CEO optimism weakens on global growth, trade concerns: survey

The CEOs of some of the nation’s largest companies say uncertainty is weakening their economic outlook — largely due to trade policy and slowing global growth.

On Wednesday, the Business Roundtable released its CEO economic outlook survey for the third quarter of 2019. Optimism among chief executives dropped for the sixth quarter in a row.

Since last quarter, the group’s economic outlook index decreased by 10.3 points to 79.2 — which falls below the Index’s historical average of 82.7. In a press release, the group said the reading suggests some moderation in the pace of economic growth, but it still remains in positive territory.

This is the first time the index has fallen below the historical average during the Trump presidency. The groups says the 50-point threshold has historically indicated the onset of recession.

“There will be a recession again — that I can guarantee you. My own gut tells me it’s not imminent,” said JPMorgan Chase CEO and Business Roundtable Chairman Jamie Dimon.

The CEOs’ GDP projection decreased since the second quarter. The group now expects to see 2.3% growth in 2019, down from last quarter’s 2.6% estimate.

The index showed the executives’ plans for hiring, sales and capital investment are slowing.

Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook Index

Of the 138 executives surveyed in the third quarter, 61% expect their company’s sales to increase over the next six months — down from 65% last quarter. Over the next six months, 36% of CEOs expect to increase capital investment, down from 48% in the second quarter.

CEO plans for hiring decreased 2.6 points to 72.6, which is higher than the employment sub-index’s historical average of 58.5. Meanwhile, CEO plans for capital investment also fell 14.7 points to 73.4, lower than the capital investment sub-index’s historical average of 76.7.

This month forecasting firm Moody’s Analytics estimated that President Trump’s trade war with China has already reduced U.S. employment by 300,000 jobs, compared with likely employment levels absent the trade war.

Dimon has spoken with President Donald Trump about the trade tensions with China. Dimon said he’s skeptical a deal will happen before 2020.

Businesses hover over the brakes

“This quarter’s survey shows American businesses now have their foot poised above the brake, and they're tapping the brake periodically,” said Joshua Bolten, Business Roundtable President & CEO. “Uncertainty is preventing the full potential of the economy from being unleashed, limiting growth and investment here in the U.S. Opening markets and promoting rules-based trade remains vital to U.S. economic prosperity.

The Business Roundtable is urging Congress to pass the U-S Mexico Canada agreement, which they say would give businesses more certainty.

“USMCA is better than NAFTA, it’s better than no deal,” said Dimon.

The index typically looks at expectations for the next six months, but this quarter the survey also asked executives to look back at trade policy over the past 12 months.

The Business Roundtable said almost no executives reported a positive impact from U.S. trade policy or foreign retaliation. More than half reported the trade situation had a “somewhat or very negative” impact on sales, while one-third said it had a “somewhat or very negative” impact on hiring.

One-quarter of all CEOs and 40% of manufacturing CEOs reported a “somewhat or very negative” effect on capital expenditure.

Dimon told reporters he doesn’t think an interest rate cut will offset the impact of trade tensions.

The survey was conducted between Aug. 23 and Sept. 9.

Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.

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