Businesses Focus on Containing Costs and Protecting Employees, According to PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey

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Only 16% of CFOs are considering issuing layoffs in the next month

Monday, March 30, 2020 - The second release of the PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey reveals growing concerns around the business and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic among chief financial officers (CFOs) and finance executives. Based on responses collected from 55 finance leaders in the US and Mexico between March 23-25, results indicated CFOs are increasingly worried about the ramifications of the pandemic, with 87% reporting great concern for their business and 80% expecting COVID-19 to decrease their revenue or profits this year. This is a 33 and 22 point increase respectively from responses fielded the week of March 9.

Companies are rapidly adjusting their business strategies in response to the pandemic, with 85% of CFOs indicating they have already taken financial action as a result of COVID-19, with most focusing on cost containment measures (67%) and deferring or cancelling planned investments (58%). Other strategies include evaluating facilities costs, general capital expenditures, information technology and workforce.

More than half of CFOs (56%) are expecting to see an increased desire for actions and benefits that help ease the burden for employees. As Congress works to pass various stimulus packages to provide aid to Americans to offset increased unemployment and help keep businesses afloat, corporations are actively updating employee benefits and evaluating other options, including hiring freezes, reduced work weeks, potential pay cuts and more.

"Business leaders understand that pre-crisis targets are no longer relevant, and their number one priority is now to lead their organization and people through the COVID-19 pandemic and its wide-reaching ramifications," said Tim Ryan, PwC US Chair and Senior Partner. “It is significant that only 16% of CFOs surveyed are looking at potential layoffs in the next month. Instead, they’re focusing on protecting their most important asset--their people and their livelihoods--which in turn will support the economy and help it rebound.”

Despite increasing fears of an impending global recession from 84% of finance leaders, the majority of those surveyed (76%) feel assured their business could return to business-as-usual within three months should COVID-19 be resolved today, down 14 points from responses fielded the week of March 9.

"Many companies are grappling with how to maintain financial and operational stability while navigating this crisis, and CFO confidence in their business' ability to recover within months continues to wane," said Amity Millhiser, PwC Chief Clients Officer. "Solvency remains top of mind in the face of a potential economic downturn, and we can expect to see further major financial actions aimed at maintaining business resiliency in the coming weeks."   

The impact of the novel coronavirus on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) strategy is divided and still remains unclear at the moment. A majority of finance leaders surveyed are still assessing or not changing their activities, however, 13% indicate an increasing appetite in M&A.

“Following the initial shock, leaders are looking with an eye to the future and see that certain businesses and assets have healthy underlying operations and are now far more affordable than ever before,” said Neil Dhar, PwC US Financial Services Leader. “Credit still needs to work its way through the system at reasonable prices and spreads before we can expect to see the M&A engines throttled with any velocity, but given the current market dynamics, we can expect a handful of ‘fire sales’ in the near future.”   

Of the 55 CFO and finance leaders surveyed, 80% are from Fortune 1000 companies, with others in healthcare non-profit associations or in privately held companies, and 45 respondents are from the US whereas 10 are from Mexico. The PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey will occur twice per month to track changing sentiment and priorities. The first iteration of the Pulse Survey was conducted March 9-11, 2020. You can view all findings and insights by visiting pwc.com/us/covid-19-survey.

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Molly Molendyke

Molly Molendyke

CEO Survey, Chairman Communications, US Executive Leadership Communications, PwC US

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