Business Roundtable CEOs Express Pessimism on GDP

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The first-quarter survey of chief executive officers who are members of the Business Roundtable showed pessimism about U.S. gross domestic product growth for 2017. The Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook Index included a GDP forecast of 2.2% for this year, on par or below some other major outlooks.

Recently, the International Monetary Fund pegged a forecast of U.S. GDP growth of 2.3% for 2017 as part of its World Economic Outlook (January edition). The Wall Street Journal survey of economists put the figure at 2.2%. The World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects figure for 2017 is 2.2% as well.

Several individual economists are more optimistic. David Folkerts-Landau, chief economist at Deutsche Bank, has forecast a U.S. expansion of 2.4% in 2017 and 3.6% in 2018. The Congressional Budget Office’s comparable number is 2.4% for this year.

Perhaps more important than individual forecasts is the fact that rapid GDP growth rates for the United States are generally measured by improvement of above 3%. For most of the past decade, America has fallen far short of that. Earlier, the economy grew at this 3% pace in 2004 and 2005, and it was over 4% in each year from 1997 to 2000.

The survey is clearly an example of an attempt to hedge several bets. Most indicators other than GDP were excellent, as was the overall rating for the first quarter:

The Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook Index — a composite of CEO projections for sales and plans for capital spending and hiring over the next six months — made its largest increase since the fourth quarter of 2009.

The Index jumped 19.1 points, from 74.2 in the fourth quarter of last year to 93.3 in the current quarter. For the first time in seven quarters, the Index has risen above its historical average of 79.8. Its highest level over the past 10 years was 113, reached in Q1 2011.

Plans to hire jumped 18 points, while expectations for sales rose 21 points and plans for capital expenditures moved up more than 18 points.

Among other items that CEOs considered most important, 52% of those who responded said tax reform, 27% picked regulatory reform and 15% picked infrastructure investment as “ways to create a positive environment for their company’s growth.”

In the press release that went with the data, Joshua Bolten, Business Roundtable president and CEO, as well as President George W. Bush’s chief of staff from 2006 to 2009, said:

CEOs appear to be responding to early indications that the new Administration is serious about creating a better environment for job creation and investment in America.

The 2.2% GDP number says otherwise.

Methodology: The first-quarter 2017 survey was conducted between February 8 and March 1, 2017. Responses were received from 141 member CEOs. The percentages in some categories may not equal 100 due to rounding.