CFOs: This year is going to be bad

Storm clouds

Measures of CFO expectations for the next 12 months were at their lowest levels in five years this quarter.

Everyone is feeling good about the most recent batch of company earnings-except the people who know the most about companies' finances.

Chief financial officers interviewed this quarter expect earnings and revenue over the next 12 months to grow at the slowest rate in the last five years, according to a new survey by professional services firm Deloitte.

CFOs expressed less optimism about the economy going forward, and a record high of 65 percent said U.S. markets are overvalued, compared to only 46 percent last quarter.

Those dark predictions are at odds with the rosy outlook analysts seem to have for 2015. The median S&P 500 company's earnings will be up 12 percent in 2015 and 11 percent in 2016, according to a CNBC analysis of FactSet consensus numbers.

In the Deloitte survey, North American CFOs predicted median earnings growth for their companies of around 5 percent (mean 6.5 percent), and the lowest domestic hiring expectations in over a year. Interviewed executives pointed to worries about the volatility of the global economy, commodity prices and other concerns.

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"Something changed this quarter," the authors wrote. "Perhaps most notably, public debate escalated around whether or not the U.S. economy is as healthy as many had thought."

Surprisingly, even the sullen CFOs had good things to say about the North American economy overall, including Mexico and Canada, with optimism for the continent declining only slightly even as a measure of net optimism for U.S. companies plummeted 26 points.

"We're still scratching our heads on that a little bit," said Sandy Cockrell, global CFO program leader for Deloitte. "It's more that the U.S. economy specifically, as opposed to North America, could in fact really pull back."

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More than 70 percent of U.S. CFOs said the equity markets are overpriced-only 3 percent said they were undervalued-and the percentage of finance chiefs who said equity financing is an attractive option rose significantly.

Debt financing also remains popular, with an overwhelming 91 percent calling it an attractive option. But if the Federal Reserve decides to raise rates, which Chair Janet Yellen said it likely will later this year , issuing bonds could become less attractive.

Based on Cockrell's conversations with executives, he said the consequences of a rate hike are on the front of many CFO's minds.

"It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when, interest rates will start to rise," he said.

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