Economic Outlook Falls After Second Quarter

CEOs Most Concerned About Business Cycle, Political Polarization, Trade Wars
July 5, 2019

UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND — The second quarter 2019 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 fell compared to their expectations last quarter. Overall, expectations at the end of the second quarter were similar to those from Q1 and Q2 of 2018.

CEOs were asked to select the single issue that has them most concerned about the economic outlook for the future. Nearly 30% of CEOs are most concerned about a slowdown in the economy as part of the normal business cycle (29.73%), 20.27% are concerned about the impact of political polarization, and 13.51% chose trade wars.

With the potential for increased tariffs on Chinese and Mexican imports, CEOs were asked how tariffs would impact their business. More than half of CEOs indicated a somewhat (43.24%) or large (13.51%) negative impact of tariffs on Chinese imports, with 43.24% indicating no impact. More than 30% of CEOs indicated a somewhat (29.73%) or large (2.7%) negative impact of tariffs on Mexican imports, with 67.57% indicating no impact. No CEOs indicated any positive impact of tariffs on imports from either country. 

More than 70% of CEO respondents expect sales to increase over the next six months, down more than seven percentage points from the first quarter results. Nearly 34% expect sales to increase by more than 10 percentage points, down about six percentage points from last quarter. About 8% expect sales to fall, up about one percentage point from last quarter. 

Nearly 38% of CEOs expect capital spending to increase, up 1.7% from last quarter. Exactly half expect capital spending to remain flat, down 1.4% from last quarter, while the percentage who expected capital spending to decrease over the next six months was nearly identical to last quarter. 

Overall expectations for hiring fell from last quarter. More than 52% of respondent CEOs expect employment to increase over the next six months, down nearly 12% from the first quarter survey. More than 39% expect employment to remain flat, up nearly 13% from the first quarter; only about 8% of CEOs expect employment to decrease over the next six months, virtually unchanged from last quarter. 

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 first and second quarters of 2019 show projections for the next six months for sales, spending and employment:

Projected 6 months sales, spending and employment



2019 Q2

2019 Q1


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?








“CEOs seem to expect a slowdown in the future, but see the current economy as relatively strong,” said Raggio. “The percentages of CEOs who expect decreases in sales, capital spending, and hiring is nearly identical to last quarter. The real change is in those who expect to stay the course versus grow.” 

“Uncertainty around the effects of tariffs and continuing workforce challenges seem to be tempering small business CEOs’ confidence in the future,” said Scot McRoberts, executive director of the Virginia Council of CEOs. “That said, 70% of those surveyed expect growth in the next six months, so I would rate this as a positive outlook.”


Economic Outlook Index

Survey Date

CEO Economic Outlook Index

Q2 2019


Q1 2019


Q4 2018


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


Seventy-four CEOs responded to the survey, which was administered June 18-25. Multiple industries are represented in the sample, including construction, manufacturing, finance, insurance, and retail. The average company whose CEO responded to this survey had about $16.5 million in revenue for the most recent 12-month period. The average employment was about 64.

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 MBA program #35 in the country. The school’s executive education division offers open enrollment courses and customized leadership development, training and consulting to area businesses.