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Duke CFO survey reveals economic optimism, but concerns about monetary policy


A new survey of chief finance officers finds growing optimism for the U.S. economy compared to last year, but CFOs see some challenges ahead.

Duke University's Fuqua School of Business conducts the quarterly survey in partnership with the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and Richmond.

While many economic forecasters were predicting a recession in the past year, John Graham said survey respondents were assuming a the economy would shift into a period of "slow, positive growth."

"The consumer sector has stayed relatively strong throughout the past year or two," he said. "And people have thought that might scale back, which might ultimately pull kind of the business sector down with it."

The 2,200 CFOs surveyed predict gross domestic product will grow 2.2% over the next four quarters.

Companies want to hire, but Graham says the tight labor market has created a "mismatch" between available jobs and worker skills.

"Over the last year, maybe the last six months, it's finally falling a little bit more back into business's favor where they've been able to hire, but they're still looking to plug certain positions like accountants and diesel mechanics," Graham said.

According to the survey, companies of all kinds have been turning to automation and artificial intelligence to fill these jobs.

CFOs are also keeping an eye on interest rates, as the Federal Reserve considers whether to cut interest rates later this year.

"If interest rates were to stay high kind of indefinitely, then I think each quarter we'd see more and more companies starting to be affected by higher interest rates," Graham said.

Bradley George is WUNC's AM reporter. A North Carolina native, his public radio career has taken him to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and most recently WUSF in Tampa. While there, he reported on the COVID-19 pandemic and was part of the station's Murrow award winning coverage of the 2020 election. Along the way, he has reported for NPR, Marketplace, The Takeaway, and the BBC World Service. Bradley is a graduate of Guilford College, where he majored in Theatre and German.
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