Now there's a portentous headline for you, but it captures the uncertainty of the times — what will the transition from the Great Recession to the Great Recovery look like, and when will it arrive? — and also nicely sums up the contents of this issue.
First, the times. The year has begun with a maddening mix of evidence that recovery is at hand and that it is anything but. The news from the manufacturing sector has been positive, good enough, in fact, to send stocks to a 15-month high at press time. But in the housing sector (not to mention commercial real estate) there is plenty of evidence to support the case for a double-dip, flat-L, or other dismayingly shaped recession.
Our latest Business Outlook Survey confirms this dichotomy, as CFO optimism remains substantially higher than it was a year ago, yet shows a slight wobble from the previous quarter's findings (not to mention other conflicting signs of progress). CFOs would very much like to forget what was and welcome what will be, but neither of those goals seems likely. (For more on CFOs' collective view, see "The Long and Grinding Road.")
A similar split exists in the labor market, where there is little evidence that unemployment is easing but numerous indications that those who are employed may bolt at the first opportunity. In "All the Right Moves," senior editor Alix Stuart explains why CFOs need to resist complacency and romance their top talent before it's too late. (Hint: It helps if you can dance.)
Elsewhere, on the occasion of our 25th anniversary, we offer a longer look at what was — specifically, a quarter century's worth of financial history as chronicled in these pages (see "25 Years of Finance"). Our cover story is more concerned with what will be, as Ford Motor Co. seeks to build on a very promising year. Finance has played a key role in the company's recent good fortunes; we leave it to you to decide if CFO Lewis Booth is too modest about that, or spot-on. (See "Eat My Dust.")