Chief Executives in U.S. Grow More Optimistic About Economy

Chief executives of U.S. companies grew more optimistic about the U.S. economy for the first time in a year, projecting gains in sales and capital spending.

The Business Roundtable said today its index of business leaders’ outlooks advanced to 81 in the first quarter, the highest since the three months ended in June 2012, from 65.6 at the end of last year.

The gain shows corporate leaders are largely looking beyond the budget battle in Washington as demand holds up and the global economy stabilizes. Some 72 percent of the 144 chief executives who responded to the survey said they project sales will improve in the next six months even as their hiring plans remained stagnant.

“CEOs foresee somewhat better economic performance for the next six months, with improved expectations for sales and capital expenditures,” Jim McNerney, chairman of the Washington-based Business Roundtable and chief executive officer of Boeing Co., said in a statement. “The relatively smaller improvement in the outlook for hiring, however, may reflect ongoing uncertainty and a wait-and-see attitude about the business climate in the United States.”

The share of executives projecting higher sales was up from the 58 percent who said so in the fourth quarter, the survey showed. The portion saying they will increase spending on equipment and software in the next six months climbed to 38 percent from 30 percent.

Twenty-nine percent said they expect to increase their headcount in the next six months, matching the share in the fourth quarter. Fewer executives, 25 percent, said they planned to reduce payrolls compared with 29 percent in the last three months of 2012.

Company heads forecast the economy will expand 2.1 percent in 2013, up from last quarter’s projection of 2.0 percent, the group said.

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