible percentage change13.7%14.2%
    Note: Data reflect results from the Q4 2020 survey (November 30 to December 11, 2020). The table shows 2021 revenue growth expectations for 246 U.S. firms and 2022 revenue growth expectations for 296 U.S. firms. Responses are weighted by sales revenue. These data are also winsorized at 2.5% and 97.5% to remove the potential influence of extreme values.
    Note: Data reflect results from the Q4 2020 survey (November 30 to December 11, 2020). The chart shows average optimism about own-firm financial prospects across the distribution of respondents’ revenue spread. The first quartile, for example, is the set of respondents with the lowest spread, and thus indicates the lowest level of uncertainty. These data are winsorized at the 2.5% and 97.5% to remove the potential influence of extreme values.
    Note: Data reflect results from the Q4 2020 survey (November 30 to December 11, 2020). The chart shows average optimism about the economy across the distribution of respondents’ revenue spread. The first quartile, for example, is the set of respondents with the lowest spread, and thus indicates the lowest level of uncertainty. These data are winsorized at the 2.5% and 97.5% to remove the potential influence of extreme values.

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