CEOs Predict Mild Recession, Flat Market In New Survey, CEOs More Optimistic Than Corporate Directors

Dow 36,000? Inflation calming? End of conflict in the Ukraine? DeSantis as front runner? We asked America’s CEOs for their best predictions about the coming year. Here’s what they foresee.

I’d place a wager that no one wants to relive 2022. From a war in Europe to record-high inflation and soaring interest rates, most didn’t plan for—or expect—all the cards we were dealt over the past 12 months. To get a better read on the road ahead, we asked America’s CEOs to share their best calls for 2023. Here’s what they had to say. 

The Stock Market 

A majority of CEOs (53 percent) expect the Dow Jones Industrial Average to end 2023 within the 35,000 to 40,000 range—not too far above its level today. However, over a third of CEOs (34 percent) predict that the Dow Jones Industrial Average will end the year in the 30,000 to 35,000 range, encompassing its current level, signaling their expectations for a steady market, with little growth—but also possibly with a little decline.    

In comparison, just under a majority of directors (48 percent) expect the Dow Jones Industrial Average to end 2023 within the 30,000 to 35,000 range and 16 percent expect the market to decline further below 30,000. 

“There’s a declining stock market conditions and lack of capital for trading,” says Gust Kepler, chairman at Blackbox Stocks, an analytics company for stocks and options traders. “The declining market conditions coupled with inflation and lowered discretionary consumer spending has greatly impacted growth and stability.” 

Inflation & The Economy 

The economy hit many unfortunate records in 2022 and business leaders and consumers alike are keeping a close eye on where inflation and interest rates will go in the coming year. Both measures are indicators of the overall health of the economy and business environment and are a main driver of directors’, CEOs’ and CFOs’ outlooks in our confidence index series.  

According to our recent polling, 82 percent of CEOs expect inflation to gradually subside over the coming 12 months, after hitting a historic peak the previous 12 months. Only 9 percent of CEOs expect inflation to remain where it is now, compared to a whopping 20 percent of directors. Only 2 percent of CEOs expect inflation to decline rapidly, and nobody we polled expect it to get much worse. (Thank goodness.) 

Inflation will likely subside, and supply chain issues will generally get worked out,” says Scott Pancoast, CEO, Founder and Board Member at Zylo Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical research company.  

When asked about the trajectory of interest rates, almost half of CEOs predict the Fed to end 2023 between 4 and 5%, hovering at its current level. Another 46 percent, however, expect the rate to climb to above 5%, while only 5 percent of CEOs expect it to decline.  

“There is ongoing concern about elevated inflation, balanced by apparently resilient labor markets. The key tipping point will be whether the Fed can keep rates high enough to ultimately bring down inflation without enabling too deep of a recession,” says Peter Bain, independent director at Virtus Investment Partners.  

Only one third and 40 percent, respectively, predicted even hints of a recession when we polled CEOs and CFOs on their predictions about 2022 in December of the previous year. This year however, 95 percent of CEOs we polled expect to spend—at least part of the year—in a recession. Luckily, 90 percent of those who foresee a recession foresee only a mild one.  

Geopolitics 

Spiking Covid in China is bringing attention back to Xi Jinping’s stronghold on the government of the powerhouse nation. CEOs predict that won’t result in a change in leadership, with 90 percent of those we polled saying Xi will be president by this time next year. 

We also asked CEOs to share their forecast for where the Russia/Ukraine war would be in December, 2023. Some 45 percent of directors forecast a continued slog, meaning that fighting will continue, and Russia will hold on to territory; 41 percent of CEOs predict a brokered halt, such as a cease-fire or negotiated peace agreement—a much higher percentage than the 24 percent of directors who forecast that outcome. 

“Although cannot see clear off-ramp just yet, I’m expecting the Russia/Ukraine war to show positive signs of concluding without growing into a larger conflict,” says the director of a large medical equipment manufacturer.   

“I believe Putin will sustain war efforts in Ukraine, which will continue global supply chain disruptions that hurt the world economy, including the U.S.,” says the director at a small financials company.  

The Race for President 

Finally, we wanted to get an early look at your take on the upcoming presidential election, and we found a whopping 81 percent of CEOs in our poll think Ron DeSantis will have the best odds of most likely next U.S. president as of December 2023—at least according to bookmakers. Only 7 percent think it will be Joe Biden.   

In comparison, 60 percent of directors in our poll think Ron DeSantis will have the best odds of becoming the U.S. president as of December 2023 and 26 percent say it will be Joe Biden.   

Only 2 percent of CEOs think it will be Mike Pence and 0 percent think it will be Donald Trump. Directors agree, where only one percent of directors believe that Mike Pence or Donald Trump will have the best odds of becoming president at this time next year.  

“Trump will fade given all of his legal challenges, warranted or not,” says the director at a midsize company in the consumer discretionary sector. “The Republicans will have a large field.” 

For those keeping score, UK betting platform Ladbrokes most recently listed odds of DeSantis at 21-10 or a 32.3 percent probability of being the next president, followed by Biden at 3-1 or 25 percent probability. Trump was third, at 11-2 odds or 15.4 percent. Pence was a longshot to even get the GOP nomination, with 20-1 odds for getting his party’s nod, about the same as Virginia’s governor, Glenn Youngkin.  

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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