The first quarter 2017 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 seven-year history.

The survey’s index, which measures executives’ views on projected hiring, capital spending and sales over the next six months, surpassed the previous high recorded last quarter (Q4 2016). The survey has been administered quarterly since 2010.

Executives’ expectations for sales were nearly identical to last quarter’s. More than 81 percent of respondents expect sales to increase over the next six months, down less than a single percentage point from the fourth quarter results. Thirty-seven percent expect sales to increase by more than 10 percent over the next six months, which is up from the 33 percent that expected double-digit increases last quarter. Executives’ expectations for hiring and capital spending were higher than in the fourth quarter survey.

Forty-six percent of respondents expect capital spending to increase over the next six months, which is up from 44 percent last quarter, but nearly 50 percent expect capital spending to stay flat. More than 64 percent expect employment to increase over the next six months, which also is up from about 62 percent last quarter, while about a third 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 fourth quarter of 2016 and first quarter of 2017 show projections for the next six months for sales, spending and employment:

 

Projected 6 months sales, spending and employment

2017 Q1

2016 Q4

Increase

No Change

Decrease

Increase

No Change

Decrease

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

 81.5%

 10.8%

 7.7%

82.4%

11.8%

5.9%

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

 46.2%

 49.2%

 4.6%

44.1%

47.1%

8.8%

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

 64.6%

 32.3%

 3.1%

61.8%

36.8%

1.5%

“Over the past seven quarters the index has reached four all-time highs,” said Raggio. “It appears that finally we are seeing sustained growth and optimism. CEOs cite a more ‘pro-business’ environment with expectations for tax and regulatory reform as driving their responses.” 

"The small business CEOs I work with are as busy as they have been since the recession, so I am not surprised that these results remain very optimistic,” said Scot McRoberts, executive director of the Virginia Council of CEOs. “I recently spoke to the CEO of a small manufacturer who sells to diverse industries. He said demand is high from all customers, and they cannot keep up with the orders.”

Economic Outlook Index

Survey Date

CEO Economic Outlook Index

Q1 2017

108.97

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 200 CEO members. Sixty-five CEOs responded to the survey, which was administered March 21-31. 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 $10.2 million in revenue for the most recent 12-month period. The average employment was about 39.

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. U.S. News ranks the Robins School’s part-time MBA program among the top 35 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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