CEO Economic Outlook Cools on Worries Over Trade Wars

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U.S. chief executive officers continue to see growth ahead for the country’s economy, just not as much as they saw three months ago. What U.S. trade policy is and what it is likely to become are the causes weighing on the outlook.

The Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook for the second quarter of 2018 index, published Tuesday morning, is down 7.5 points from a record-high 118.6 in the first quarter’s outlook. The Business Roundtable includes CEOs of U.S. companies with more than 16 million employees and more than $7 trillion in annual revenues.

The second-quarter decline is the first in nearly two years but the index score of 111.1 remains above the historical average of 81.2 for the sixth consecutive quarter.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, also chair and CEO of the Business Roundtable, said:

[B]usiness leaders are expressing historically strong optimism about our economy — and that’s delivering more jobs and increased wages to millions of Americans. To sustain this momentum, we need to ensure that we have competitive trade policies in place to provide the certainty necessary to deliver sustainable economic growth to create more opportunities for workers and families nationwide.

Roundtable President and CEO Joshua Bolton added:

America’s current and future economic vitality depends on productive talks with China and a successful modernization of NAFTA. Business Roundtable will continue to be a constructive partner for the Administration and a strong advocate for policies that support new jobs, investments and economic growth in America through free and fair trade.

When asked a question about trade, 95% of CEOs who responded said foreign retaliation against new U.S. trade policies present a “moderate or serious” risk of lower U.S. exports, while 91% said higher costs to U.S. consumers was a “moderate or serious” risk. Higher input costs for U.S. businesses is a “moderate or serious” risk for 90% of respondents, and lower U.S. economic growth is viewed as a “moderate or serious” risk by 89% of CEOs.

Among the data points reported in second-quarter outlook are these:

  • 84% of CEOs expect sales to rise, down from 93% in the first quarter; 4% expect sales to decrease, up from 1% in the first quarter.
  • 61% expect capital spending to rise, down from 63%; 4% expect capital spending to decrease, up from 2%.
  • 58% expect employment levels to rise, down from 61%; 13% expect employment levels to fall, unchanged quarter over quarter.

The Business Roundtable Outlook is available at the organization’s website.