Index reflects mixed outlook among CEOs

Business executives are more upbeat in their short-term outlooks, but remain subdued overall, according to the latest results of a quarterly survey.

The Conference Board reported that its Measure of CEO Confidence advanced seven points in the fourth quarter of 2011. At 49, the latest reading continues to reflect more negative than positive responses, though.

“The bounce back in CEO confidence in the final months of 2011 was due primarily to an improved short-term outlook. Overall, however, CEO confidence remains rather subdued,” said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center.

The business research and membership group bases its Measure of CEO Confidence on the results of quarterly surveys of executives in a variety of industries. Fourth quarter survey results were fielded from mid-November to mid-December.

For the fourth quarter, 17 percent of executives responding to the survey said overall economic conditions had improved compared to six months ago, up six points from the third quarter.

Assessing their own industries, though, 16 percent of CEOs said conditions had improved, down three points from the previous quarter.

Looking ahead six months, 32 percent of executives said they expect economic conditions to improve, a jump of 13 points over the third quarter.

CEOs were similarly more upbeat in assessing their own industries — 25 percent said they anticipate improving conditions, up three points.

Business executives also were asked about their expectations for selling prices, one measure of inflation.

On average, CEOs plan to increase prices 1.8 percent in 2012, a little more than half the 3.3 percent average price increase anticipated a year ago. Only 6 percent of executives said the expect price increases above 10 percent.