More Signs Hiring Will Stabilize or Improve

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Evidence is mounting that more corporate financial executives plan to resume hiring in coming quarters than to cut headcounts still further.

A survey of 846 U.S. CFOs and senior comptrollers by Grant Thornton LLP finds 24 percent expect their company to increase staff in the next six months, 22 percent expect declines and 54 percent look for no change.

While hardly indicative of a hiring rebound, that steady-as-she-goes outlook nevertheless represent a notable turnaround since March, when the same survey found those anticipating lower headcounts (39 percent) swamped those who saw increases (18 percent) by more than two-to-one.

It's the second CFO survey in as many months to point to an uptick in hiring expectations. Last month, Financial Executives International (FEI) and Baruch College's Zicklin School of Business found CFOs expect their companies to do 1.7 percent more hiring on average in the next 12 months. Three months earlier, that survey had found hiring expectations of a 2.7 percent decline on average. It was the first rise in four quarters, according to FEI.

Did Managements Over-Emphasize Layoffs?

One eye-opening finding of the FEI/Baruch survey was managements' overwhelming reliance on layoffs to cope with recession. Nearly half of the 262 CFOs (48.3 percent) picked "reducing work force" as the single most effective step their company took in the past year. The next two most frequent answers polled about 11 percent each.

In the Grant Thornton survey, 49 percent of respondents expect the U.S. economy will improve over the next six months, while just 10 percent expect it will get worse. In March, pessimists about the economy (31 percent) actually outnumbered optimists (23 percent). Similarly, respondents who foresee their own company's financial prospects improving on a six-month time frame now exceed pessimists by three-to-one (45 percent versus 13 percent), whereas six months ago the proportions were close to equal (31 percent optimists versus 27 percent pessimists).

Asked when they believe the U.S. will come out of recession, 15 percent look for recovery by the end of this year, 27 percent say the first half of 2010, 35 percent the second half of 2010 and 24 percent see recovery starting in 2011 or later.

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