And Now for the Good News…

Here are ten bright spots to savor amid the economic gloom.

“If you have the stomach for it, you bet it’s a good time to be a CFO,” says Tom Kolder, president of the Chicago recruiting firm Crist Kolder Associates. “We’re seeing more companies looking for CFOs than we have even in the hot times of the last couple of years. People who have a broad financial skill-set are extremely well positioned for certainly the next five years.” Treasurers, who have recently played second fiddle to controllers as companies have raced to strengthen their accounting systems, are suddenly in high demand as well, says Kolder, who notes that many companies are now looking for finance chiefs with treasury and capital-markets skills.

A Buy Rating on Buying

It’s a great time to buy almost anything. From companies to stocks to houses to sweaters at the Gap, everything is on sale. Especially for young people just starting to build their retirement nest eggs, buying opportunities abound. Only a handful of stocks in the S&P 500 were up on the year through mid-November. The index is down nearly 50 percent for the year. Such a bludgeoning means at least some of these stocks are undervalued, and some experts say price/earnings ratios are now at historic norms, which may mean a rebound is in the offing.

From a corporate perspective, the strengthened U.S. dollar will make it easier for U.S. companies to expand abroad through acquisition, something many had postponed during the dollar’s prolonged slide last year. And with debt markets unpredictable at best, private-equity buyers won’t provide as much competition for cash-rich strategic acquirers as they have in recent years.

Green Piece

Clean energy could provide a way out of this mess. Investment in alternative-energy companies continues apace, with the industry racking up more than $5 billion in investments in 2008 despite the brutal capital-raising environment.

If President-Elect Barack Obama pursues his proposed green infrastructure and technology initiatives, government spending could make this sector shine even brighter. On the campaign trail, Obama outlined a plan to invest $15 billion a year toward development of alternative fuels and other renewable-energy technology, upgrading the nation’s electric power grid, and improving energy efficiency, a promise he reiterated at an international climate-change summit in November. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that such investment in upgrading existing infrastructure to meet new efficiency standards would create 2 million jobs for a broad spectrum of workers, from assembly-line employees to roofers, many of whom have been hit hard by the dramatic plunge in the automobile-manufacturing and housing industries. One recent beneficiary of the green movement has been Fuel Systems Solutions, a maker of hydrogen-powered engines, which reported 62 percent revenue growth in the third quarter of 2008.

A Chance to Simplify & Prepare

Nothing lasts forever. The economy will eventually rebound — nearly 60 percent of CFOs expect the recovery to begin in the fourth quarter of 2009 or later, according to the most recent CFO/Duke University Global Business Outlook Survey — and many executives are trying to figure out how to position their companies in the downturn so that they can be among the first to benefit from the upside.

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