updated 9/18/2006 12:37:31 PM ET 2006-09-18T16:37:31

America’s chief executives are feeling a little less buoyant about the business climate in the months ahead.

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A survey by Business Roundtable released Monday showed that executive expectations for sales, capital spending and employment — while all decent — are lower than in a previous survey released earlier this summer.

“The outlook of the CEOs in this survey suggests that the pace of growth in the U.S. economy is slowing down,” said Harold McGraw III, chairman of the Business Roundtable and chief of The McGraw-Hill Companies.

In the survey, 74 percent of the chief executives said they expected their sales to increase over the next six months. That was down from 82 percent in June.

The current survey also says 17 percent expect no change in sales and 9 percent are forecasting a decline.

On capital spending — a key ingredient for healthy economic activity — 39 percent said they expected to boost such spending over the next six months. That was down from 48 percent in the previous survey. Half of the executives in the current survey said they expected no change in their capital investment plans, while 11 percent expected a cut.

In terms of hiring in the months ahead, 32 percent of the chiefs said they expected to step up payrolls. That was down from 41 percent in the prior survey. Meanwhile, 39 percent in the current survey said they expected to hold employment steady and 29 percent thought they would shed workers.

“Although the CEOs’ projections for sales, capital spending and employment still indicate positive growth, we believe that we are beginning to see the effects of energy and interest rate pricing pressures reflected in the business outlook,” McGraw said.

Until recently, energy prices had marched up and the Federal Reserve for two-plus year had been hoisting interest rates steadily higher. Now, energy prices are starting to calm down and the Fed, which took a break from its rate-raising campaign in early August, is widely expected to stay on the sidelines again when its meets on Wednesday.

Economic growth through the rest of this year is expected to stay subdued, at a pace of around 2.5 percent, according to economists’ projections.

The Business Roundtable is an association of chief executive officers of major corporations, representing a combined workforce of more than 10 million employees and $4.5 trillion in annual revenues. The quarterly survey was based on the responses of 109 of the group’s 160 member companies.

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