The fourth quarter CEO Economic Outlook survey produced by University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business and the Virginia Council of CEOs finds the overall outlook index of top executives has dropped compared to the previous quarter.

Among the executives of small and mid-sized companies participating in the survey, 58.2 percent anticipate a smaller increase in sales, down 3.6 percent from the third quarter. Only 25.6 percent expect an increase in capital spending, down from 31.7 percent last quarter. The one piece of optimism in the survey is that 44 percent expect employment to increase, up 2.6 percent in the third quarter.

“The results of the fourth quarter CEO survey reflect uncertainty in the economy,” said Dean Croushore, Robins School professor of economics. “Firms were more likely to keep capital spending unchanged in the fourth quarter, perhaps waiting for uncertainty about the election and the fiscal cliff to be resolved. The overall economic outlook index was the lowest it has been since the second quarter of 2011.”

The survey also found rising health care costs and economic uncertainty to be the most significant issues CEOs current face. Some 38.6 percent of CEOs said their business performed about as expected over the past six months, with 26.5 percent saying performance was somewhat better than expected, up 4.5 percent from the third quarter survey.

“Relative to the third quarter, anticipated sales and capital spending growth are both down,” observed Jeff Pollack, assistant professor of management at the Robins School, who calculated the results. “We saw a sharp increase in the perception that no change in capital spending will occur in the next six months, but employment growth, relative to the third quarter, is up slightly. Economic uncertainty, slow growth and staffing issues are the top three areas of concerns noted by the current sample of CEOs.”

The Virginia Council of CEOs and the Robins School jointly conduct the quarterly survey, which helps central Virginia companies anticipate business decisions and plan for growth.

Pollack adapted the survey from the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of American companies that conducts a similar survey nationally.

The following survey results, from the third and fourth quarters of 2012, show projections for the next six months for sales, spending and employment:

2012 Q4

2012 Q3


No Change



No Change


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







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







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







The council and the Robins School collected responses from 91 CEOs in central Virginia. The average annual revenue year-to-date for CEOs responding was $7.97 million. The data were compared to the third quarter 2012 responses of 90 participants. Multiple industries are represented in the sample (for example, construction, manufacturing, finance and insurance, and retail).

The results also provide an overall economic outlook index, which is based on businesses’ projected six-month sales, spending and employment figures.

Economic Outlook Index

Survey Date


CEO Economic Outlook Index

Q4 2012


Q3 2012


Q2 2012


Q1 2012


Q4 2011


Q3 2011


Q2 2011


Q1 2011


Q4 2010


Q3 2010


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

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

The Robins School of Business is the only fully accredited, top-ranked undergraduate business school that also is part of a top-ranked liberal arts university. Bloomberg Businessweek ranks both the Robins School’s undergraduate and part-time MBA programs among the top 20 in the country in their respective categories. The school’s executive education division offers open enrollment courses and customized leadership development programs for individuals and businesses.


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