The third quarter 2018 CEO Economic Outlook survey by the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business and the Virginia Council of CEOs finds that Virginia CEOs’ expectations for sales, capital spending, and employment over the next six months increased compared to their expectations last quarter. As a result, the survey’s index rose to its fourth-highest level ever, reversing declines of the past two quarters.  

Repeating a question from last quarter, CEOs were asked about the expected impact of tariffs on their business. This quarter, 60 percent expect no impact, 31 percent expect a somewhat negative impact, and only nine percent expect a large negative impact.  These results differ from those last quarter, indicating less impact of tariffs than expected last quarter, as portrayed in the table below. 

September 2018

June 2018

Large positive impact



Somewhat positive impact



No impact



Somewhat negative impact



Large negative impact



With the upcoming midterm elections, CEOs were asked how a Democratic takeover of Congress would impact the outlook for their business over the next 12 months. Twenty-four percent expect no impact, 21 percent expect a somewhat (13%) or large (8%) positive impact, while 55 percent expect a somewhat (32%) or large (23%) negative impact.

Seventy-nine percent of CEO respondents expect sales to increase over the next six months, up seven percentage points from the second quarter results. More than 37 percent expect sales to increase by more than 10 percentage points, roughly equal to the number who expected double-digit increases last quarter. Less than five percent expect sales to fall. 

Expectations for capital spending increased from last quarter. Nearly 42 percent of CEOs expect capital spending to increase, up over four percentage points from last quarter. Nearly half (48%) expect capital spending to remain flat, while the percentage who expected capital spending to decrease over the next six months fell by about three percentage points from last quarter. 

Expectations for employment rose from last quarter. Nearly 57 percent of respondent CEOs expect employment to increase over the next six months; nearly 44 percent expect employment to remain flat; no CEOs expect employment to decrease over the next six months. 

The Robins School and VACEOs jointly conduct the quarterly survey, which regularly asks about expectations for sales, capital spending and employment, plus other relevant issues, helping 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 survey has been administered quarterly since 2010.

The following survey results from the second quarter of 2018 and third quarter of 2018 show projections for the next six months for sales, spending and employment:

Projected 6 months sales, spending and employment

2018 Q3

2018 Q2


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 survey shows that CEOs are increasingly positive on the economy,” said Raggio. “This is partly explained by reduced concern about the potential negative impact of tariffs.”  

“Polarizing politics and tweetstorms from the top seem to have no negative effect on the outlook for small businesses in our area,” said Scot McRoberts, executive director of the Virginia Council of CEOs. “CEOs continue to struggle with workforce shortages but seem to be adapting to this reality.”

Economic Outlook Index

Survey Date

CEO Economic Outlook Index

Q3 2018


Q2 2018


Q1 2018


Q4 2017


Q3 2017


Q2 2017


Q1 2017


Q4 2016


Q3 2016


Q2 2016


Q1 2016


Q4 2015


Q3 2015


Q2 2015


Q1 2015


Q4 2014


Q3 2014


Q2 2014


Q1 2014


Q4 2013


Q3 2013


Q2 2013


Q1 2013


Q4 2012


Q3 2012


Q2 2012


Q1 2012


Q4 2011


Q3 2011


Q2 2011


Q1 2011


Q4 2010


Q3 2010


Q2 2010


* Record high

Sixty-two CEOs responded to the survey, which was administered September 19-25. 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 $13 million in revenue for the most recent 12-month period. The average employment was about 44.

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 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 240 CEO members. Learn more at

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 #44 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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