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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 Drops in Q2, Reflecting Impact of COVID-19

Special Survey Questions Detail CEO Response to COVID-19 and Expected Recovery Timeline

Washington – Business Roundtable today released its Q2 2020 CEO Economic Outlook Survey, a composite index of CEO plans for capital spending and hiring and expectations for sales over the next six months. This quarter the overall Index was 34.3, a decrease of 38.4 points compared to Q1 2020. This is the lowest reading of the Index since Q2 2009, but it remains above the record low of -5.0 reached in Q1 2009.

The new value of 34.3 signals that an economic contraction is underway, which is consistent with the National Bureau of Economic Research’s recent determination that the U.S. economy has entered a recession. It reflects the disruptions to business caused by the COVID-19 virus and the global pandemic, and shows the effects of business and factory shutdowns, especially in March and April.

As the public health crisis continues, Business Roundtable companies have worked to ensure safe and healthy work environments as more employees return to work. They are also taking necessary steps for continued economic recovery. 

In a series of special questions asked with this quarter’s survey, CEO responses show companies are taking strong action to keep employees and customers safe.

  • 100% of CEOs have adopted or plan to adopt physical distancing measures at their facilities. 
  • Nearly all CEOs have adopted or plan to adopt routine cleaning and disinfecting, are promoting face coverings, are actively encouraging sick employees to stay home, and are protecting vulnerable employees through supportive policies and practices.
  • Over two-thirds of CEOs have expanded wellness support and behavioral health services for their employees.
  • 95% of CEOs have expanded flexible work arrangements within their companies.

Additionally, when asked when their company would recover to pre-COVID levels, most expect business conditions to recover by the end of 2021. However, 27% do not expect recovery for their companies until after 2021. 

Alarming reports of rapidly rising infection rates in some parts of the country, which will endanger both public health and the recovery, suggest the need for broader adoption of safety measures and for public officials to examine their reopening plans to ensure widespread use of masks, continued limitations on gathering size, and measures to keep vulnerable populations safe.  

Business Roundtable will continue to advocate for further action by Congress to support a recovery including measures to protect jobs, support a strong public health response and promote a stronger economic future, as outlined in a May 18 letter to congressional leaders and the President. 

Our battle against COVID-19 is far from over, and our top priority remains the health and safety of our employees, customers and communities we serve,” said Doug McMillon, Chairman & CEO of Walmart and Chairman of Business Roundtable. “We urge lawmakers at the federal, state and local levels to coordinate as much as possible to control further spread of this virus. Business Roundtable will continue working with lawmakers and public health officials to ensure all Americans, especially those most vulnerable, benefit from policies that will boost economic recovery, while prioritizing public safety.

The outlook of Business Roundtable CEOs reflects the reality of current economic conditions,” said Joshua Bolten, President & CEO of Business Roundtable. “We appreciate the actions taken by the Administration and Congress so far to help American workers, small businesses and communities, but there is much more to do. We encourage policymakers to work together on additional measures that will help bring a rapid end to this public health crisis and encourage economic recovery efforts as business operations resume. CEOs remain committed to promoting adherence to COVID-19 safety measures so that states can safely remain open for business.” 

Other components of the Index were as follows: 

  • CEO plans for hiring decreased by 39.8 points to 26.3, 32.6 points below the sub-index’s historical average of 58.9.
  • CEO plans for capital investment decreased by 37.3 points to 25.0, 51.3 points below the sub-index’s historical average of 76.3. 
  • CEO expectations for sales decreased by 38.4 points to 51.5, 60.6 points below the sub-index’s historical average of 112.1. 
  • In their second estimate of 2020 U.S. GDP growth, CEOs projected a 3.8 percent contraction for the year, which dropped 5.8 percentage points from last quarter’s estimate of 2.0 percent growth.

Survey Results

The Survey’s key findings from this quarter and the first quarter of 2020 include:

CEO Survey Q2 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 second quarter 2020 survey was conducted between June 1 and June 22, 2020. Overall, 136 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