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Corporate execs expect fatter paychecks for workers

After years of stagnant wages, pay hikes for American workers could be around the corner.

U.S. companies expect wage hikes of more than 3 percent over the next year, with hiring increasing by more than 2 percent, according to the Duke University/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook Survey of about 1,000 chief financial officers, roughly half in the U.S.

"We're now more than five years into the economic recovery in the United States. It took quite a while, but we're finally at the point where CFOs tell us they're optimistic about the employment and the wage outlook," said John Graham, a finance professor at Duke University's School of Business and director of the survey.

Wage and employment growth is predicted to be strongest in technology, business services and consulting, health care, and construction, according to the quarterly results released Wednesday.

"U.S. companies say they expect to increase employment by about 2.4 percent over the next year, which is a nice healthy number, and will continue to put downward pressure on the unemployment rate," Graham said.

The latest monthly figures from the U.S. Labor Department had corporate payrolls expanding by 280,000 in May, the biggest jump in five months, with the unemployment rate rising to 5.5 percent from 5.4 percent as more Americans entered the work force.

The government data also offered a hint of inflation, with average hourly earnings rising 0.3 percent last month from April, pushing the annual growth rate up to a two-year high of 2.3 percent.

Those numbers are poised to increase further, if the findings of the Duke/CFO survey pan out.

The finance chiefs said they expect to raise wages by 3.3 percent. "If wages go up by 3.3 percent, and inflation is running at only about 1.5 percent, that means we're going to have real wage growth in the United States, where wages outgrow inflation," said Graham.

"Policy makers have been waiting quite some time for real wage growth in the U.S. so they can potentially start raising interest rates and getting us back back to kind of a normal monetary policy in the United States."

The Federal Reserve is weighing the timing of what would be the central bank's first rate hike since 2006, with economists expecting the move to come in September at the earliest.

"There are an increasing number of signals that wage pressures are on the cusp of a more pronounced upshift, which if sustained would indicate that the labor market is nearing the Fed's full employment mandate," wrote analysts at Deutsche Bank.

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