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Data & Results – Q2 2021

July 14, 2021

CFOs Remain Optimistic Despite Concerns About Cost Pressures, Labor Availability

CFOs and other financial decision-makers continue to be optimistic about U.S. economic prospects for 2021. However, when asked about their key concerns, labor availability and cost pressures rose to the top.

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  • CFO Optimism

    When survey participants were asked between June 21 and July 2 to rate the financial prospects of their firms on a scale from 0 to 100, the average optimism level was 74.9. When asked to rate their optimism about the overall U.S. economy, the average index was 69.0. Both measures increased from the first quarter.

    Note: The dashed vertical line denotes a moderate change in the question wording and presentation. Please see The CFO Survey Methodology for further information.
  • CFOs' Most Pressing Concerns

    When firms were asked about their most pressing concerns, labor availability and cost pressures rose to the top. Demand/sales/revenue was relatively less of a concern for respondents in the second quarter compared to the first quarter.

    Note: Data reflect results from the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021). Percentages do not sum to 100 because only the top ten topics (and ties) are shown. Results from the Q1 2021 survey (March 15–26, 2021) are shown for comparison, but some categories from the original reporting may no longer rank in the top ten. Please refer to The CFO Survey Methodology for more information.
  • CFOs’ Expectations for Their Firms’ Performance

    On average, CFOs expect revenue and employment to rise notably through 2021. Firms were also more likely to have increased spending (and less likely to have decreased spending) in the last three months.

    CFOs’ Growth Expectations for Their Own Firms, by Response QuarterQ2 2021Q1 2021
    Mean (and Median) Expected Year-Over-Year Percentage Change for Calendar Years2021202220212022
    Revenue9.6%
    (6.5%)
    9.3%
    (6.0%)
    8.0%
    (5.0%)
    9.0%
    (5.0%)
    Price7.9%
    (3.8%)
    5.9%
    (3.0%)
    5.0%
    (3.0%)
    4.4%
    (3.0%)
    Employment (full-time)6.3%
    (3.0%)
    5.9%
    (2.7%)
    5.5%
    (3.2%)
    3.9%
    (2.5%)
    Wage Bill9.6%
    (4.0%)
    8.5%
    (4.0%)
    4.6%
    (3.0%)
    5.1%
    (3.5%)
    Non-wage Compensation6.9%
    (5.0%)
    7.1%
    (5.0%)
    5.3%
    (4.0%)
    5.8%
    (5.0%)
    Unit Cost
    7.1%
    (4.0%)
    5.7%
    (4.0%)
    --
    Note: Q2 2021 data in the chart and table reflect results for 296 to 316 U.S. firms responding to the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021). Results from the Q1 2021 survey (March 15–26, 2021) are shown in the table for comparison. Revenue, Price, and Unit Cost are weighted by sales revenue. Employment, Wage Bill, and Non-wage Compensation are weighted by employment. These data are also winsorized at 2.5% and 97.5% to remove the potential influence of extreme values. Firms were not asked about Unit Cost in the Q1 2021 survey. Please refer to The CFO Survey Methodology for more information.
    Note: Q2 2021 data reflect results for 330 U.S. firms responding to the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021). Results from the Q1 2021 survey (March 15–26, 2021) are shown for comparison.
  • CFOs’ Expectations for the Aggregate Economy

    Among survey respondents in the second quarter, the mean expectation for real GDP growth over the next four quarters was 4.9 percent. Respondents expected an average annual return on the S&P 500 of 6.7 percent over the next 12 months and 8.3 percent over the next 10 years.

    Expectations for Real GDP Growth Over Next Four Quarters, by Response QuarterQ2 2021Q1 2021
    Weighted Mean4.9%
    4.2%
    Weighted Median5.0%
    3.8%
    Probability of Negative Growth
    (mean share of probability on bins below zero)
    3.0%
    3.3%
    Note: Q2 2021 data in the chart and table reflect results for 285 U.S. firms responding to the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021). Results from the Q1 2021 survey (March 15–26, 2021) are shown for comparison. Responses are weighted by sales revenue. Probabilistic expectations that do not sum to 100 percent are excluded. Firms are first asked to gauge their familiarity with real Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Those who indicate they are unfamiliar with the concept are not presented with this question. Please refer to The CFO Survey Methodology for more information.
    Expectations for Stock Market Performance
    (for Average Annual S&P 500 Returns)
    Expected Return Over Next 12 MonthsExpected Return Over Next 10 Years
    Worst Case (a 1-in-10 chance the actual return will be less than):-2.4%2.7%
    Most Likely Case6.7%
    8.3%
    Best Case (a 1-in-10 chance the actual return will be greater than):12.4%
    12.8%
    Note: Data reflect results from the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021). The table shows responses from 218 to 220 U.S. firms that indicated they closely follow the stock market. Responses are unweighted and winsorized at 2.5% and 97.5% to remove the potential influence of extreme values. Please refer to The CFO Survey Methodology for more information.
  • Semiannual Questions on Credit

