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 Signals U.S. Economy Back on Track, Reveals Record Hiring Plans

Bolten: CEO Optimism ‘Welcome News,’ Need to ‘Ensure U.S. Economic Recovery Continues’

Washington – Business Roundtable today released its Q2 2021 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’s results signal that the U.S. economy is back on track and reveals record hiring plans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The overall CEO Economic Outlook Index increased in the second quarter to a value of 116, up nine points from Q1 2021, and only two points below the all-time high reached in Q1 2018 in the wake of pro-growth tax reform. All three subindices increased in the second quarter as well, with the sub-index measuring plans for hiring rising to historically high levels.

  • Plans for hiring increased 15 points to a value of 103.
  • Plans for capital investment increased six points to a value of 106.
  • Expectations for sales increased six points to a value of 140.

In their new estimate of 2021 U.S. GDP growth, CEOs project 5.0 percent growth for the year, a 1.3 percentage point increase from their estimate last quarter.

In a special question first posed in Q2 2020 and in each quarter since, 75 percent of CEOs say conditions for their companies have already recovered or will recover to pre-COVID-19 levels by the end of 2021—a two percentage point improvement from the prior quarter. Conversely, 25 percent of CEOs do not expect business conditions to recover until 2022 or later, down from 27 percent in the previous quarter, underscoring the continued challenges facing some industries as the global struggle against COVID-19 persists. 

“CEO optimism near historic highs, particularly with record hiring plans, is a strong sign that we are climbing out of this unprecedented crisis,” said Business Roundtable Chairman Doug McMillon, President & CEO of Walmart. “American innovation and the collaboration between the private sector and local, state and federal governments led to an extremely successful vaccine rollout here in the United States. By continuing to encourage more Americans to get vaccinated, we can ensure a continued safe reopening in the short term, and a stronger and more equitable economy in the long term.”
“This CEO optimism is welcome news—and we need to harness it to ensure U.S. economic recovery continues,” said Business Roundtable President & CEO Joshua Bolten. “We can build on this momentum and sustain economic growth for decades to come by passing a bipartisan bill to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure—highways, water systems, energy and communications—and forgoing harmful tax increases on U.S. job creators that would hinder America’s economic recovery.”
Business Roundtable Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee Chair Gregory Hayes, Chairman & CEO of Raytheon Technologies Corporation, added: “As a separate survey of our members found, proposals to increase corporate tax rates would have significant adverse effects on hiring and investment plans and would be counterproductive to the goal of greater economic growth and opportunity for all Americans. We urge policymakers to seize the opportunity at hand and compromise on a bipartisan infrastructure package for the benefit of American workers and families.”


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. 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 indices here are then normalized by adding 50 to the result.

The second quarter survey was conducted between May 25 and June 9, 2021. Overall, 172 CEOs completed the survey. Results of this and all previous surveys are available at brt.org/resources/ceo-survey.

Past Surveys

2021 Q1 Q2 2020 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 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