Fifty-seven percent of CFOs surveyed expressed rising optimism, and just 11% cited falling optimism, Deloitte's 4th quarter CFO Signals survey found.
"CFOs have been critical to helping their companies reformulate and adapt their plans throughout nine of the toughest months in recent history — and the process continues," Steve Gallucci, national managing partner of Deloitte's U.S. CFO program said. "Nearly two-thirds of CFOs say they do not expect to return to pre-crisis operating levels until the second half of 2021 or later, and 26% do not expect to get there until 1Q22 or later."
Seven in 10 CFOs expect the economy to recover by mid-year, and, following the first-ever shift to cost reduction and away from revenue growth, respondents are continuing to expanding their revenue focus this quarter.
Just over two in five CFOs said they expect to meet 95% or more of their pre-pandemic revenue expectations, with an average expectation of meeting 88%. CFOs in the healthcare/pharma, technology, and financial services spaces were the most optimistic, while retail CFOs were by far the least.
Less than 1 in 5 CFOs indicated their companies are already at or above their pre-crisis operating levels, or will be by the end of 2020. This marks a decrease from the second and third quarter survey results.
Sixty-four percent of CFOs say they expect to meet or exceed their pre-COVID operating levels by the third quarter of 2021 or later, and 26%, mostly in retail and manufacturing, say it will take until the first quarter of 2022 or later.
"It's heartening that three quarters of CFOs expect the economy to improve significantly in 2021," Gallucci told CFO Dive. "Any time 3 out of 4 CFOs agree on a topic, that's a standout."
When it comes to company expectations for 2021, fault lines appeared among industries, but all generally trended towards M&A, broader offerings, smaller real estate footprints, and diversified supply chains.
As for larger-scale issues, despite industry differences, the CFO respondents "overwhelmingly" support a second stimulus package, infrastructure investment, de-escalating US-China trade tensions, less protectionist trade, and a federal government-led COVID-19 response.
The optimism may be a result of post-election clarity, Gallucci said. In earlier installments, the lack of answers regarding who will own the White House and dictate policy created widespread executive uncertainty.
"CFOs like clarity, and the ability to manage through things," Gallucci said.