This article was first published in the February 2016 international edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

This is the time of year when pollsters reveal their predictions for the issues that will be concerning CFOs over the coming months.

According to Duke University’s most recent CFO Global Business Outlook, released in December, the big news in 2016 for CFOs in the US is that they are far more likely to be focusing on what to do with excess cash than they were last year. Their cash on hand is forecast to grow by an average of 6.3% over the next 12 months (a 2.5% drop was predicted for the previous 12 months). This compares with a fall in cash balances of 3.4% expected by European CFOs (a slight dip on the previous year’s European forecast of 4.2%.)

European companies are also preparing for much lower earnings growth, plummeting from 8.3% in 2015 to just 0.7% in 2016. Similarly there are no increases in dividends expected in 2016. Against this backdrop of tougher times, European CFOs will be focusing on bringing greater improvements in productivity than US CFOs, with forecasted productivity growth of 4.8% compared with 2.6% in the US.

At the same time, and even though their companies won’t be as well off for cash as their US counterparts, European CFOs will be upping their R&D budgets faster along with their spend on full-time staff. In Europe, R&D spend is expected to rise by 5.4% this year, which compares with the more modest growth expectation of 1.5% for 2015. For US CFOs, expected R&D growth will be more conservative at 3.3%, and has not changed much from the 2.5% forecast for 2015.

European CFOs also expect to see their full-time employee budgets rise by 3.6% in 2016, compared with 0.3% growth the year before. Expected spending growth on employees will decline modestly in US companies, from 2.9% for 2015 to 2.4% over the next 12 months.

CFOs on both sides of the pond have revised their capital spending projections downward for 2016 compared with 2015. The survey forecasts planned capital spending growth of 2.6% in US firms for 2016, and 3.7% in European firms – in December 2015 US companies were predicted to increase spending by 5.9%, and European companies by 4.2%.

Usually, I would now present some data on what CFOs in particular sectors are thinking – manufacturing versus banking, for example – but December’s survey took a bit of a sideways turn, which is worth relaying in this short space.

This year Duke University jumped head first into the political hotbed in Europe by also asking questions about the economic impact of the influx of refugees into Europe from Syria and elsewhere. The results were unexpected.

According to the study, the majority of CFOs believe that refugees entering Europe will be economically beneficial. Roughly 60% thought that allowing refugees into their country will help solve some of the demographic problems that their nations face (ageing populations, low birth rates, etc). On the downside, 55% believe that the refugees will increase the competition for jobs and drive down wages. Having said that, 40% would be willing to hire a refugee while 30% would not.

And the most decisive result of all: regardless of their views on whether allowing the refugees into Europe is a good thing for the economy, 81% of CFOs believe that their European leaders have mismanaged the crisis altogether.

Ramona Dzinkowski is a Canadian economist and editor-in-chief of 
the Sustainable Accounting Review