CEO confidence growing along with improving outlook

A quarterly measure of confidence among business executives continues to rise on more upbeat expectations for economic growth.

The Conference Board reported that its Measure of CEO Confidence jumped 14 points to climb to 63 for the first quarter of 2012. A reading of 50 or more reflects more positive than negative responses.

“CEOs’ confidence has rebounded from rather dismal readings in the latter half of 2011,” said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center.

“Looking head, chief executives are optimistic about growth prospects, with the same percentage as last year expecting to hire new workers,” Franco said.

The Conference Board bases its Measure of CEO Confidence on the results of quarterly surveys of executives working in a variety of industries. First-quarter survey results were fielded from mid-February to mid-March.

Fully 67 percent of chief executive officers responding to the latest survey said current conditions have improved compared to six months ago, up from just 17 percent during the fourth quarter of 2011. Meanwhile, 42 percent of CEOs said conditions have improved within their own industries, up from 16 percent in the fourth quarter.

In assessing their expectations for the next six months, 59 percent of CEOs anticipate improving conditions, up from 32 percent in the fourth quarter. Moreover, 44 percent of CEOs believe conditions also will improve within their industries, up from 25 percent in the fourth quarter.

Fully 50 percent of business executives expect increased hiring in their industries, about the same as last year. The proportion of CEOs who anticipate a decrease in hiring fell a point from last year to 15 percent.

Responding to a separate survey question, CEOs cited regulation and litigation as the major obstacles to increased hiring, followed by health care costs. Wages and fringe benefits were of lesser concern in considering whether or not to hire new workers.