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ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Sentiment among chief financial officers of companies operating in Russia has brightened considerably in the past six months, with over half the firms now positive about their financial outlook, according to a survey by Deloitte.
The survey of 70 CFOs - a fifth of whom represented foreign companies with production in Russia - was conducted in March as it became clear the country was recovering from a two-year recession.
The results, released for publication on Friday at the annual St Petersburg economic forum, showed 51 percent of executives were positive on the outlook, a 15 percentage-point jump since an autumn poll.
Over the past year, the proportion of CFOs who are optimistic on Russia has doubled, according to Deloitte, an international professional services firm which provides auditing, consulting, tax and legal services, and conducts similar surveys globally to benchmark the opinions of company executives.
In this period the share of pessimistic CFOs fell to just 4 percent, down from 30 percent a year ago, the poll showed.
A third of companies said they would be increasing the number of staff in 2017.
"It's showing, in summary, some of the improving confidence which you would pick up from the macro picture," Ian Colbourne, CEO of Deloitte CIS, told Reuters on the sidelines of the forum.
He described the survey outcome as "positively pragmatic though not euphoric."
While the newfound optimism coincides with an oil price recovery back to around $50 a barrel, Russia's economic outlook is not rosy, with growth unlikely to surpass 1.5 percent this year.
The survey therefore found that 67 percent of CFOs of consumer-oriented firms remained pessimistic, seeing "no positive future". Small firms employing less than 100 people were also less confident about the 2017 financial climate.
The CFOs of such firms were most concerned about the prospect of a fluctuating rouble, weakening domestic demand and a stagnating economy, the survey said.
Reporting by Sujata Rao; Editing by Hugh Lawson