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CEO outlook survey finds higher GDP estimate, hiring plans edge down: Business Roundtable

September 26, 2018

CEOs now expect 2018 US gross domestic product growth of 2.8%, up slightly from their estimate of 2.7% made in the second quarter, according to the Business Roundtable’s third-quarter 2018 CEO Economic Outlook Survey.

CEOs’ plans for hiring declined in the third quarter but still rank as the third-highest value for the employment portion in the survey’s history. Expectations for sales increased while plans for capital investment fell.

The survey found 56% of respondents expect their company’s US employment to increase in the next six months, down from 58% in the second-quarter survey. On the flip side, 13% expect employment to decrease in the next six months, unchanged from the prior survey. And 30% in this quarter’s survey expect no change.

“Business leaders are showing their confidence in the US economy with strong plans for investment and hiring in the months to come,” said Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and chairman of Business Roundtable. “Pro-growth policies have helped unleash this confidence with an agenda centered on tax reform and smart regulation.”

According to the survey, 87% of respondents expect their company’s sales to increase in the next six months, up from 84% in the second-quarter survey. And 56% expect US capital spending to increase in the next six months, down from 58% in the prior quarter’s survey.

The Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook Index — a composite of CEO expectations for sales and plans for capital spending and hiring over the next six months — decreased in the third quarter to a reading of 109.3 from 111.1 in the second quarter. However, the third-quarter index reading is still the fifth-highest in the survey’s 16-year history and well above the historical average of 81.6. This is the seventh straight quarter where the Index has exceeded its historical average, signaling a continued positive direction for the US economy.

Roundtable CEOs were asked a special question in the third-quarter survey regarding the effect of US trade policy on capital investment. Nearly two-thirds of responding CEOs said that recently enacted tariffs, along with other changes to trade policy and uncertainty about future trade actions, will have a moderate or significant negative effect on their companies’ capital investment decisions over the next six months.

“This survey shows how tax reform and regulatory relief continue to bring strength to the economy,” Business Roundtable President & CEO Joshua Bolten said. “Yet, current trade policies and uncertainty about future trade policies are having negative effects, especially on capital investment. Decreases in capital investment not only impact the operations of Business Roundtable companies, less spending on equipment and facilities also squeezes small- and medium-sized suppliers and the millions of Americans they employ.”

The Business Roundtable is an association of CEOs. The third-quarter 2018 survey included 141 member CEOs and was completed between Aug. 27 and Sept. 12, 2018.

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