Rising prices and interest rates along with other economic factors beyond a company’s control are leading CFOs to show the most concern about profitable growth, inflation, and balance sheet health in 2023
Still, Gartner says nine out of 10 CFOs plan to fund organic growth in 2023 at the same level or greater levels than 2022.
“Macroeconomic factors that companies can do little to nothing about have created an uncertain setting in 2023 and have also led to many sleepless nights among CFOs,” said Shannon Cole, senior director analyst in the Gartner Finance practice. “Borrowing has become more expensive, and inventory and fixed-asset values remain volatile, which inevitably leads to downstream income statement risk.”
The Gartner survey of 110 CFOs between November to December 2022 found that 82% cited profitable growth among the top five issues that keep them up at night, while 73% picked inflation in their top five, and 68% noted balance sheet health (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: What Keeps CFOs Up at Night?
“In the current environment, CFOs should look to aspects of the business that can be managed in a more cost-effective manner,” said Cole. “This can include achieving structural cost optimisation by renegotiating with vendors and landlords, collaborating with the CIO to streamline IT spending, and partnering with the CHRO on an office location portfolio strategy.”
Areas where CFOs are investing more in 2023
According to the Gartner survey, 57% of CFOs are more likely to use capital to fund organic growth compared to 2022. In addition, 80% of CFOs will hold at least the same amount of or more excess cash in 2023, which, for many, is a precursor to enabling organic growth investments. CFOs are also focusing on debt paydown in 2023, with 41% indicating they would pay down more than they did in 2022.
In the current environment, Gartner experts state that reinvestment of operating profit is a less risky and less expensive source of funding.
“CFOs often find themselves in a balancing act between satisfying shareholder returns in the short term and building the company’s long-term resilience,” said Cole. “We’re finding that CFOs are prioritising incremental investments in organic growth and debt paydown, and they are more likely to allow cash to accumulate before deciding where best to deploy it.”
Areas where CFOs are scaling back in 2023
Among survey participants, 55% are less likely to take on new debt, which not surprisingly is due to the rising cost of debt. Only 18% of CFOs expect to take on additional debt to a greater extent than in 2022. While 42% of CFOs will maintain their share repurchase strategy this year, 44% are less likely to use share repurchases to the same extent as in 2022.
“The rising cost of debt is forcing many CFOs to scale back taking on new debt. However, CFOs can maximise flexibility for growth investments by fine-tuning their capital allocation strategy to address changing conditions in cost of capital and asset valuations,” said Cole.
CFOs express concern about rising costs
CFOs surveyed by Gartner expressed general cost nervousness and are most concerned about rising labour costs. About 76% of CFOs across 25 surveyed industries expressed the highest levels of concern over labour costs compared with non-labour input costs and G&A costs.
“The scarcity of general labour availability driven by lower workforce participation rates, human-centric work policy expectations, and the high demand for digitally skilled workers have led to a job market where companies are competing aggressively on their open roles, and this naturally drives increases in labour rates,” said Cole.