UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND — The fourth 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 all rose 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 quarter of 2019.

CEOs were asked to share the main factors related to their outlook and the biggest issue they expect to address in the coming year. Expectations for a continued strong economy was the most frequently mentioned factor impacting outlook, followed by new projects or products that were expected to increase revenue. Nearly 50% of CEOs reported that talent issues are their priority for next year.

More than 71% of CEO respondents expect sales to increase over the next six months, up more than six percentage points from the third quarter results. Nearly 30% expect sales to increase by more than 10 percentage points, roughly unchanged from last quarter. Only 6.5% expect sales to fall, down 2.5 percentage points from last quarter. 

More than 42% of CEOs expect capital spending to increase, up nearly 10 percentage points from last quarter. 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 fell more than 10 percentage points to 7.9%. 

Nearly 57% of respondent CEOs expect employment to increase over the next six months, up about 10 percentage points from the third quarter survey. More than 42% expect employment to remain flat, down nearly two percentage points from the third quarter; only 1.3% of CEOs expect employment to decrease over the next six months, down nearly eight percentage points 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 third and fourth quarters of 2019 show projections for the next six months for sales, spending and employment:

Projected 6 months sales, spending and employment

 

 

2019 Q4

2019 Q3

Increase

No Change

Decrease

Increase

No Change

Decrease

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

 71.4%

 22.1%

 6.5%

 65.2%

 25.8%

 9.0%

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

 42.1%

 50.0%

 7.9%

 32.6%

 49.4%

 18.0%

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

 56.6%

 42.1%

 1.3%

 47.2%

 43.8%

 9.0%

“Despite uncertainty over next year’s elections, CEO optimism for a continued strong economy seems to have returned,” said Raggio. “As one CEO commented, ‘Election year jitters make people nervous, but the economy and real estate market are otherwise strong.’ However, expectations may be hard to achieve, as CEOs see the tight job market as a major issue for the coming year.” 

“Do the age-old rules of economic cycles still apply in 2019? Will we eventually experience a recession? Your guess is as good as mine,” said Scot McRoberts, executive director of the Virginia Council of CEOs. “For now, CEOs of small and mid-sized companies are taking good advantage of the strong economy — if they can find and retain the workforce they need to grow.”

Economic Outlook Index

Survey Date

CEO Economic Outlook Index

Q4 2019

101.47

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

Seventy-six CEOs responded to the survey, which was administered December 3-12. 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 60. 

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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