CEOs confidence drops in second quarter on concerns over Trump trade

Economic confidence for the nation’s top CEOs fell in the second quarter for the first time in nearly two years over increasing concerns about the Trump administration’s direction on U.S. trade policy.

The Business Roundtable’s (BRT) April to June economic outlook survey released on Tuesday dropped to 111.1, declining 7.5 points from 118.6 in the first quarter, which was a record high hit as Congress and President Trump adopted a Republican tax package.

“We continue to see strong CEO plans in the second quarter of 2018, but uncertainties about trade policy are a growing weight on economic progress, especially amid escalating trade tensions,” said Joshua Bolten, BRT’s president and CEO.


Bolten said the nation’s economic future hinges on productive talks with China and a successful modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The latest CEO survey shows that their plans for hiring dipped slightly to 95.5, down 3 points from the previous quarter.

Plans for capital investment dropped to 107.6, a decrease of 7.8 points, while expectations for sales fell to 130.3, a decrease of 11.6 points from last quarter, according to the survey.

Despite the drop, which is a composite of CEO expectations for sales, plans for capital spending and hiring over the next six months, the index posted its third highest level in the 16-year history of the survey and remains above its historic average of 81.2 for the sixth straight quarter.

Trump has levied steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports coming into the United States, including from Canada, China and Mexico, ramping up tensions among the three top trading partners.

Trump also has promised to follow through with tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods if the world’s two largest economies can’t work out a deal on trade.

The new survey also shows a CEO projection of 2.7 percent U.S. economic growth this year, a small decrease from the 2.8 percent projection last quarter.

In a special trade-related question this quarter, a majority of CEOs expressed concerns about the administration’s approach to international trade issues.

Ninety-five percent of the CEOs who responded to the question said that “foreign trade retaliation leading to lower U.S. exports” was a moderate or serious risk.

The other issues that the CEOs said were a moderate or serious risk — 91 percent said that “higher costs of imports for U.S. consumers,” 90 percent said that “higher input costs for U.S. businesses,” and 89 percent said that “lower U.S. economic growth.”

“For the sixth straight quarter, business leaders are expressing historically strong optimism about our economy, and that’s delivering more jobs and increased wages to millions of Americans,” said Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and chairman of BRT.

“To sustain this momentum, we need to ensure that we have competitive trade policies in place to provide the certainty necessary to deliver sustainable economic growth to create more opportunities for workers and families nationwide,” Dimon said.

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