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 Q4 CEO Economic Outlook Index: U.S. Businesses Expect Strong First Half of 2022, See Risks from New COVID Variants, Tax Increases

CEOs Also Report Cost Pressure, Labor Shortage Challenges Remain

Washington – Business Roundtable today released its Q4 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, the headline index and two of the three subindices rose to historic levels, reflecting strong consumer demand. 

Consistent with other economic data on consumer spending, business activity and a tightening labor market, the overall CEO Economic Outlook Index rose to its highest level in its 20-year history to a value of 124, up 10 points from Q3 2021. The three subindices are all well above long-run averages and were as follows: 

• Plans for hiring increased 13 points to a value of 121. 

• Plans for capital investment increased 7 points to a value of 115. 

• Expectations for sales increased 9 points to a value of 135. 

The survey was conducted between November 3 and November 22. In their first estimate of 2022 U.S. GDP growth, CEOs projected 3.9% growth for the year.

 When asked to identify the greatest cost pressure facing their company, most CEOs identified labor costs and supply chain issues. Businesses are doing their part to address these challenges by planning to hire and invest at historic levels and adapting operations to meet the rapid increase in consumer demand.

“This quarter’s survey reflects the encouraging signs we’re seeing with the economic rebound as consumers begin to resume travel and spending,” said Business Roundtable Chairman Doug McMillon, President & CEO of Walmart. “Continued progress in defeating the pandemic, including new variants, will be necessary to sustain strong growth into the second half of 2022.”

“As the economy reverts to a normal cadence, sound economic policy can help sustain strong growth over the long term,” said Business Roundtable President & CEO Joshua Bolten. “The recent bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which directs much-needed resources to upgrade our nation’s physical infrastructure and broadband connectivity, is an important investment in the long-term health of the economy.” 

Bolten continued: “Tax increases on employers would create headwinds for business investment and innovation and impose economic risk at a time when American families are already experiencing the impact of rising inflation. We urge Congress to reject harmful tax increases like those included in the House-passed Build Back Better Act, which would be a shift in the wrong direction for our economy, American businesses and workers.” 

Since 2003, CEOs have been asked every fourth quarter to identify the greatest cost pressure facing their company. In Q4 2021, 48% of Business Roundtable CEOs identified labor costs as the top cost pressure, followed by 20% identifying supply chain disruption costs and 17% identifying material costs. 

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.

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 Q2 Q3 Q4 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