CEOs Become More Upbeat about Short-Term Outlook

CEO confidence, which had declined to a historical low last quarter, posted a gain in the first quarter of 2009 according to The Conference Board, a custom research center. The measure now stands at 30, up from 24 last quarter (a reading of more than 50 points reflects more positive than negative responses). The survey includes about 100 business leaders in a wide range of industries.

"CEOs remain pessimistic about current conditions, but have grown more optimistic about the short-term outlook," says Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board. "This improved outlook, however, does not extend to the labor market. The majority of chief executives still expect employment levels to decline further in the coming months."

CEOs' overall assessment of current economic conditions remains quite pessimistic, with no business leaders stating conditions had improved compared to six months ago. In assessing their own industries, business leaders remained pessimistic. Only one percent claim conditions are better, the same as in the final quarter of 2008.

When looking ahead six months, CEOs' outlook improved. Now, 17 percent of business leaders expect economic conditions to improve in the next six months, up from approximately 11 percent last quarter. Expectations for their own industries were also less pessimistic, with more than 26 percent of CEOs anticipating an improvement in the months ahead, up from about 12 percent last quarter.

Hiring Plans Down Significantly in 2009
Less than 3 percent of CEOs anticipate an increase in employment levels in their industry, down from about 26 percent a year ago. The proportion of CEOs who anticipate a decrease in hiring surged to 86 percent from 28 percent a year ago.

Health care costs remain the major obstacle to hiring new workers. Regulation and litigation costs were second on the list, closely followed by wage and salary costs. Other fringe benefits were of lesser concern when hiring new workers.
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