    The second quarter CFO Survey included a semiannual credit module to understand firms’ requests for credit, sources of credit, and perceived access to credit. Compared to the fourth quarter of 2020, a larger share of respondents turned to banks or finance companies for loans, while a smaller share of respondents applied for government loans.

    Note: Q2 2021 data reflect results for 330 U.S. firms responding to the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021). Results from the Q4 2020 survey (November 30 to December 11, 2020) are shown for comparison.
    Note: Q2 2021 data reflect results for 83 U.S. firms that indicated they had applied for credit in the last 6 months in the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021). Results from the Q4 2020 survey (November 30 to December 11, 2020) are shown for comparison.
    Note: Q2 2021 data reflect results for 82 U.S. firms that indicated they had applied for credit in the last 6 months in the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021). Results from the Q4 2020 survey (November 30 to December 11, 2020) are shown for comparison. Percentages do not sum to 100 because respondents could report more than one lender.
    Overall, do you feel that it has become more or less difficult to obtain credit for your business over the last 6 months?
    Percent of Firms
    Q2 2021Q4 2020
    More Difficult (and reason)26.5%
    35.1%
    Change in Creditworthiness of Business3.6%
    7.8%
    Change in Lending Standards16.9%
    20.8%
    Other6.0%
    6.5%
    Unsure / Same24.1%
    54.5%
    Less Difficult (and reason)49.4%
    10.4%
    Change in Creditworthiness of Business22.9%
    5.2%
    Change in Lending Standards20.5%
    1.3%
    Other6.0%
    3.9%
    Note: Q2 2021 data reflect results for 83 U.S. firms that indicated they had applied for credit in the last 6 months in the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021). Results from the Q4 2020 survey (November 30 to December 11, 2020) are shown for comparison. In the Q4 2020 survey, firms were given the response option “remained the same”; in the Q2 2021 survey, this option was inadvertently changed to “unsure.”
  • Special Questions on Cost Increases

    The second quarter survey included special questions on whether firms were experiencing larger than normal input cost increases. Approximately 80 percent of respondents reported larger than normal cost increases that are anticipated to last for many months. Much, though not all, of this increase is expected to translate into price increases.

    For additional discussion of these results, visit our Research & Commentary section.
    Note: Data reflect results for 256 U.S. small firms and 63 U.S. large firms (over 500 employees) responding to the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021).
    Note: Data reflect results from the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021). The chart shows responses from 202 U.S. small firms and 54 U.S. large firms (over 500 employees) that indicated they have been experiencing larger than normal cost increases.
    Note: Data reflect results from the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021). The chart shows responses from 202 U.S. small firms and 54 U.S. large firms (over 500 employees) that indicated they have been experiencing larger than normal cost increases.
  • Special Questions on Labor Availability

    The second quarter survey included special questions on the availability of workers. More than half of the 75 percent of firms that reported challenges finding workers also reported that the worker shortage reduced revenue—a reality that was even more pronounced for small businesses.

    For additional discussion of these results, visit our Research & Commentary section.
    Note: Data reflect results for 255 U.S. small firms and 63 U.S. large firms (over 500 employees) responding to the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021).
    Note: Data reflect results from the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021). The chart shows responses from 184 U.S. small firms and 51 U.S. large firms (over 500 employees) that indicated they are experiencing difficulty finding new employees.
    Note: Data reflect results from the Q2 2021 survey (June 21 to July 2, 2021). The chart shows responses from 184 U.S. small firms and 51 U.S. large firms (over 500 employees) that indicated they are experiencing difficulty finding new employees.

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