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AICPA Outlook Survey: This Double-Dip Recession Just May Be Happening

Just in time for President Obama’s jobs conversation to a joint session of Congress, the AICPA has released its latest quarterly economic outlook survey results. Long story short: sentiments aren’t high among financial professionals surveyed.

The outlook for the U.S. economy turned negative in the third quarter for the first time since 2009 as prospects for recovery waned and concerns about a second recession rose, according to the latest AICPA Economic Outlook Survey of Chief Financial Officers, Controllers and CPAs in executive and senior management accounting roles.

The CPA Outlook Index, a broad-based composite index that captures the expectations of CPA financial executives and management accountants, declined 8 points to 58 this quarter, down from 66 in the prior period. The survey, conducted in August, tallied 1,305 qualified responses from CPAs who hold leadership positions, such as chief financial officers or controllers in their companies.

“For the second consecutive quarter, the CPA Outlook Index declined as turbulence in the political and economic environment eroded the sense earlier this year that a recovery was taking hold,” said Carol Scott, AICPA vice president for business, industry and government. “A majority of our CPA members in executive financial roles now fear a second recession may be likely.”

The decline in the CPA Outlook Index was fueled by a sharp drop in sentiment about the U.S. economy.

A whopping 61 percent majority of respondents said they think it is “somewhat likely” or “very likely” the U.S. will fall into a double-dip recession. Only 9 percent of CPAs serving in executive positions expressed optimism about the U.S. economy in the third quarter, down 24 percentage points from 33 percent who were optimistic in the second quarter.

It is reasonable to point out here that though the CPA Outlook Index turned negative this quarter, it is still above the 4-year low of 32 in the first quarter of 2009.

U.S. economy optimism plummeted a whopping 28 points from 53 to 25. Of the major index components, none changed positively quarter-over-quarter for 2011.

While the outlook for respondents’ own organizations is not as rosy as it was earlier this year, it has not dropped as sharply as the outlook for the US economy. Optimists also still outnumber pessimists, with 41% of the CPA decision-makers indicating that they are optimistic about the outlook for their own organizations over the next 12 months, while only 21% are pessimistic. Expectation for expansion also dropped again this quarter but a majority of respondents (53%) still expect to expand at least somewhat in the next 12 months. This is down from 61% who expected expansion last quarter.

Executive summary of the survey results can be found here.