Business Executives Take Sharply Dimmer View of U.S. Economy, AICPA Survey Finds

  • Trade conflict and recession worries rise
  • Profit and revenue expectations fall to their lowest level since the third quarter of 2016
  • Hiring plans soften due to uncertainty

NEW YORK--()--Business executives hold their least optimistic view of the U.S. economy in three years, in part due to trade concerns and fears of a sustained global slowdown, according to the third-quarter AICPA Economic Outlook Survey. The survey polls chief executive officers, chief financial officers, controllers and other certified public accountants in U.S. companies who hold executive and senior management accounting roles.

Some 42 percent of survey takers expressed optimism about the U.S. economy’s outlook over the next 12 months, down from 57 percent, the level it held for the past three quarters. Positive sentiment on the U.S. economy had been as high as 79 percent in early 2018 and had not fallen below 50 percent since the third quarter of 2016, when it stood at 38 percent.

The global economy was viewed in an even worse light, with less than a quarter (24 percent) of executives expressing optimism, down from 35 percent last quarter. The survey was conducted during a period of intense uncertainty over U.S.-China trade and tariff conflicts and the resolution of Brexit, the United Kingdom’s planned withdrawal from the European Union.

Some 45 percent of business executives said trade conflicts were to blame for some negative impact on their business over the past 12 months, with 16 percent saying it had a significant or moderate impact. And they expect things to get worse: 54 percent said they had an unfavorable view of global trade impacts on their business over the next 12 months, as compared to the past year.

Business executives are more positive about their own companies’ outlooks and expansion plans than the U.S. and global economies in general, but these categories have also fallen to levels not seen since late 2016.

“Global trade tensions have been an issue for some time now, but it’s clear business executives are more concerned about growing volatility and risk in this area,” said Bob Sannerud, CPA, CGMA, chair of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants’ Americas Regional Advisory Panel and chief financial officer of Life Link, an air medical transportation company. “We’re seeing that uncertainty weighing on spending and hiring plans over the past few quarters.”

Availability of skilled personnel remains the top challenge for businesses, a position it has occupied since the third quarter of 2017. The number of survey takers who said their companies had too few employees dropped from 44 percent to 38 percent this quarter, while those who said they had too many employees ticked up slightly. Some 51 percent of respondents said their businesses had the right number of employees.

The AICPA survey is a forward-looking indicator that tracks hiring and business-related expectations for the next 12 months. In comparison, the U.S. Department of Labor’s August employment report, scheduled for release tomorrow, looks back on the previous month’s hiring trends.

The CPA Outlook Index—a comprehensive gauge of executive sentiment within the AICPA survey— now stands at 72, down three points from last quarter. The index is a composite of nine, equally weighted survey measures set on a scale of 0 to 100, with 50 considered neutral and greater numbers signifying positive sentiment. All components of the index fell or were flat this quarter, with the biggest drop due to U.S. economic sentiment.

Other key findings of the survey:

  • Profit and revenue growth expectations for the next 12 months were 2.8 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively. Both numbers were down 1.5 percentage points from a year ago and represented their lowest level since the third quarter of 2016.
  • The percentage of U.S. executives who expressed optimism about their own company’s prospects over the next 12 months fell from 62 percent to 58 percent, quarter over quarter.
  • Survey respondents who said they expect their organizations to expand in the coming year also fell two percentage points to 61 percent.
  • Domestic economic conditions and domestic political leadership joined availability of skilled personnel as the top three business challenges this quarter


The third-quarter AICPA Business and Industry Economic Outlook Survey was conducted from July 30 to August 21 and included 755 qualified responses from CPAs who hold leadership positions, such as chief financial officer or controller, in their companies. The overall margin of error is less than 3 percentage points. A copy of the report can be found on

About the American Institute of CPAs

The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) is the world’s largest member association representing the CPA profession, with more than 429,000 members in the United States and worldwide, and a history of serving the public interest since 1887. AICPA members represent many areas of practice, including business and industry, public practice, government, education and consulting. The AICPA sets ethical standards for its members and U.S. auditing standards for private companies, nonprofit organizations, federal, state and local governments. It develops and grades the Uniform CPA Examination, offers specialized credentials, builds the pipeline of future talent and drives professional competency development to advance the vitality, relevance and quality of the profession.

About the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the Association) is the most influential body of professional accountants, combining the strengths of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) to power opportunity, trust and prosperity for people, businesses and economies worldwide. It represents 657,000 members and students across 179 countries and territories in public and management accounting and advocates for the public interest and business sustainability on current and emerging issues. With broad reach, rigor and resources, the Association advances the reputation, employability and quality of CPAs, CGMAs and accounting and finance professionals globally.


Jeff May

Gil Nielsen

Release Summary

Business executives hold their least optimistic view of the U.S. economy in three years, the AICPA Economic Outlook Survey found


Jeff May

Gil Nielsen