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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 Signals Optimism for Economic Recovery

CEOs Stress Need for Continued Vigilance as Vaccine Rollout Progresses, Additional Recovery Legislation to Promote Sustained Growth

Washington – Business Roundtable today released its Q1 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 optimism for economic recovery in the months ahead and improving expectations for economic growth this year. 

The overall CEO Economic Outlook Index increased in the first quarter to a value of 107, up 21 points from Q4 2020. All three subindices increased in the first quarter as well:

  • Plans for hiring increased 30 points to a value of 88.
  • Plans for capital investment increased 16 points to a value of 100.
  • Expectations for sales increased 17 points to a value of 134.

In their second estimate of 2021 U.S. GDP growth, CEOs projected 3.7 percent growth for the year, a 1.8 percentage point increase from the first estimate.

In a special question first posed in Q2 2020 and in each quarter since, 72 percent of CEOs say conditions for their companies have already recovered or will have recovered by the end of 2021. This is a notable improvement from last quarter, when 67 percent of CEOs expected conditions to recover by the end of 2021.

“Thanks to American innovation, the heroic efforts of frontline workers and new resources to fight the pandemic, there is increasing reason to be optimistic about the prospects for a swift recovery,” said Business Roundtable President & CEO Joshua Bolten. “We urge policymakers to focus on policies that will support – and not inhibit – that recovery.”
“These survey results suggest that the economy is recovering, which is encouraging news, as there are many American workers, families and communities who are still hurting,” added Business Roundtable Chairman Doug McMillon, President & CEO of Walmart. “Nothing can erase how tough the last year was, but eradicating the pandemic and strengthening the U.S. economic recovery can help us turn the page. For that to happen, it’s important that as many people as possible get vaccinated when eligible and continue safety practices.”

In addition to “rescue” legislation, Business Roundtable has called on Congress and the Administration to advance a bipartisan “recovery” package designed to promote a stronger and more durable economy over the long term. In a second special question asking about priorities for COVID-19 recovery legislation, CEOs cited investment in traditional infrastructure, investment in broadband, and measures to encourage business investment and R&D as the most important provisions.

“Strong infrastructure is a critical foundation for American jobs and overall growth,” added Business Roundtable Infrastructure Committee Chair Brendan Bechtel, Chairman and CEO of Bechtel Group, Inc. “America’s leading employers urge lawmakers to prioritize infrastructure investment in forthcoming legislation.”
“Among other things, COVID-19 has hugely affected everyday life by moving many of its aspects online,” added Hans Vestberg, Chairman and CEO of Verizon Communications. “Access to mobility, broadband and cloud services is more critical than ever—and we are hopeful that Congress will take steps to address long-term solutions to bridge the digital divide.”


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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 first quarter 2021 survey was conducted between February 16 and March 3, 2021. Overall, 167 CEOs completed the survey. Results of this and all previous surveys are available at brt.org/resources/ceo-survey.

Past Surveys

2021 Q1 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