Top CEOs more optimistic about economy, but worry about slow growth

Top CEOs more optimistic about economy, but worry about slow growth

Top U.S. chief executives are more optimistic about the economy than they were three months ago, but warned that growth still was below normal and required national policy changes, according to survey results released Tuesday.

Participants expect the economy to expand at a 2.4% annual rate this year, up from a projection of 2.2% in the fourth quarter, according to the Business Roundtable’s CEO Economic Outlook Survey.

“CEO expectations for overall economic growth in 2014 continue to be modest at best,” said AT Inc. Chief Executive Randall L. Stephenson, the group’s chairman.

The projected growth rate is “much slower than what we’ve seen at this point in past recoveries, and it’s well below what our economy is capable of.”

Executives had higher expectations for hiring and spending during the next six months, with forecasts for sales flat. The group’s overall economic outlook index rose to 92.1 in the first quarter of the year, up from 84.5 in the previous quarter.

Nearly half of respondents — 48% — said they expected to increase their company’s capital spending in the first half of the year, up from 39% the previous quarter. On hiring, 37% of CEOs said they planned to increase their U.S. employment, up from 34% the previous quarter.

The situation in Ukraine and the potential effects on U.S. companies is a concern, Stephenson said.

“Obviously, anybody doing business in Europe is watching the situation very, very closely,” he said.

The Business Roundtable wants Congress and the White House to take steps to boost the economy. The group’s priorities, outlined in January, are fiscal stability, business tax reform, immigration reform and expanded trade.

The recent two-year budget agreement has helped stabilize the nation’s fiscal situation, Stephenson said. The other issues are stalled in Congress, but the group still is optimistic about action, he said.