Technology-company CFOs have turned decidedly optimistic about near-term financial results. Among 100 of them polled in January by BDO Seidman, 69% said they anticipate higher sales revenue in 2010. When a similar survey was done a year ago, only 30% of finance chiefs said the same for 2009.
Indeed, a rejuvenation appears to be already under way. On Wednesday, the same day the survey results were released, Cisco Systems announced an 8% gain in fourth-quarter revenue and a 23% profit spike. Cisco CEO John Chambers told analysts that it is “one of the most robust positive turnarounds I’ve seen in my career,” The Wall Street Journal reported. Other tech companies recently reporting impressive financial results include Intel Corp. and Sybase Corp.
Judging by the BDO research, technology CFOs expect the party to continue. In fact, the 69% who forecast sales growth nearly matched the 73% who had that outlook in BDO’s 2008 survey, conducted months before the recession began in earnest. In this year’s poll, the overall anticipated sales increase for 2010 was 8.7%.
But Douglas Sirotta, a partner in BDO’s technology practice, suggests renewed corporate spending on technology might not flower fully if unemployment stays high. A significant portion of the higher profits that are driving investment is attributable to head-count cuts, but going forward, incremental growth will likely track with renewed hiring. “There sure is a lot of optimism among technology CFOs, who seem confident that they’re past the hurdle,” says Sirotta. “But I think the true test will be whether there is some jobs growth.”
Indeed, there was a note of caution in the poll’s findings. Thirty-eight percent of respondents cited managing risk as their top challenge for 2010, well ahead of access to capital (23%), recruiting or retaining talent (19%), and foreign competition (15%). A year ago, in the depth of the recession, virtually the same proportion of technology CFOs pointed to risk management as their chief concern.
The survey results also suggested there could be a burst of pent-up merger-and-acquisitions activity in the technology sector this year. The vast majority of the CFOs (81%) said they expect an M&A increase. Sirotta agrees, noting that the economic downturn has left a lot of tech companies undervalued. “We can expect to see some creative deal-making throughout 2010,” he says.