The post-election fourth quarter 2016 CEO Economic Outlook survey by the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business and the Virginia Council of CEOs (VACEOs) finds the highest level of optimism among central Virginia CEOs in the survey’s six-year history.

The survey’s index, which measures executives’ views on projected hiring, capital spending and sales over the next six months, surpassed previous highs recorded in Q1 2016 and Q3 2015. The survey has been administered quarterly since 2010.

Executives’ expectations for sales, hiring and capital spending all were higher than in the third quarter survey. The executives’ revenue outlook increased significantly with 82 percent of respondents expecting an increase in sales over the next six months, up from the 66 who expected an increase a quarter ago. Thirty-three percent of respondents expect sales to increase by more than 10 percent over the next six months, which is identical to the percent that expected double-digit increases last quarter. Forty-four percent of respondents expect capital spending to increase over the next six months, which is up from 36 percent last quarter, but 47 percent expect capital spending to stay flat, nearly identical to the 48 percent who expected flat capital spending last quarter.  Nearly 62 percent expect employment to increase over the next six months, which also is up from the 50 percent last quarter, but 37 percent expect employment to remain flat.

The Robins School and VACEOs jointly conduct the quarterly survey, which helps central Virginia companies anticipate business conditions and plan for growth. The Robins School adapted the survey from the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of American companies that conducts a similar survey nationally. Randy Raggio, associate dean at the Robins School, administers the survey and collects the responses each quarter.

The following survey results from the third and fourth quarters of 2016 show projections for the next six months for sales, spending and employment:

Projected 6 months sales, spending and employment

2016 Q4

2016 Q3

Increase

No Change

Decrease

Increase

No Change

Decrease

How do you expect your company’s sales to change in the next six months?

82.4%

11.8%

5.9%

65.5%

24.1%

10.3%

How do you expect your company’s U.S. capital spending to change in the next six months?

44.1%

47.1%

8.8%

36.2%

48.3%

15.5%

How do you expect your company’s U.S. employment to change in the next six months?

61.8%

36.8%

1.5%

50.0%

43.1%

6.9%

“CEOs’ caution seems to have been replaced by optimism in the wake of the recent presidential election,” said Raggio. “Over the past six quarters the index has reached three all-time highs, but each of the prior two was followed by a return to the long-term average, indicating caution fueled by uncertainty. It will be interesting to see if the current optimism will be sustained.”

This quarter’s survey asked about the impact of the incoming Trump administration on central Virginia companies. Thirty-eight percent expect his election to increase profits over the next six months, nine percent expect his election to decrease profits and 53 percent expect no impact. 

Additionally, the survey asked CEOs to indicate the biggest issue they expect to address in the coming year. Sixty-three percent cited hiring/staffing challenges, 13 percent cited responding to slow growth, seven percent cited cyber security concerns and 16 percent indicated a variety of other issues, including talent development, growth and efficiency. 

"This record index is encouraging. I expect 2017 will be a relatively strong year for area small businesses, but acquiring and retaining talent will remain a major hurdle for most,” said Scot McRoberts, executive director of the Virginia Council of CEOs.

Economic Outlook Index

Survey Date

CEO Economic Outlook Index

Q4 2016

107.37

Q3 2016

89.67

Q2 2016

89.00

Q1 2016

102.00

Q4 2015

92.67

Q3 2015

99.80

Q2 2015

93.42

Q1 2015

93.90

Q4 2014

95.92

Q3 2014

96.10

Q2 2014

88.71

Q1 2014

86.07

Q4 2013

89.57

Q3 2013

92.53

Q2 2013

91.60

Q1 2013

86.40

Q4 2012

77.57

Q3 2012

81.17

Q2 2012

81.13

Q1 2012

94.10

Q4 2011

88.63

Q3 2011

81.17

Q2 2011

74.17

Q1 2011

85.63

Q4 2010

 92.27

Q3 2010

 94.47

Q2 2010

 81.33

The Virginia Council of CEOs is a nonprofit association whose mission is to connect the CEOs of small and mid-sized businesses for learning and growth. The Council is led by a volunteer board of directors, advisory board and a small staff. Currently, there are 201 CEO members. Sixty-eight CEOs responded to the survey, which was administered December 8-18. Multiple industries are represented in the sample, including construction, manufacturing, finance and insurance and retail). The average company whose CEO responded to this survey had about $6.2 million in revenue for the most recent 12-month period. The average employment was about 56.

The Council continues to expand the survey beyond its members, offering any area business owners whose companies gross at least $1 million in annual revenue the opportunity to participate. If enough businesses participate, the Council will provide survey results by industry. Participation is free, and all participants will receive copies of the survey data.

Business owners and CEOs who would like to participate in the next survey should contact Scot McRoberts at smcroberts@vaceos.org.

The Virginia Council of CEOs is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to connect the CEOs of second-stage companies so they can learn from each other and grow their businesses. Learn more at www.vaceos.org.

The Robins School of Business is the only fully accredited, highly-ranked undergraduate business school that also is part of a highly-ranked liberal arts university. Bloomberg Businessweek ranks the Robins School’s part-time MBA program among the top 25 in the country. The school’s executive education division offers open enrollment courses and customized leadership development, training and consulting to area businesses.

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