An optimistic outlook for the economy in 2011 among Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) in the U.S. has led to expectations of improved employment rates and wage growth in the coming year, according to a joint study by Duke University and CFO Magazine.

The Global Business Outlook Survey, which asked 848 CFOs from a broad range of global public and private companies about their expectations for the economy, has shown that they expect corporate earnings to rise nearly 20 percent in the U.S., surpassing the 14 percent jump expected in Europe and 10 percent in Asia.

US firms are also expected to rev up hiring by 2 percent, as against an expected meager 0.2 percent growth in Europe, with employment growth being particularly strong in tech and consulting sectors. Wage increase is seen at 2.5 percent.

Half of U.S. companies say they will begin to spend accumulated cash, with two-thirds of these firms using the cash to increase capital spending and one-third saying it will go toward acquisitions.

The U.S. employment picture is improving, said John Graham, professor of finance at Duke's Fuqua School of Business and director of the survey.

At a normal rate of labor force growth, employment expansion of 2 percent should reduce unemployment below 9 percent by the end of 2011. At the same time, the U.S. is still sending jobs overseas, with an expected 5 percent increase in outsourced jobs in 2011.

The collaborative research is one of the world's largest and longest-running surveys of senior finance executives and has been running for 59 consecutive quarters. Levels of optimism noted among CFOs in the survey concluded in December show considerable improvement over the recent preceding quarters, though the overall outlook continues to be tempered by concerns over consumer spending and pricing pressures.