The "fiscal cliff" refers to the steep tax hikes and spending cuts that were to take effect Jan. 1 unless the White House and Congress reached an agreement to avoid them. The survey found that 27 percent of respondents postponed at least some hiring and capital spending during the quarter as a result, while 72 percent said the issue didn't affect hiring.
Despite stable sales growth, survey respondents noted that profit margins deteriorated in the fourth quarter, with 25 percent saying their margins increased, down from 27 percent in October. On the flipside, 18 percent reported declining profit margins, compared with 15 percent a year ago. Over the next three months slightly more than a third said they expect primary non-labor costs to rise. That's down from 43 percent in the previous survey.
Expectations for capital spending over the next year weakened from the last survey. Only 40 percent expect their firms to grow capital spending, down from 52 percent.
For consumers, the survey suggests modest inflation could be in the works, with two-fifths of respondents — the highest share over the past year — saying they expect prices to rise in coming months. Most of those expecting hike prices think the increases will be less than 5 percent.