Things could be worse. A lot worse.
That’s what our most recent CEO Confidence Index finds. Despite March’s bank disasters and heightened uncertainty around the impact of another rate hike on the financial system, the outlook from business leaders we polled remains virtually unchanged from last months’ reading.
We polled 163 U.S. CEOs on April 4-5 on their rating of business conditions today and 12 months from now, and while CEOs downgraded their view of the current environment by a slight margin, to 6.16 out of 10 (where 10 is Excellent and 1 is Poor) from 6.21 in March, their forecast for the next 12 months held relatively steady, at 6.13 (from 6.11 in March).
That doesn’t mean CEOs expect the next 12 months to be smooth sailing. Many anticipate continued high volatility as companies and consumers both try to adjust to a higher cost environment and changes in labor dynamics.
“I expect the economy to get worse in the next six months and then to start improving in the next six months, and by 1 year from now, we will be on the upswing of the recovery from a quick downturn,” says Bob LeFort, president of Infineon Technologies, Americas.
Many of the CEOs polled also expect considerable movement in the months ahead, with several conceding that what comes next is anyone’s guess.
Whichever view you adhere to, our data shows it depends highly on the sector in which you operate and the metrics you track. Some of the CEOs polled say fundamentals are good and demand remains strong, with supply chains getting back on track and the talent challenges normalizing. Others say the fragility of the current environment significantly heightens the risk that any other unexpected event occurring could send their sector tumbling.
Ask CEOs in the financial services and wholesale distribution sectors, and they’ll say demand is slowing. Construction and consumer manufacturing CEOs, on the other hand, report strong growth and volume.
Dennis Folden, president of Mcclure Engineering Co., tells us demand is high right now, and he expects it to increase “significantly” over the next 12 months, thanks to a “large amount of contracts and public work in the future,” he said.
Mike Rogers, CEO of Rogers & Willard, agrees: “Construction in Southeast is still very strong. A lot of government funded projects are starting to be put out for bid,” he said.
Overall, 82 percent of CEOs in that sector reported strong optimism for the future, with an average rating of future business conditions at 7.14—16 percent higher than the cross-industry average.
Meanwhile, 86 percent of CEOs in the financial sector say the opposite, sharing concerns over liquidity, credit tightening and the likelihood of a recession affecting their industry. In that sector, the average rating of business conditions 12 months from now is 4.43—28 percent lower than the cross-industry average.
Our April data further demonstrates that dichotomy with 34 percent of the CEOs we polled saying they are forecasting an improvement in the business landscape by this time next year, and 36 percent saying they are expecting conditions to be worse—30 percent said we’d be no better or worse by then.
CEOs haven’t been this divided since October 2021.
THE YEAR AHEAD
Amid rising costs, the proportion of CEOs forecasting increased profitability by this time next year decreased by 3 percent in April, to 57 percent—though the proportion expecting revenues to increase remained unchanged since March, at 69 percent.
Unsurprisingly, the proportion of CEOs planning to increase capex over the next 12 months declined in April, to 39 percent from 41 percent in March—it is the lowest proportion on record since August 2022.
On the hiring front, 53 percent of the CEOs polled in April say they plan to add to their headcount in the coming year, up 11 percent from 47 percent in March. Some say they want to capitalize on new talent becoming available as a result of recent layoffs.
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/