CEO expectations for US economy grew in first quarter says Washington group

More U.S. chief executive officers project a pickup in hiring and capital spending in the next six months, a survey showed.The Business Roundtable’s economic outlook index rose to 92.1 in the first quarter from 84.5 in the previous three months, the Washington-based trade group said today. Measures greater than 50 are consistent with economic expansion, and the index is above its long-term average level of 79.7.Bigger gains in hiring and investment would be made easier by congressional cooperation on tax and immigration reform and free-trade agreements, corporate leaders said.“CEO expectations for overall economic growth are well below our economy’s potential,” Randall L. Stephenson, chairman of Business Roundtable and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., said in a statement. “Increased private-sector capital investment is the critical foundation for economic growth, and its key planks are fiscal stability, business tax reform, expanded trade and immigration reform.”Seventy-two percent of respondents expect an increase in sales in the next six months, little changed from the 73 percent who said so in the fourth quarter. The share projecting increased business investment climbed to 48 percent this quarter from 39 percent in the previous three months.Thirty-seven percent of corporate leaders plan to boost employee head counts, up from 34 percent in the fourth quarter. Fifty-six percent of CEOs said they’d hire and invest more if the federal government moved forward with business tax and immigration reform and free-trade agreements with European and Asian countries.The survey, completed between Feb. 21 and March 7, tabulated the responses of 122 CEOs who belong to the Business Roundtable. The group’s members represent companies that have a combined workforce of more than 16 million employees, with annual sales of about $7.4 trillion and compose more than a third of total value of the U.S. stock

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