At the start of 2022, America’s business leaders are hopeful that persistent issues in the supply chain and growing inflation—and maybe even Covid-19—will wind down this year. Their rating of future business conditions reached its highest level since July of 2021, when vaccinations became widely available across the country. Many CEOs we polled point to persistent demand, even during a large spike in Covid-19 cases, as the source of their growing confidence.

Those are the key findings from Chief Executive’s latest poll of 210 U.S. CEOs, fielded January 4 through 6, which asks America’s business chiefs to rate the environment today and 12 months out based on their assessment of business conditions—and forecast the impact on their company’s growth.

Their 7 out of 10 rating of future business conditions was a stunning 7 percent increase over last month—matching their forecast at the beginning of 2021. Their rating of the current business environment, however, dropped by 1.5 percent to 6.7 out of 10, from 6.8/10 in December. Nevertheless, CEOs’ current rating of today’s business environment is 8 percent higher than their rating of conditions in January of 2021.

“The worst is here. Now it’s the beginning of the end for Covid,” says Andrew Ly, CEO of Sugar Bowl Bakery, summing up the hope of many CEOs across the nation.

“I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on inflation and interest rates and I anticipate increased business as COVID-19 and supply chain conditions improve over the next year,” says Arthur James, President at Mills James Productions, a video production company. He expects that conditions will improve from a 6 to a 7 one year from now.

Andrew Featherman, Esq., President at Intergroup, a real estate company, agrees with James, saying, “Supply shocks and inflation are one-offs and will stabilize by 4th quarter.” He expects conditions to remain at the 8 he rates them now.

“As we enter 2022 and demand seems to improve and potentially become greater as Covid subsides there should be pent up demand for services within the travel industry while supplies remain limited to due manufacturing delays,” shares Tom Mallo President and CEO of Malco Enterprises of Nevada, Inc., expressing his hope that business conditions will jump from a 5 to an 8 by 2023.

TC Chatterjee, CEO at Griffith Foods, agrees with Mallo and says, “Input prices, supply chain issues and labor shortages are dampening growth currently; I expect these to improve over the next 12 months to enable us to meet growing demand,” explaining why he thinks conditions will rate an 8 a year from now, compared to 6 today.

Not everyone agrees, of course. Eric Blumenthal, President of Focused Forward, a professional services firm, believes conditions will remain unchanged and adds that “Covid-19, widespread resignations, rising oil prices and computer hacking are all on my list of concerns.”

“The influx of government funding, stimulus, infrastructure, scarcity of goods, long supply chain challenges and overinflated (non-earning) company valuations create a challenging environment. Throw in a bit of SPAC performance, crypto uncertainty, possibility of tax law changes and an extended pandemic and we have a ‘deck of cards,’” says Christopher Perry, President of Broadridge Financial Solutions, who expects conditions to deteriorate from a 7 to a 4 over the year.

Joshua Goldschmidt, President at Eagle Construction, agrees with Perry that conditions will reach a 4 by 2023, saying, “Costs are just rising too fast.”

Still, this month, the proportion of CEOs forecasting worsening conditions dropped by a whopping 36 percent, from 39 percent in December, to only 25 percent at the start of the new year—the lowest proportion expecting conditions to deteriorate since March of last year. Now, almost the same percent of CEOs are expecting conditions to either improve (38%) or remain unchanged (37%)—a stark shift in outlook.

The Year Ahead

The proportion of CEOs predicting increases in profits remained unchanged in January, hovering at 71 percent. The proportion of those predicting increases in revenues, however, jumped 13 percent this month to 88 percent, up from 78 percent in December and matching its 2021 high in May.

The proportion of CEOs expecting to increase their capital expenditures clawed back most of its losses this month, increasing by 7 percent to 61 percent, after a 7.5 percent drop in December. This proportion is 28 percent higher than the proportion of CEOs who expected to increase their capex in January of last year.

Similarly, the proportion of CEOs expecting to add to their headcount increased by 6.5 percent this month, after a slight drop in December. Now, 69 percent of CEOs are planning to up their hiring over the next year—25 percent higher than the 55 percent who planned the same at the start of 2021.

Sector & Size View

January polling shows that confidence has improved across most industries with the exceptions of consumer manufacturing and retail trade, whose ratings fell by 7.1 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively. CEOs in consumer manufacturing are discouraged by raw material inflation and the labor shortage preventing them from reaching their full potential, even though demand remains high. Retail CEOs, who gave the lowest rating this month of 6.33, share that material and inventory shortages, coupled with inflation and worker resignations are creating a volatile business environment.

The largest gain in confidence was seen by CEOs in the construction sector. Many are motivated by increased investment in infrastructure and see the end of Covid in sight.

Alan Pramuk, Chairman of Gresham Smith, in the construction industry, shares what is encouraging him: “The need and will to improve the US infrastructure, specifically with energy, renewables, power distribution, transportation, water quality and resiliency.”

Comparing ratings by company size, measured in annual revenues, only CEOs running companies with $100 to $999.9 million in revenues lost confidence this month, with their rating down 5 percent. CEOs’ ratings in both the smallest companies with revenues under $10 million and those in companies with revenues over $1 billion increased by double digits, at 16 and 12 percent, respectively.

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/