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Recent Survey: CEO Confidence Improved in Q1 2024

Updated: May 16

The latest Conference Board Measure of CEO Confidence, conducted in partnership with The Business Council, surged to 53 in Q1 2024, marking a notable improvement from 46 in Q4 2023. This rise places the Measure above the critical 50 mark, indicating CEOs' growing optimism about the economic outlook. Significantly, this is the first time optimism has prevailed in the Measure since Q1 2022.


CEOs are reporting markedly improved views on current economic conditions. In the Q1 survey, 32 percent of CEOs noted better general economic conditions compared to six months ago, up from just 18 percent in Q4 of the previous year. Conversely, only 22 percent reported conditions as worse, down from 32 percent in Q4. Similarly, future expectations strengthened, with 36 percent of CEOs anticipating an improvement in general economic conditions over the next six months, compared to 19 percent last quarter. Moreover, only 27 percent expect conditions to deteriorate, a significant drop from 47 percent. CEO expectations for conditions in their own industry followed a similar upward trajectory.


Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., Vice Chairman of The Business Council and Trustee of The Conference Board, commented, "CEOs are feeling better about the economy, but remain cautious about risks ahead." In supplemental questions, CEOs overwhelmingly identified political uncertainty ahead of US elections (51 percent) as the greatest challenge affecting businesses in 2024. The spread of existing wars (46 percent) was cited as the greatest global challenge, with concerns also raised about deglobalization (19 percent) and US-China tensions (15 percent). On a positive note, CEOs highlighted reduced inflation (34 percent) and Federal Reserve interest rate cuts (28 percent) as top US developments that might benefit businesses.


Dana M. Peterson, Chief Economist of The Conference Board, noted, "The significant labor hoarding that occurred over much of 2023 showed some sign of letting up in Q1 2024." While 35 percent of CEOs expect to expand their workforce over the next 12 months (slightly down from 38 percent in Q4 2023), 23 percent anticipate layoffs, up significantly from 13 percent last quarter. The proportion of CEOs expecting little change in their workforce decreased to 42 percent from 49 percent. Meanwhile, the difficulty in attracting qualified workers and CEO plans for wage increases remained relatively stable compared to the previous quarter.


CEOs' evaluation of the general economic landscape showed significant improvement in Q1, with 32 percent of CEOs noted a better economic situation compared to six months ago, a notable increase from 18 percent in Q4. Conversely, only 22 percent reported conditions as worse, down from 32 percent in Q4.


CEOs also expressed a positive shift in their assessment of conditions within their respective industries in Q1, with 31 percent of CEOs indicated an improvement in their industry conditions over the past six months, up from 27 percent. Meanwhile, only 25 percent perceived conditions within their industries as worse, a decrease from 37 percent in Q4.

CEOs' expectations regarding the short-term economic outlook showed significant improvement in Q1 with 36 percent of CEOs anticipate an improvement in economic conditions over the next six months, a substantial rise from 19 percent. Conversely, only 27 percent anticipate a deterioration in conditions, significantly down from 47 percent.


CEOs' outlook for the short-term prospects within their industries also demonstrated optimism in Q1. Thirty-nine percent of CEOs foresee improved conditions in their industry over the next six months, up from 26 percent in Q4. Conversely, only 20 percent anticipate worsened conditions, down from 29 percent in Q4.


When surveyed on employment, recruitment, wages, and capital spending, 35 percent of CEOs anticipate workforce expansion in the next 12 months (slightly down from 38 percent in Q4), 23 percent expect a reduction (up from 13 percent).


Thirty-one percent of CEOs report some difficulty in attracting qualified workers, similar to Q4 figures. Only 15 percent indicate significant recruitment challenges, unchanged from Q4. Seventy-two percent of CEOs plan to increase wages by 3 percent or more over the next year, remaining consistent with Q4.


The majority of CEOs (59 percent) do not intend to revise their capital spending plans. However, 28 percent anticipate an increase in capital budgets over the next year, slightly up from 27 percent in the previous quarter.


CEOs identify political uncertainty surrounding the 2024 elections as the primary challenge affecting businesses this year, while the biggest opportunities were identified as reduced inflation and Fed interest rate cuts in the year ahead.


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