Nearly half of U.S. chief financial officers expect the U.S. economy will fall into a recession in 2019.
The recession expectations cap a dramatic turn around of CFO optimism, according to the Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey released Wednesday.
As recently as September, CFOs were forecasting earnings growth of 12.8 percent over the next year. In the most recent survey, forecast earnings growth crashed to just 4.5 percent. A year ago, the forecast was for 5.3 percent.
Expectations for capital spending have also fallen. The median expectation is just a 2 percent increase, down from 5.0 percent in September and 3.2 percent a year ago. The forecast for R&D spending fell to 1.4 percent growth from 3.2 percent a year ago.
In addition, more than 80% think a recession will strike by the end of 2020.
Despite their pessimism, U.S. CFOs are more positive than their counterparts around the world. In Africa, 97 percent of CFOs believe that a recession will have begun no later than year-end 2019. In Canada, 86 percent expect a recession next year. In Europe, 66.7 percent. In Asia, 54 percent. Only Latin America was more optimistic than the U.S., with 42 percent of CFOs expecting a recession in 2019.
The labor market still tops the worries of U.S. CFOs. More than 46% listed it as a top concern this quarter, a decline from 53% in the previous survey. Government policies ranked as the second highest concern.
The bleak outlook stands in stark contrast to what is indicated by current economic data and the forecast of the Federal Reserve. Both manufacturing and services sectors have been strong, inflation is tame, and employment continues to rise.
One concern is that the expectations of CFOs could become a self-fulfilling prophecy if businesses pull back from investing, hiring, and spending in anticipation of an economic slump.