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What it will take for CFOs to skirt layoffs in 2014

Right now, CFOs are the most positive they've been on the U.S. economy since 2008.

This confidence, captured in the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2014 CFO Outlook, extends to the hiring forecast: 9 out of 10 executives said in the annual survey that they expect to increase or maintain the size of their workforce. Many companies may need that extra personnel, as more than half of the CFOs predict higher sales in 2014, driven by increased demand from existing customers and greater expansion into international markets.

There's one catch: Amid the positive views, one very big risk has captured CFOs' attention, and it's tied directly to the workforce, and health care benefits in particular: unanticipated labor costs. Eight out of 10 executives said they were somewhat or very concerned. That outpaced market risks, operational risks, succession planning and several other concerns.

Alastair BorthwickSource: Bank of America

CFOs said health-care costs would have the biggest potential impact on the U.S. economy—more than the effectiveness of the U.S. government and the U.S. budget deficit.

(Read more: Consumers say they're shelling out more for health insurance)

Three-quarters of CFOs said their companies are completely or mostly ready to comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As for how they'll comply, two-thirds of executives said their companies will keep their existing health-care coverage, while one-fourth said they would either shift more costs to employees or increase deductibles associated with existing coverage.

Layoffs aren't expected, but 53 percent of CFOs said their companies' labor costs will increase as they comply with Obamacare, and of those executives, 77 percent expect their companies to increase health-care costs per employee to offset higher labor costs.


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