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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 Dips for Seventh Straight Quarter


Plans Moderate Slightly; CEOs Cautious Amid Trade & Global Uncertainty

Business Roundtable today released its Q4 2019 CEO Economic Outlook Survey – a composite of CEO plans for capital spending and hiring and expectations for sales over the next six months. The Index decreased 2.5 points from last quarter to a value of 76.7, which remains below the Index’s historical average of 82.7 – an indication of continued moderation in the pace of economic growth.

The 2.5-point decline, while modest, marks the seventh consecutive quarterly decline and indicates that CEO plans have eased from Q3. CEOs remain cautious in the face of uncertainty over trade policy and an associated slowdown in global growth and the U.S. manufacturing sector, which is currently contracting.

The results of the fourth quarter’s three sub-indices were the following:

  • CEO expectations for sales increased 7.0 points to 98.6, which is lower than the sales sub-index’s historical average of 112.6.
  • CEO plans for hiring decreased 5.5 points to 67.1, which is higher than the employment sub-index’s historical average of 58.7.
  • CEO plans for capital investment decreased 8.9 points to 64.5, which is lower than the capital investment sub-index’s historical average of 76.7.

In their first estimate of 2020 U.S. GDP growth, CEOs projected 2.1 percent growth for the year ahead.

Since 2003, CEOs have been asked every fourth quarter to identify the greatest cost pressure facing his or her company. In Q4 2019, 48 percent of Business Roundtable CEOs identified labor as the top cost pressure, reflecting strong real wage growth for U.S. workers and a healthy U.S. job market due in part to a competitive business environment created by the 2017 tax law. Fourteen percent identified regulations and 11 percent identified materials as their top cost pressures.

Jamie Dimon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Chairman of Business Roundtable said: “There has been progress in several policy areas that has strengthened the U.S. economy from top to bottom—but more progress needs to be made on free and fair trade agreements. Such progress—combined with other policies that encourage growth, innovation and opportunity—will better serve all Americans and put the U.S. economy on a stronger and more sustainable path.”
Joshua Bolten, President & CEO of Business Roundtable added: “CEOs are justified in their caution about the state of the U.S. economy. While we have achieved a competitive tax environment, uncertainty surrounding trade policy and slowing global growth are creating headwinds for business. Lawmakers should expand, not restrict, trade to help boost U.S. economic potential.”
Lance Fritz, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Union Pacific added: “Free and fair trade agreements are vital to economic prosperity for American workers, families and communities. Nearly 39 million American jobs—one in every five—depend on international trade. Because growth in trade-dependent jobs far outpaces job growth as a whole, we urge lawmakers to engage in more trade agreement negotiations and enact trade policies that preserve and strengthen an important pillar of the American economy.”

Survey Results

The Survey’s key findings from this quarter and the third quarter of 2019 include:

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 an economic expansion, and readings below 50 indicate an 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 fourth quarter 2019 survey was conducted between November 14 and December 3, 2019. Overall, 140 CEOs completed the survey.

Past Surveys

2020 Q1 Q2 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