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CEO Economic Outlook Index

The Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook Index is based on a survey — conducted quarterly since the fourth quarter of 2002 — of our member CEOs’ plans for hiring and capital spending, and their expectations for sales, over the next six months. Taking these factors together, the survey signals the direction of the U.S. economy.

Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook Index Up in Q3, Indicating Plans Are Improving but Remain Fragile as COVID-19 Pandemic Continues

Business Roundtable Continues to Urge Bipartisan Action to Accelerate Economic Recovery

Washington – Business Roundtable today released its Q3 2020 CEO Economic Outlook Survey, a composite index of CEO plans for capital spending and employment and expectations for sales over the next six months. This quarter the overall Index was 64.0, an increase of 29.7 points compared to Q2 2020. While this is the first quarterly increase in the headline index after nine consecutive quarters of decline, it remains below the historical average of 81.7. 

In a special question asking when business conditions for their company will recover to pre-COVID levels, 24 percent of CEOs said that business conditions never declined, have recovered, or will likely recover by the end of the year. Forty percent said they expect business conditions to recover in 2021, and 36 percent said they expect business conditions to recover in 2022 or later.

The new headline index value of 64.0 signals an improvement in the economy since the severe contraction at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is consistent with gradual recovery in the labor market, consumer spending, industrial production and other economic indicators. But the index remaining far below its 18-year historical average indicates that CEO plans remain fragile and recovery requires more support to be sustained and accelerated. CEOs remain especially concerned about implications for small businesses. 

With this in mind, Business Roundtable will continue to advocate for further action by policymakers to support the public health response to the pandemic, protect jobs, small businesses and livelihoods, and make additional investments in education and worker training, especially for minority families, communities and workers, as detailed in a July 21 letter to congressional leaders outlining measures needed in Phase 4 legislation.

“A strong and sustainable economic recovery for America is dependent on defeating COVID-19,” said Doug McMillon, Chairman & CEO of Walmart and Chairman of Business Roundtable. “As CEOs of America’s largest employers continue to work with lawmakers and public health officials at all levels of government to ensure safe re-openings across the country, Business Roundtable urges the Administration and Congress to come back to the negotiating table and pass more legislation to further ease the economic challenges American workers, small businesses and suppliers are experiencing.” 
“The outlook of Business Roundtable CEOs has improved, due in part to actions taken by policymakers earlier this year to help Americans,” said Joshua Bolten, President & CEO of Business Roundtable. “But further major support from the federal government is necessary to prevent economic recovery from being derailed. Failure to act, along with the lack of comprehensive and coordinated efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, would impose long term damage on the U.S. economy, hurting most the workers and small businesses least able to absorb the blow.”

Other components of the Index were as follows:

  • CEO plans for hiring increased by 20.3 points to 46.6, 11.9 points below the sub-index’s historical average of 58.5.
  • CEO plans for capital investment increased by 33.8 points to 58.8, 16.8 points below the sub-index’s historical average of 75.6.
  • CEO expectations for sales increased by 35 points to 86.5, 24.7 points below the sub-index’s historical average of 111.2.
  • In their third estimate of 2020 U.S. GDP growth, CEOs projected a 2.4 percent contraction for the year, a 1.4 percentage point increase from last quarter’s estimate.

Survey Results

Survey Results Q3 2020

About the Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook Survey


The Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook Survey, conducted quarterly since the fourth quarter of 2002, provides a forward-looking view of the economy by Business Roundtable member CEOs. The survey is designed to provide a picture of the future direction of the U.S. economy by asking CEOs to report their company’s expectations for sales and plans for capital spending and hiring over the next six months. The data are used to create the Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook Index and sub-indices for sales, capex and hiring expectations. These indices are diffusion indices that range between -50 and 150 — where readings at 50 or above indicate economic expansion, and readings below 50 indicate economic contraction. A diffusion index is defined as the percentage of respondents who report that a measure will increase, minus the percentage who report that the measure will decrease. The diffusion indexes here are then normalized by adding 50 to the result.


The third quarter 2020 survey was conducted between August 31 and September 16, 2020. Overall, 149 CEOs completed the survey. Results of this and all previous surveys are available at brt.org/resources/ceo-survey.

Past Surveys

2020 Q1 Q2 Q3 2019 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 2018 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 2017 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 2016 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 2015 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 2014 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 2013 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 2012 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 2011 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 2010 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 2009 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 2008 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 2007 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4