CEO Confidence Rebounded in Q4

Staff Report

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

The Conference Board Measure of CEO Confidence™, which declined to 34 in the third quarter of 2019, rebounded to a reading of 43 in the fourth quarter (a reading of more than 50 points reflects more positive than negative responses).

"CEO Confidence improved in the final quarter of 2019, after having declined to its lowest level in a decade in Q3," said Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. "While the abatement of trade and tariff issues has helped improved confidence, CEOs still remain apprehensive about global growth prospects in early 2020."

CEOs are less pessimistic about current economic conditions, with 15 percent saying conditions are better compared to six months ago, up from just 8 percent last quarter. Now, 52 percent say conditions are worse, down from 73 percent in Q3. CEOs are also more positive about current conditions in their own industries. Currently, 25 percent say conditions are better compared to six months ago, up from about 15 percent last quarter. Regarding conditions in their own industry, about 42 percent say conditions are worse, down from 63 percent last quarter.

Looking ahead, CEOs' expectations regarding the economic outlook is less pessimistic. Now, 12 percent anticipate economic conditions will improve over the next six months, up from just 4 percent in the third quarter. Meanwhile, 44 percent expect economic conditions will worsen, down from 67 percent last quarter. CEOs' expectations regarding short-term prospects in their own industries over the next six months were also more positive. Now, 23 percent anticipate an improvement in conditions, up from 13 percent last quarter. Those expecting conditions will worsen in the short term declined to 40 percent from 56 percent in Q3.

Global Outlook Improves, But Still Pessimistic

CEOs' assessment of current global conditions improved, but overall levels remain weak. CEO sentiment increased for the majority of markets, with the exception of India, which declined further. Despite the uptick, on balance CEOs remain pessimistic.

Looking ahead, CEOs are moderately more optimistic about short-term growth prospects globally, with improvements across the board. While the outlook for Europe and China is still quite negative, recent developments in the U.K and China may improve confidence levels in early 2020.

Price Increases Projected to Rise Less in 2020 Than in 2019

The majority of chief executives expect marginal changes in their firms' selling prices in 2020. About 41 percent of CEOs anticipate price increases of less than 4 percent, and only about 12 percent expect increases in excess of 4 percent. On average, firms plan to hike prices by 0.4 percent, down from 1.6 percent last year, based on a supplementary question asked annually. About 26 percent plan decreases in selling prices, and 21 percent foresee no change.