CEOs Cautious About Job Growth

If you're looking for any encouragement about the subpar recovery in the labor market, don't expect much from the nation's top CEOs.

The latest Business Roundtable survey shows only one in three expects to add jobs at their companies in the next six months. Slightly less than half expect no change.

On the positive side, March's result is up from the last survey in December when only 25% of the chief executives expected more jobs. Moreover, it's the first time since the survey's launch in the fall of 2002 that more bosses expected to add jobs than trim them.

"We are seeing a slow but steady improvement in the jobs picture, following on the heels of unprecedented productivity gains," the business group said.

Job creation has been unusually weak in the current economic recovery, with economists' forecasts often exceeding the government's payroll data. Economists expect the government's latest survey due out Friday to show the economy added 125,000 jobs in February, after a 122,000 gain the previous month. Recent consumer confidence surveys have shown that the weak labor market is a top concern.

Executives were more optimistic about capital sending plans: 43% expected an increase, while 7% expected a decline in the next six months. Half of the 122 CEOs polled saw no change.

On average, CEOs expect the economy to grow by 3.7% in 2004, up from 3.6% in December.

Overall, the economic outlook index hit 94.3, the highest in its brief history.

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