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CEOs Plan to Cut Hiring, Capital Investment: Survey

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The Federal Reserve’s decision Wednesday to cut the benchmark rate by a quarter point most likely won’t do much to sway the dour forecasts by the Business Roundtable, whose members’ Q3 2019 outlook saw decreases in three key areas: hiring, capital investment and sales, and projected lower growth of 2.3% for the year, down from the previous quarter’s 2.6%.

The Business Roundtable is a conservative business group made up of CEOs that have overall more than 15 million employees and $7.5 trillion in revenue. The survey of the business organization’s membership, which 138 CEOs completed, was conducted between Aug. 23 and Sept. 9, 2019.

The survey was a composite of CEO plans for capital spending, hiring and expectations for sales over the next six months. In a statement, the BR said that “CEO plans waned likely due in part to growing geopolitical uncertainty, including U.S. trade policy and foreign retaliation, and slowing global economic growth.”

Overall, the CEO Economic Outlook Index decreased 10.3 points from last quarter to a value of 79.2, according to the BR. The index’s historical average is 82.7. Although this may be a worrisome sign of “some moderation in the pace of economic growth going forward, the Index remains within growth territory,” the report stated.

More troublesome are more specific drops in the index. It showed CEO plans for:

  • hiring decreased 2.6 points to 72.6, although still higher than the sub-index’s historical average of 58.5;
  • capital investment fell 14.7 points to 73.4, lower than the sub-indexes historical average of 76.7;
  • sales decreased 13.5 points to 91.6, which is much lower than the sub-indexes historical average of 112.9.

A major issue is the lack of surety on the trade front, according to BR President and CEO Joshua Bolten, who said that “uncertainty is preventing the full potential of the economy from being unleashed, limiting growth and investment here in the U.S,” in a statement, adding that “Congress and the administration have the immediate opportunity to come together and provide stability and growth to our economy by enacting the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement.”

A Look Back

Members also were asked to look back over the last 12 months on how the U.S. trade policy and response to it from foreign nations affected their business. Almost none reported a positive impact on their business, according to the report. Indeed:

  • More than half of the CEOs reported a somewhat or very negative impact on sales.
  • One-third of CEOs reported a somewhat or negative impact on hiring.
  • One-fourth of all CEOs, including 40% of CEOs within the manufacturing sector, reported a somewhat or very negative effect on capital expenditures.

In August, the Business Roundtable announced a change in goals, to advocate a commitment to long-term value, transparency and effective engagement with all stakeholders, not just shareholders. In a statement on the third-quarter survey, Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase & Co and chairman of the BR, noted that BR members “stand ready to work with policymakers to address our nation’s biggest challenges to create conditions for inclusive growth, investment and job creation here in America.”

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