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.
In case you missed part one of JDA’s 2010 Outlook interview with Financial Armageddon’s Michael Panzner, you can find it on Going Concern here.
For the first half of my 2010 talk with Panzner, I focused on the other shoes left to drop; commercial real estate, political backlash, and the threat of the massive bubble still being inflated in China. But even bears have their bright sides and Panzner is no different. So what do we have to look forward to this year? Oh crap, more doom and gloom; sorry, I got my interviews mixed up.
Panzner points to our leaders’ missteps throughout the crisis as a major factor that could place a damper on any hope of recovery. “Many of the problems and imbalances that helped about the crisis have gotten worse,” he says, “That means people have less in reserve than they did before, and many have not positioned themselves for a ‘new normal.’ That suggests the next leg down, economically speaking at least, could be much worse than what we’ve experienced so far.” If only we’d been prepared for the worst instead of coddled into believing everything is better, eh?
When asked to take a guess as to when the Fed would finally raise interest rates, Panzner gave an interesting answer. “In my view, the Fed is no longer in control – of the economy or its destiny. For the most part, market and other forces, not the FOMC, will determine what happens to interest rates in future.” So I guess it doesn’t matter when they’ll raise rates, markets are no longer listening. Or are they?
A big picture sort of guy, Panzner identifies sociopolitical threats as another major concern this year, and with this being an election year (hello, Scott Brown anyone?), I’m willing to go on the record as agreeing wholeheartedly with him (shock). “Wait and see what happens to the social and political mood if and when the economy rolls over,” he says ominously.
Oh, believe me, JDA is waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Still no rollover but dammit, I’ll still be here twiddling my thumbs.
Hopefully I’ll get a chance to check in with Panzner again come summer to see where we are.
Editor’s Note: Want more JDA? You can see all of her posts for GC here, her blog here and stalk her on Twitter.