The Pulse

Business Executives’ Optimism About U.S. Economy Hits Three-Year High

Economic optimism up 47% from last quarter

New survey from AICPA reveals business executives prediction’s that the economy is poised to roar back with heightened revenue and profit growth expectations.

NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Business executives are predicting the economy will roar back in the coming year, with revenue and profit growth expectations not seen since 2018, according to the second-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.

Seventy percent of business executives expressed optimism about the U.S. economy over the next 12 months, up from 47 percent last quarter, as government relief funds, vaccine rollouts and relaxed workplace restrictions have improved business conditions. It’s the first time a majority of executives have held a positive sentiment on the economy since the pandemic began in the first quarter last year, and it’s the highest level that measure has reached since the second quarter of 2018.

There are concerns, however. “Availability of skilled personnel” reemerged as the top-cited challenge for businesses as job recruitment turns up. And two-thirds of business executives now express concern about inflation, up from 44 percent last quarter,

Most of the outlook was overwhelmingly positive, however:

  • Business executives’ optimism about their own organization’s prospects over the next 12 months rose to 76 percent from 58 percent last quarter
  • Some 69 percent of executives say their companies plan to expand in the next 12 months, up from 58 percent last quarter
  • Profits are expected to grow by four percent in the next 12 months, more than doubling last quarter’s 1.9 percent forecast. And revenues are expected to climb five percent, up from three percent. Both projections are at their highest level since 2018.
  • The hiring picture is also significantly improved, with 33 percent of executives saying their companies planned to fill positions immediately, up from 19 percent last quarter. Another 14 percent said they have too few employees but are hesitant to hire. The percentage of executives who said their companies had too many employees declined from seven to four percent, quarter over quarter.

“What we’re seeing is a broad expectation that things will really open up in the second half of the year,” said Ash Noah, CPA, CGMA, VP and managing director of CGMA learning, education and development for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, representing the AICPA and CIMA. “Many issues remain, of course. Supply chains are still straining to meet demand in a number of sectors. The global response to the pandemic still contains many uncertainties, which impacts the United States. But we are clearly seeing growing confidence on the part of business executives that the worst is behind us.”

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 May employment report, scheduled for release tomorrow, looks back on the previous month’s hiring trends.

What we’re seeing is a broad expectation that things will really open up in the second half of the year...

The CPA Outlook Index—a comprehensive gauge of executive sentiment within the AICPA survey— now stands at 78, up 10 points from last quarter and its highest level since the third quarter of 2018. The index is a composite of nine, equally weighted survey measures set on a scale of 0 to 100, with 50 considered neutral and higher numbers signifying positive sentiment. Every component of the index rose at least six points in the past quarter.

Other key findings of the survey:

  • Some 50 percent of business executives expressed optimism about the global economy, up from 37 percent last quarter
  • After “availability of skilled personnel,” the top challenges cited by businesses are “materials/supplies/equipment costs” – No. 6 last quarter – and “domestic political leadership.”
  • Companies’ input prices are predicted to increase by 4.4 percent over the next 12 months, up from last quarter’s forecast of 3.1 percent. Conversely, the prices executives expect their companies to charge are expected to increase 2.7 percent in that timeframe, up from 1.8 percent.
  • Sectors seeing stepped-up hiring compared to last quarter include the category that includes pharmaceutical companies and medical device makers, manufacturing, and hospitality and entertainment. Those seeing increases ramp down a bit include banking and real estate.




The second-quarter AICPA Business and Industry Economic Outlook Survey was conducted from April 27 to May 24, 2021, and included 770 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 Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, and AICPA & CIMA
The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants® (the Association), representing AICPA & CIMA, advances the global accounting and finance profession through its work on behalf of 696,000 AICPA and CIMA members, students and engaged professionals in 192 countries and territories. Together, we are the worldwide leader on public and management accounting issues through advocacy, support for the CPA license and specialized credentials, professional education and thought leadership. We build trust by empowering our members and engaged professionals with the knowledge and opportunities to be leaders in broadening prosperity for a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient future.
The American Institute of CPAs® (AICPA), the world’s largest member association representing the CPA profession, sets ethical standards for its members and U.S. auditing standards for private companies, not-for-profit organizations, and federal, state and local governments. It also develops and grades the Uniform CPA Examination and builds the pipeline of future talent for the public accounting profession.
The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants® (CIMA) is the world’s leading and largest professional body of management accountants. CIMA works closely with employers and sponsors leading-edge research, constantly updating its professional qualification and professional experience requirements to ensure it remains the employer’s choice when recruiting financially trained business leaders.