CFOS rate U.S. economy better, still cautious on growth-survey

Fri Feb 8, 2013 9:59am EST

Feb 7 (Reuters) - Chief financial officers rate the U.S. economy slightly better than a year ago, but only two out of five expect economic growth in 2013, according to a new survey.

The more than 600 U.S. executives interviewed gave the American economy a rating of 49 out of 100, up from 44 a year earlier, according to the 15th annual Bank of America Merrill Lynch CFO outlook survey. They rated the global economy at 45, up from 43.

The survey took place from mid-November to mid-January at a time of uncertainty over tax increases and spending cuts in the United States, likely coloring the results, said Alastair Borthwick, head of global commercial banking at Bank of America.

The 49 score for the U.S. economy was far below the all-time high of 67 in 2007 but still the highest score since 2008, Borthwick said. "There was an element last year of healing and things getting better," he said.

On the jobs front, only 8 percent of CFOs expect their companies to lay off workers in 2013, while 45 percent said they planned to hire employees. That echoed results in last year's report.

As for their banking needs, only 17 percent predicted their companies would increase borrowing in 2013, down from 28 percent a year ago. But 22 percent said they could pursue a merger or acquisition, up from 18 percent a year ago.

Borthwick was Bank of America's co-head of global capital markets before recently replacing Laura Whitley as head of commercial banking, which works with companies with annual revenue of between $50 million and $2 billion.

This year, the bank is looking to increase its total lending by offering larger loans to existing clients and by hiring more bankers in a bid to gain new clients, Borthwick said. The unit is also heeding Chief Executive Brian Moynihan's push to make the bank more customer-focused, he said.

"We talk about humanizing our interactions with clients, more face to face, more client calls, less emails," Borthwick said.

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