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CHICAGO-A national survey by Grant Thornton LLP reflects an expectation by senior financial executives that market values will decline through the remainder of 2009. That 93% of respondents anticipated such a drop in values was surprising to some, given the fact that nearly two-thirds of them also reported an increase in property tax assessments in the last three years. The survey was given to 28 CFOs and seniors comptrollers from a variety of companies.

“From my perspective, it was a corroboration of my own personal views and an account of what’s going on in the marketplace. It was reassuring to see my view of the world is shared by respondents to the survey,” John Michel, Grant Thornton Real Estate Tax partner, tells GlobeSt.com. “The tax authority tends to be reluctant to adjust property tax assessments down unless they are compelled to do so, but it surprised me that some real estate CFOs had not pursued property value reductions as aggressively as expected.”

The national survey was given to 28 participants between March 23 and April 4. Participating senior financial executives came from a mix of public and private middle-market companies, with revenues ranging from $100 million to $3 billion. The biannual survey is now in its fifth year, making it the longest running survey of its kind.

Around three-quarters of respondents said they expected both the economy and their company’s financial prospects to stay the same or worsen in the next six months. About 40% expected their company’s headcount to decrease during that same time period. Despite the seemingly bleak picture the survey reflects, Michel says he believes the worst is behind us.

“I do think we’ve hit bottom; we’ve seen enough signals in the stock market to indicate that some of our woes in the equity market are behind us,” he says. “The US Treasury Department is readily moving forward with public and private investment partnerships, and in fact, I’m aware that there are a couple of public offering plans for mortgage REITs and that is signaling some confidence in the marketplace. Real estate values have leveled off and those interested in buying mortgage obligations might be rewarded for the credit risk they’re taking.”

About 82% of respondents also indicated they believed the economy would remain in a recession through the end of 2009, however Michel says he believes events which have occurred since the conclusion of the survey may have changed the outlook.

“What’s interesting about this is that one would think the level of optimism today in the marketplace might be higher than when this survey came in, based on things going on in marketplace even as recently as this week,” Michel says. “Clearly toward the end of 2008, the confidence level of business leaders was on the decline. Being a business person myself and trying to pay attention to what’s in the media and coming out of the mouths of our clients, the confidence level is moving in a positive direction.”

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