But upbeat on their clients', their firm's, and their families' outlook.
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By Rick Telberg
CPA Trendlines Research
Tax and accounting professionals are headed into the jaws of Busy Season 2019 fairly confident in the business and economic outlook for their clients, their firms and themselves – except they are distinctly negative on the direction of the nation's economy as a whole, according to the latest readings from the annual CPA Trendlines Busy Season Barometer.
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With more than 475 practitioners reporting, 52 percent expect better times ahead for their firms, 37 percent see no change, and only 10% are bracing for declines, yielding a weighted average of about 2.4 on a five-point scale.
Every year the Busy Season Barometer survey asks a bellwether question: How will the next 12 months shape up for your firm, your clients, your family, and the national economy?
It’s a good question for the professionals in the trenches, the CPAs and enrolled agents who spend their days (and half their nights) looking at the real numbers of real companies and real families. Can their observations be far from reality?
One would think not. But in reality, their observations show a certain inconsistency. It seems that close to home, where the real numbers are, things are looking good. Farther away, out at the national horizon, many see dark clouds.
Steve Rossman, head of Steve Rossman, CPA PC, in Woodburn, Ore., encapsulates the conflicting feelings about the local and national trends. “My firm and my family are OK,” he says, “but my concern is that the government is headed in a bad direction and will bring the economy along with it.” Still, Rossman feels good about the outlook for his firm, saying, "We’ve implemented some new procedures and AI which should make our firm more efficient and profitable."
In general, survey respondents could be said to be “locally optimistic.” They foresee a good year for their firms, their clients, themselves, and their families. Almost half—46 percent—see things remaining much the same for their clients, though 30 percent think their clients will do somewhat better. Only 18 percent think they’ll do somewhat worse. Only half of one percent say clients will do much worse, a minuscule number compared to the five percent expected to do much better.
Respondents were more optimistic for their own firms and companies. Roughly 10 percent thought they’d be doing somewhat worse this year, while a heady 44 percent are looking at a somewhat better year. Another eight percent foresee a much better year. Most of the rest—37 percent—see little change coming.
There’s reason for the in-house optimism. Sixty-two percent are seeing an expansion of clientele, and 68 percent are pretty sure they’ll see an increase in net profits this year, 16 percent predict an increase of over ten percent.
Predictably, better business translates into better family income. With 47 percent telling us their families will be somewhat or much better off this year, and another 42 percent comfortably assured that things won’t get worse, only 11 percent fear a downturn in personal finances.
Great news, right? Well hold on…
Asked how the nation’s economy will fare this year, America’s numbers-crunchers are concerned, to say the least. Though 36 percent think things will chug along as they currently chug, the same number see a down-chug in the near future. The up-chuggers number only 27 percent.
Asked why they felt as they did about all the above, most who offered a comment expressed more concern about the national scene than their local and personal scenes. The political situation was uppermost in most minds.
In Ventura, Calif., Richard Walton, Esq., EA, CFP, PE, MSEE, sums up the most widespread feeling, saying, “Economy's a mess with new Congress and State government lack of focus and mismanagement.”
Robert Hartmann, head of a small CPA office in Sparks, Nev., likes to think that the national woes might not affect his or his clients’ businesses. “Partisan politics will hamper growth and the economy will suffer because of it,” he says. “Our business will do well as we are very family oriented and always try to go the extra mile for our clients.”
Bruce Ekmanian, head of Ekmanian Tax and Accounting, in Arroyo, Calif., doesn’t exactly link the national to the local, but one can read his concerns between the lines.
“I think the squeeze on the middle class is going to cause major problems down the road (which may not be too long from now),” he tells us. “The situation with Federal workers having a hard time with the shutdown – living paycheck to paycheck – exposes just how precarious the economy is despite the stock market etc.”