Manufacturing CFOs optimistic about growth in 2013

Prime Advantage survey cites taxes, health insurance, skilled labor as major concerns


Prime Advantage, the buying consortium for midsized manufacturers, announced the findings of its fifth annual Group CFO Survey, revealing financial projections and top concerns of its member companies’ CFOs in 2013. These CFOs remain optimistic about financial prospects and are focused on growth, as indicated by increased hiring, capital and R&D investments.

A summary of the survey findings include:

  • 64% of executives feel more optimistic about financial prospects for their own companies, down slightly from 69% a year ago
  • 72% of respondents rated their optimism about financial prospects as moderate to high, an increase of 10% over last year
  • 73% of respondents forecast moderate to rapid growth for their key customers for the next 12 months    
  • A record number of companies (72%) are planning capital expenditures in computer hardware and software
  • Health insurance premiums increased for most respondents in the past year and nearly every company (94%) is anticipating an increase in healthcare premiums this year
  • Top priorities in 2013 include cutting operational costs, developing new products and services, and seeking new markets for products and services
  • Nearly half of U.S. manufacturers (46%) have engaged with local educational providers in order to train workers (up from just 19% in 2012)
  • More companies are planning to increase the number of employees in 2013 (49% of respondents, up from 41% in 2012).

“We’re very encouraged to see our members’ optimism regarding business for 2013. To see continued growth in revenue, capital expenditures and hiring expectations, following a record setting 2012 for many, is a true indication of a solid manufacturing economy,” said Louise O’Sullivan, founder, president and CEO of Prime Advantage. “While our members continue to develop new products and enter new markets, our goal remains to make sure we’re presenting the best suppliers to them as strategic partners in growing their business.”

Only 5% of companies feel the U.S. economy will contract this year and more than half of respondents (56%) feel the economy will expand. Nearly all CFOs (96%) believe U.S. manufacturing will expand or stay the same in 2013.

The level of optimism among CFOs about their own companies increased this year. Seventy-two% of respondents rated their optimism about financial prospects of their companies as moderate to high, which is 10 points higher than last year (and also a record high for the GO CFO Survey). Executives are more optimistic about the business outlook for their key customers, with 73% of respondents forecasting moderate to rapid growth (up from 59% in 2012).

There still is optimism about the economy, as 51% of respondents feel more upbeat compared to last year, when 67% felt more optimistic about economy as a whole. At the same time, the level of optimism about U.S. economy has risen from the previous year to 36% (in 2012, only 26% of respondents felt optimistic about the economy).

When asked to cite the top potential threats to economic growth in the United States, executives named healthcare reform, the U.S. budget deficit, and European fiscal conditions as the biggest hurdles to the growth and stability of the U.S. economy.

To address current economic conditions, U.S. manufacturers would support simplification of the business tax (91%), balancing the U.S. budget (78%) and reducing regulations (72%) as the most desired government actions.

As companies actively explore new markets, they are also increasing investment in R&D, with 50% of Prime Advantage’s member companies are planning to increase their spending for new product development, the highest percentage since 2009.

Cutting operational costs and developing new products and services, the top priorities of 2012, retained their positions for 2013. However, long-term strategic planning was replaced by seeking new markets for products and services, which moved 29 points up to the 3rd position from the 7th position it occupied in 2012.

More companies than a year ago are planning to increase the number of domestic employees in 2013, as indicated by 49% of respondents (up from 41% in 2012). Three in four companies are planning to increase wages and salaries this year. This is in contrast to 2011, when 72% of companies expected to add employees. Steady corporate employment plans have also appeared in other recent industry surveys, such as BofA’s 2013 CFO Outlook and Duke/CFO Magazine CFO Survey.

Yet, companies are still struggling with finding skilled labor, as 70% of respondents indicated that the low level of skilled employees in the area is the main reason for difficulties in filling positions. The jobs are there, as 60% of companies that were actively hiring indicated they had open positions for which they were having difficulty finding qualified labor.

Nearly half of U.S. manufacturers (46%) indicated they engaged with local educational providers in order to train workers (up from 19% in 2012). Other short-term solutions to these challenges are setting up training for new employees (63% of the votes) as well as re-training existing employees (58%).

As a long-term solution, companies indicated working with local economic development and government leaders, increasing funding for vocational education options, getting more involved with the K-12 program, and developing better training programs in manufacturing and technical areas.

External concerns facing U.S. manufacturers for the most part remained the same. One in three companies named customer demand as the top external concern; two in three companies included it in their top three concerns. Price pressure from competitors was the second leading concern, selected by 61% of manufacturers. The cost of non-fuel commodities, a long-time third concern, was replaced by the federal government agenda, selected by 36% of manufacturers (up from 21% in 2012).

Ability to maintain margins, the chief internal concern of 2012 and 2010, retained its top position again, selected by 71% of respondents. The cost of healthcare, the leading concern of 2011, has moved up to second place, as 55% of respondents have included it in their top three concerns, up from 38% a year ago.

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