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CEO Confidence Dips in Q4

CEO Confidence Dips in Q4

Oct. 16, 2023
"In Q4, 72% of CEOs reported that they are preparing for a US recession over the next 12-18 months, compared to 93% at the start of the year," says the Conference Board.

CEO are taking a cautious attitude toward the economy.  The Conference Board Measure of CEO Confidence in collaboration with The Business Council fell to 46 in Q4 2023, down from 48 in the third quarter, as reported on Oct. 12.

The Measure remained below a reading of 50, which indicates that CEOs maintain a cautious outlook regarding what’s ahead for the economy.  ( A reading below 50 reflects more negative than positive responses.) A total of 136 CEOs participated in the Q4 survey, which was fielded from September 18 through October 2. 

Compared to last quarter, CEOs’ view of current economic conditions was a tad less enthusiastic in the latest survey, and they carried forward a cautious outlook for the economy ahead. In Q4, 18% of CEOs reported general economic conditions to be better than they were six months ago, down from 28% in Q3. At the same time, future expectations became more pessimistic: While 19% of CEOs expect future conditions to improve, similar to last quarter, 47% expect general economic conditions to worsen over the next six months, up from 39% in Q3.

“A large majority of CEOs continue to expect a US recession ahead—but that consensus receded notably over the course of 2023,” said Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., Vice Chairman of The Business Council, in a statement “In Q4, 72% of CEOs reported that they are preparing for a US recession over the next 12-18 months, compared to 93% at the start of the year. Of those, 69% expect a brief and shallow recession, with limited global spillovers, and only 3% are preparing for a deep US recession. The share of CEOs who are not preparing for any recession in the next 12-18 months rose to 28% in Q4, up from just 6% in Q1 2023.”

“CEOs are still hiring amid a tight labor market, with 38% of CEOs expecting to expand their workforce over the next 12 months, down slightly from 40% in Q3,” said Dana M. Peterson, Chief Economist of The Conference Board, in a statement. “Only 13% of CEOs expect to cut workers, with the remaining 49% of CEOs anticipating little change in their workforces—a likely sign of labor hoarding. Attracting qualified workers has become somewhat less difficult for companies: While 71% of CEOs still plan to raise wages by more than 3% over the next year, the Q4 survey found a slight uptick in the number looking to make smaller increases or even no changes in wages.”

Current Conditions

CEOs’ assessment of general economic conditions were slightly less enthusiastic in Q4:

  • 18% of CEOs said economic conditions were better compared to six months ago, down from 28% in Q3.
  • 32% said conditions were worse or much worse, relatively unchanged from 31% in Q3.

CEOs rated conditions in their own industries similarly a tad lower than last quarter:

  • 27% of CEOs reported that conditions in their industries were better compared to six months ago, down from 29%.
  • 37% said conditions in their own industries were worse, up slightly from 35% in Q3.

Future Conditions

CEOs’ expectations about the short-term economic outlook darkened slightly in Q4:

  • 19% of CEOs expected economic conditions to improve over the next six months, down from 20%.
  • 47% expected conditions to worsen, up from 39%.

CEOs’ expectations regarding short-term prospects in their own industries was relatively unchanged:

  • 26% expect conditions in their own industry to improve over the next six months—down slightly from 29% in Q3.
  • 29% expect conditions to worsen, down from 30% in Q3.

Employment, Recruiting, Wages, and Capital Spending

  • Employment: 38% of CEOs expect to expand their workforce over the next 12 months, down from 40% in Q3. Only 13% of CEOs expect a reduction in their workforce, down from 20%.
  • Hiring Qualified People: 47% of CEOs report problems attracting qualified workers, down from 56% in Q3. Those reporting only some problems in some areas stood at 49%, up from 39% last quarter.
  • Wages: 71% of CEOs expect to increase wages by 3% or more over the next year, down slightly from 74% in Q3.
  • Capital Spending: 27% of CEOs expect their capital budgets to increase over the next year, up from 22% last quarter.

Industry Risks:

CEO concerns about geopolitical risks subsided in Q4, while cyber, along with legal and regulatory uncertainty rose to the top.