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: U.S. Economy Remains Strong, But CEO Economic Outlook Dips in Q3

CEOs Cite Proposed Corporate Tax Increases Among Top Threats to Investment, Hiring and Growth Plans

Washington – Business Roundtable today released its Q3 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 overall index dipped slightly, driven by a decline in expectations for sales. The headline index and three subindices remain well above their historical averages. In addition, answers to a special question revealed CEOs are cautious of current public health and economic conditions and federal policy changes that could put U.S. competitiveness at risk, including the corporate tax increases proposed in current reconciliation legislation.

The overall CEO Economic Outlook Index decreased in the third quarter to a value of 114, down 2 points from Q2 2021. The three subindices were as follows:

• Plans for hiring increased 5 points to a value of 108.

• Plans for capital investment increased 2 points to a value of 108.

• Expectations for sales decreased 14 points to a value of 126.

In their fourth estimate of 2021 U.S. GDP growth, CEOs project 4.8 percent growth for the year, a 0.2 percentage point decrease from their estimate last quarter.

When asked to identify the most significant impediments or threats to their company’s U.S. investment, hiring and growth plans over the next year, CEOs cited continued difficulty finding and retaining qualified workers, adverse changes to U.S. corporate tax policy and slow progress in global vaccinations as their main concerns.  

“Investment in our nation’s infrastructure is urgently needed,” said Business Roundtable Chairman Doug McMillon, President & CEO of Walmart. “We applaud Congress for scheduling a vote on the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act this coming Thursday. We urge every member of the House of Representatives to vote yes on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to generate significant investment in America’s transportation, water, energy and communications systems.” 

“Increasing taxes on America’s largest job creators by almost $1 trillion—nearly three times the net corporate tax cut from 2017 tax reform—would be one of the largest corporate tax increases in history,” said Business Roundtable President & CEO Joshua Bolten. “Tax increases on job creators would make it harder for U.S. companies to compete and would hinder investment in America. The country needs businesses to invest in workers, innovation and operations to strengthen the U.S. economy, not new taxes that would weaken it. We urge policymakers to reverse course.” 

Business Roundtable recently launched Recover. Compete. Win,” a multi-million-dollar campaign focused on ensuring that the U.S. tax system remains competitive. The campaign includes direct CEO engagement to Capitol Hill and the Administration, as well as high-frequency radio print and digital ads in over 50 media markets across the country, generating calls and letters from constituents in target states. The campaign also includes TV ads that will be running inside the beltway. 

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 third quarter survey was conducted between September 2 and September 21, 2021. Overall, 160 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 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