In The Fourth Quarter CEO Confidence Declined

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The Conference Board Measure of CEO Confidence™, which had decreased in the third quarter of 2018, declined in the fourth quarter. The Measure now reads 42, down from 55 in the third quarter of 2018 (a reading of more than 50 points reflects more positive than negative responses). This is the lowest reading since Q3 2012 (CEO Measure: 42).

“CEO Confidence declined in the fourth quarter, with both current conditions and expectations contributing to the year-end decline,” said Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “Looking ahead, CEOs have grown apprehensive about growth prospects for the U.S., while sentiment regarding China and Europe has grown more pessimistic. India remains a bright spot, with CEOs mildly optimistic about growth prospects in early 2019. Ongoing trade and tariff issues, volatility in the financial markets, cost of debt, and expectations of moderating global growth are heightening concerns. If these conditions persist, we are likely to see weak confidence readings in the new year.”

CEOs’ assessment of current economic conditions turned pessimistic in the fourth quarter, with only 21 percent saying conditions are better compared to six months ago, down from 49 percent last quarter. Meanwhile, about 39 percent say conditions are worse, up from less than 8 percent in the prior quarter. CEOs were also much more negative about current conditions in their own industries compared to six months ago. Now, just 21 percent say conditions are better, down from 31 percent last quarter, while those who say conditions have worsened rose to 35 percent, up from 25 percent last quarter.

Looking ahead, CEOs’ expectations regarding the economic outlook have also turned negative. Now, just 12 percent expect economic conditions to improve over the next six months, down from 23 percent in the third quarter. Meanwhile, about 54 percent expect economic conditions will worsen, compared to 22 percent last quarter. CEOs’ expectations regarding short-term prospects in their own industries over the next six months were also more pessimistic. Now, only 14 percent anticipate an improvement in conditions, down from 22 percent last quarter, while 44 percent expect conditions to worsen, up from 19 percent in the third quarter.

Global Outlook Turns Negative
CEOs’ assessment of current global conditions continues to grow more pessimistic. Sentiment declined sharply for the US, although it remains in slightly positive territory. On the other hand, sentiment regarding China and Europe has declined significantly over the past two quarters. The declines in Japan and Brazil have been more moderate, but both markets are still viewed negatively by CEOs. CEOs’ assessment of current business conditions in India declined marginally but overall remains slightly positive.

Looking ahead, CEOs are moderately optimistic about short-term prospects for India, while expectations for all other markets have turned negative. Short-term prospects for the United States declined considerably, while growth expectations for China and Europe have shifted further into negative territory. Expectations for growth prospects in Japanand Brazil remain slightly negative, though the latter did see a modest improvement.

Price Increases Projected to Rise in 2019, but at a More Muted Pace 
The majority of chief executives expect changes in their firms’ selling prices in 2019, with about 60 percent of CEOs anticipating price increases of less than 4 percent, and about 17 percent expecting increases in excess of 4 percent. On average, firms plan to hike prices by 1.6 percent, down from 2.1 percent from last year, based on a supplementary question asked annually. About 20 percent plan decreases in selling prices, and 3 percent foresee no change.

Results are from surveys fielded from mid-November to mid-December

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