UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND — The third 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 again compared to their expectations last quarter. Overall, expectations at the end of the third quarter of 2019 were similar to those last seen in the first half of 2014.

CEOs were asked three questions related to tariffs. More than 45% of CEOs said that their companies would not be impacted by continued tariffs on Chinese imports. Nearly 50% indicated that a resolution of the trade dispute would increase their outlook slightly (36.36%) or significantly (11.36%). CEOs were asked the way in which they expected continued tariffs to impact their business. Nearly one quarter (23.86%) said they would increase prices charged to customers, 11.36% expected reduced profits, and a small percentage would reduce hiring (6.82%) or reduce capital spending (5.68%). More than 40% indicated that they definitely (26.14%) or probably (17.05%) supported the new tariffs on Chinese imports even if business was hurt in the short run. About a quarter (23.73%) were undecided and about a quarter indicated that they definitely (17.05%) or probably (10.23%) did not support the new tariffs on Chinese imports.

About 65% of CEO respondents expect sales to increase over the next six months, down five percentage points from the second quarter results. About 30% expect sales to increase by more than 10 percentage points, down four percentage points from last quarter. Nine percent (9%) expect sales to fall, up about one percentage point from last quarter.  

More than 32% of CEOs expect capital spending to increase, down five percentage points from last quarter. About half expect capital spending to remain flat, essentially unchanged from last quarter, while the percentage who expected capital spending to decrease over the next six months rose nearly six percentage points to 18%. 

Overall expectations for hiring fell from last quarter. About 47% of respondent CEOs expect employment to increase over the next six months, down 5.5 percentage points from the second quarter survey. Nearly 44% expect employment to remain flat, up about 4.5 percentage points from the fourth quarter; only 9% of CEOs expect employment to decrease over the next six months, up less than one percentage point 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 second and third quarters of 2019 show projections for the next six months for sales, spending and employment: 

Projected 6 months sales, spending and employment

 

 

2019 Q3

2019 Q2

Increase

No Change

Decrease

Increase

No Change

Decrease

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

 65.2%

 25.8%

 9.0%

 70.3%

 21.6%

 8.1%

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

 32.6%

 49.4%

 18.0%

 37.8%

 50.0%

 12.2%

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

 47.2%

 43.8%

 9.0%

 52.7%

 39.2%

 8.1%

 

“Uncertainty rather than pessimism seems to be driving the results,” said Raggio. “One CEO commented, ‘I am neither optimistic or pessimistic; given the unknowns created by the current administration, I am simply uncertain and proceeding with caution.’  Others suggest that sales would be even higher if the job market were not so tight.” 

“While the overall outlook declined again, the CEOs I speak with each day remain mostly optimistic,” said Scot McRoberts, executive director of the Virginia Council of CEOs. “Of course, optimism is a defining characteristic of entrepreneurs! My gut tells me the decline is a product of anticipating a recession — most thought it would have happened by now — coupled with the ripple effects of tariffs on Chinese goods.”

Economic Outlook Index

Survey Date

CEO Economic Outlook Index

Q3 2019

86.33

Q2 2019

94.13

Q1 2019

100.5

Q4 2018

97.97

Q3 2018

104.3

Q2 2018

92.73

Q1 2018

94.6

Q4 2017

106.3

Q3 2017

99.17

Q2 2017

103.63

Q1 2017

108.97*

Q4 2016

107.37

Q3 2016

89.67

Q2 2016

89

Q1 2016

102

Q4 2015

92.67

Q3 2015

99.8

Q2 2015

93.42

Q1 2015

93.9

Q4 2014

95.92

Q3 2014

96.1

Q2 2014

88.71

Q1 2014

86.07

Q4 2013

89.57

Q3 2013

92.53

Q2 2013

91.6

Q1 2013

86.4

Q4 2012

77.57

Q3 2012

81.17

Q2 2012

81.13

Q1 2012

94.1

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

* Record high

Eighty-nine CEOs responded to the survey, which was administered Sept. 17-25. 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 $12 million in revenue for the most recent 12-month period. The average employment was about 65.

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 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 230 CEO members. 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 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.

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Robins School of Business