U.S. Business Chiefs See Brighter Economy, Modest Job Growth

By Agence France-Presse American chief executives predict a steady improvement in the U.S. economy and, for the first time since 2002, a modest rise in jobs, a survey showed March 3. The Business Roundtable's Chief Executive (CEO) Economic Outlook Index, compiled from the March survey results, surged to 94 points from 89 in the previous survey in December. On average, CEOs predicted economic growth of 3.7% after inflation in 2004, just up from the 3.6% projection made in December, the survey showed. "America's CEOs believe that the U.S. economy is on course for continued steady improvement over the next six months," said Business Roundtable Chairman Hank McKinnell, who also is the chairman and CEO of chemical giant Pfizer Inc. "Our new CEO Economic Outlook Survey shows that companies expect to add jobs, further gains in capital spending, and strong levels of projected sales." On employment, 33% of CEOs expected to hire more workers in the next six months, 45% to keep the headcount unchanged and 22% to cut jobs. "We are seeing a slow but steady improvement in the jobs picture, following on the heels of unprecedented productivity gains," said McKinnell. The March survey was the first since fall 2002 in which companies predicting jobs growth outnumbered those expecting to axe employees, the Roundtable said. Asked about sales over the next six months, 88% of CEOs expected a boost, 11% no change and 1% a decline. For investment over the same period, 43% predicted a rise, 50% no change and 7% a decline. The survey was completed by 122 of the Roundtable's 150 member companies. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2004

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