Corporate executives have really gotten to show off their cost-cutting skills during the financial downturn and the ongoing, tepid recovery, as many have managed to push earnings up even as revenues sagged.
But, in looking forward, they have to wonder what cost those reduced expenses came at.
According to a survey released by KPMG on Wednesday, board members and senior executives are doing just that. Forty-five percent of the respondents expressed concern about the sustainability of the cost reductions undertaken by their companies in response to the economic crisis.
“Significant cost cutting can create a variety of risks to the business, both near- and long-term,” said Mary Pat McCarthy, KPMG Vice Chair and Executive Director of the Audit Committee Institute, in a press release.
In particular, two-thirds of those surveyed said they were most concerned about the impact of cost cutting on their company’s employee talent and training. Other concerns include the impact of cost-reductions on internal controls (36 percent), fraud risk (25 percent), management of outsourcing and supply chain (24 percent), financial reporting integrity (21 percent), and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and compliance issues (9 percent).
Some 13 percent of the respondents said their companies had not implemented significant cost reductions.
While previous recessions were characterized by short-term belt-tightening and a quick return to normal, KPMG noted that current cost reductions may be much longer-term, and possibly permanent.
The long-term nature of the cuts is understandable in light of the executives’ economic outlook. The survey found that 45 percent of respondents don’t expect the U.S. economy to reach pre-crisis growth in terms of investment, employment and productivity before at least 2013, and 22 percent said it would be beyond 2014.
Another 17 percent were particularly pessimistic, saying the economy would not see pre-crisis growth “for the foreseeable future,” while 15 percent said recovery could come in 2011. Just 1 percent said recovery could occur in 2010.
Similarly, in a separate response, 66 percent said American companies will not return to “business as usual” and will operate in this new environment through at least 2013.