Business Roundtable CEOs support sound public policy to defeat COVID-19, create American jobs and restore U.S. economic growth and competitiveness.
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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 CEOs Rate COVID-19 Relief, Infrastructure Investment as Top Priorities for Incoming Administration, Congress

CEO Economic Outlook Index Continues to Improve from Pandemic Lows as America’s Leading Employers Urge Further Bipartisan Action in Response to COVID-19 Before Year’s End

Washington – Business Roundtable CEOs rate COVID-19 relief and infrastructure investment as top priorities for the incoming Biden Administration and the 117th Congress to help American families amid the global coronavirus pandemic, as their plans and economic outlook improve from historic lows set earlier this year.

As part of Business Roundtable’s Q4 2020 CEO Economic Outlook Survey, CEOs were asked to rate the importance of various measures, in addition to a strong public health response to COVID-19, that would create a more favorable environment for economic growth. Among several choices, a strong majority of CEOs rated a federal COVID-19 economic relief package (83 percent) and investments in infrastructure (77 percent) – such as roads, bridges and broadband – as “most” or “very” important. 

In this quarter’s survey – a composite index of CEO plans for capital spending and hiring and expectations for sales over the next six months – the overall Index was 86.2, an increase of 22.2 points compared to Q3 2020. This indicates a gradual economic recovery from the historic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic during the second quarter. The Index now stands above its historical average of 81.5. 

“While the economic outlook of Business Roundtable CEOs continues to improve, America’s leading employers remain concerned about the recent rise in coronavirus cases and its impacts on American public health and the pace of economic recovery,” said Joshua Bolten, President & CEO of Business Roundtable. “We urge lawmakers to work in a bipartisan fashion to enact further economic support, especially for small businesses, before the end of the year. Further delay in delivering relief will hurt millions of Americans and lead to more damage to our economy.”
“As we urge lawmakers to take action to defeat COVID-19 and help U.S. workers and small businesses recover in the short term, we look forward to working with the incoming Administration and Congress on solutions to rebuild the economy and help Americans prosper in the long term,” said Doug McMillon, President & CEO of Walmart and Chairman of Business Roundtable. “Making bold investments in American infrastructure – including highways, waterways and broadband – is one of many areas where we urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to create a stronger and more equitable economic foundation for American families.” 

Other components of the Index were as follows: 

  • CEO plans for hiring increased by 11.5 points to 58.1, 0.2 points below the sub-index’s historical average of 58.3.
  • CEO plans for capital investment increased by 25.2 points to 84.0, 8.7 points above the sub-index’s historical average of 75.3.
  • CEO expectations for sales increased by 29.9 points to 116.4, 5.5 points above the sub-index’s historical average of 110.9. 
  • In their first estimate of 2021 U.S. GDP growth, CEOs projected 1.9 percent growth for the year.

In a special question, repeated from the last two quarters, asking when business conditions for their company will recover to pre-COVID levels, 26 percent of CEOs said that business conditions never declined, have recovered, or will likely recover by the end of the year. Forty-one percent said they expect business conditions to recover in 2021, and 33 percent said they expect business conditions to recover in 2022 or later. The results of this special question from this quarter and the last two quarters include:

Q4 2020 Graph


Since 2003, CEOs have been asked every fourth quarter to identify the greatest cost pressure facing his or her company. In Q4 2020, 40 percent of Business Roundtable CEOs identified labor as the top cost pressure, followed by 16 percent identifying regulations and 14 percent identifying materials.

The survey’s key findings from this quarter and the third quarter of 2020 include:

Survey Results

Q4 2020 Table

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 fourth quarter 2020 survey was conducted between November 13 and December 1, 2020. Overall, 150 CEOs completed the survey. Results of this and all previous surveys are available at brt.org/resources/ceo-survey.

Results of this and all previous surveys are available at brt.org/resources/ceo-survey.

Past Surveys

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