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CEO Confidence Hits Highest Level Since 2021

Outlook for business conditions one year from today improves for fifth month in a row. Sentiment about current economy rises as well.

A growing number of CEOs in our latest CEO Confidence Index poll agree with Fed chairman Jay Powell: The U.S. economy is pretty darn good right now, and it’s likely to get better. Gone are the recession fears we’ve been hearing, replaced—largely—by predictions of falling inflation, solid economic growth, high consumer demand and potential interest-rate cuts.

For the fifth consecutive month, the outlook among the 124 CEOs we polled in early March as part of our monthly economic survey was more optimistic than it was in the month prior, this time up 6 percent to a 7 out of 10 (on a 1-10 scale). That’s the highest level for the Index since July, 2021, when Covid-era regulations began to ease. Sentiment about the current state of the economy also grew more positive. The measure climbed for the fourth month in a row, up 4 percent, now at 6.5 out of 10 from 6.3 last month.

“The economy is at full employment and inflation is decreasing. After the election, the economy will get even stronger,” says Gregory Nelson, CEO & president at EW Polymer Group.

“Backlog of work is strong and opportunities continue to emerge,” says Jonathan Westbrook, president of East & Westbrook Construction, who expects business conditions to further improve. “Interest rates remain high and workforce is somewhat a challenge but nothing like a year ago.”

A majority of CEOs agree with Westbrook and Nelson, with most comments this month echoing positivity and growth for the economy and business. The proportion of CEOs who expect conditions to improve is now 51 percent—the highest in three years. Some 29 percent of CEOs expect conditions to remain the same, not far off from the 30 percent average in 2023.

Only 20 percent of CEOs expect conditions to deteriorate over the next 12 months. Their reasons include continued instability at the local, national and international levels, an inflationary environment and expectations of further tumult post-elections.

“Overall volatility, the elections leaning toward more government regulation, inflation leveling off at a high not the mention the national credit card debt,” lists Brian Engel, CEO of Strategic International, as reasons why he expects conditions to deteriorate.

THE YEAR AHEAD

This month, the proportion of CEOs who expect profits to improve over the course of the next year pulled back to 56 percent from 65 percent in February. 71 percent of CEOs now expect boosted revenues over the next 12 months, down slightly from 72 percent last month.

On the other hand, their plans for capex expanded, with 50 percent of CEOs now saying their capital expenditures will increase. This measure is up 11 percent since last month and the highest proportion planning capex growth since June of last year.

The proportion of CEOs planning to increase their headcount is down only one percentage point since last month, now at 55 percent.

About the CEO Confidence Index

The CEO Confidence Index is America’s largest monthly survey of chief executives. Each month, Chief Executive surveys CEOs across America, at organizations of all types and sizes, to compile our CEO Confidence Index data. The Index tracks confidence in current and future business environments, based on CEOs’ observations of various economic and business components. For additional information about the Index and prior months data, visit ChiefExecutive.net/category/CEO-Confidence-Index/


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