Dec 7, 2020 - Economy & Business

Survey: CEO confidence soars above pre-pandemic levels

Data: Business Roundtable; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Business Roundtable; Chart: Axios Visuals

CEO confidence rebounded above pre-pandemic levels this quarter, according to a survey of 150 chief executives of the largest U.S. companies by lobbying group Business Roundtable.

Why it matters: The index, which is still below the record high seen in the wake of Trump's corporate tax cuts, reflects corporate America's expectations for sales, hiring and spending — which hit rock bottom when the pandemic hit. Now CEOs are feeling even better than before the coronavirus roiled the economy.

Between the lines: A growing share of chief executives say their businesses have already recovered or will recover by the end of the year from the coronavirus slump, though most say their businesses will recover sometime in 2021.

  • By the numbers: 26% of CEOs said company conditions are "unchanged, have improved, have already recovered or will recover by end of 2020" — that's up from 24% in the prior quarter and 20% in Q2.
  • 41% said business will recover next year — down from the 53% who said as much in Q2.
  • 33% say their businesses will recover in 2022 or later — down 3 percentage points from Q2.

Of note: The survey was conducted between Nov. 13 and Dec. 1 — as news about vaccine developments began to trickle out.

Details: All of the index's components — plans for hiring and capital investment, plus sales expectations — rose in Q4.

  • CEO hiring plans, however, is the only component that's yet to rebound back above the historical average. (When it rises, that means CEOs plan to increase staff levels.)

Yes, but: “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,” Joshua Bolten, the trade group's CEO, said in a release.

  • Bolten — along with Doug McMillon, Walmart's chief executive who chairs the Business Roundtable — renewed calls for Congress to pass another stimulus package.

What to watch: While CEO confidence has fully recovered (and then some), consumer confidence remains far below the levels from earlier this year, according to closely watched surveys by the University of Michigan and the Conference Board.

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