The Conference Board Measure of CEO Confidence™, which was unchanged at 43 in the second quarter of 2019, declined to a reading of 34 in the third quarter (a reading of more than 50 points reflects more positive than negative responses). This is the lowest reading since Q1 2009 when the Measure was at 30.
“CEO Confidence declined to its lowest level in a decade,” said Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “Tariffs and trade issues, coupled with expectations of moderating global growth, are causing a heightened degree of uncertainty. As a result, more CEOs than last year say they have curtailed investment. In a separate poll of CEOs and CFOs (conducted in September), we found that a large majority believe the recent trade disputes will have a lasting impact on their business.”
CEOs have grown more pessimistic about current economic conditions, with only 8 percent saying conditions are better compared to six months ago, down from 13 percent last quarter. Close to three-quarters say conditions are worse, up from 42 percent in Q2. CEOs were also more negative about current conditions in their own industries compared to six months ago. Currently, only 15 percent say conditions are better, down from 21 percent last quarter. Close to two-thirds say conditions are worse, up from about one-third in Q2.
Looking ahead, CEOs’ expectations regarding the economic outlook deteriorated further. Now, just 4 percent anticipate economic conditions will improve over the next six months, down from 13 percent in the second quarter. Meanwhile, 67 percent expect economic conditions will worsen, up from 44 percent last quarter. CEOs’ expectations regarding short-term prospects in their own industries over the next six months were also more pessimistic. Now, only 13 percent anticipate an improvement in conditions, down from 17 percent last quarter. Those expecting conditions will worsen in the short-term rose from 38 percent last quarter to 56 percent in Q3.
Global Outlook More Pessimistic
CEOs’ assessment of current global conditions continues to weaken. CEO sentiment declined sharply for China and Europe, and to a lesser degree for the US. The escalation in trade and tariff tensions and Brexit are likely contributing factors. Sentiment for India, Brazil, Japan, and the US were moderately more negative.
Looking ahead, CEOs are considerably more pessimistic about short-term growth prospects in the US, China, and Europe. Sentiment regarding the outlook for Japan, India, and Brazil also declined and the outlook for both developed and emerging markets remains negative.
Companies Scale Back Capital Investment Plans in 2019
About 21 percent of chief executives report increasing their companies’ capital spending plans since January of this year, while the same proportion claimed to have scaled back spending, with cuts more pronounced among manufacturing firms. In 2018, when we last asked this question, 35 percent of respondents had increased their capital spending plans and 10 percent of respondents had made cuts. A decrease in expected sales volume was the most common reason given for scaling back capital investment plans.
Poll: Impact of U.S-China Trade Dispute Likely to Have Lasting Impact on Business, Say CEOs/CFOs
Sixty-three percent of CEOs and CFOs say their business has been or will be, impacted by the U.S.-China trade dispute, according to a separate poll conducted by The Conference Board in late September.
The most anticipated outcomes, according to 64 percent of respondents, are negative impacts on both sales and profits. More than half of those surveyed expect upward pressure on costs. One-third say they already have, or plan to, pass along price increases to their customers. Similar to the results seen in The Conference Board CEO Confidence survey, the impact has been greater among companies in the manufacturing sector.
Looking forward, more than half of the respondents expressed very little or no confidence that the U.S.-China trade dispute will gradually abate or be resolved without long-term damage to their business.
Source: CEO Confidence Survey Third Quarter 2019 / The Conference Board
CEO Confidence Survey was fielded from mid-August to mid-September