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updated 4/7/2010 10:58:17 AM ET 2010-04-07T14:58:17

For the first time in two years, more CEOs expect to be adding jobs than cutting jobs.

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A survey by Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of big U.S. companies, says 29 percent of chief executives expect to increase corporate payrolls over the next six months, while 21 percent predict that their work forces will shrink. Half see no change in jobs.

That's the first time since the first quarter of 2008 that more CEOs have expected to increase jobs rather than shrink them. In the fourth quarter of 2009, only 19 percent expected their payrolls would grow.

Company leaders are also optimistic about business prospects ahead of the reporting season for second-quarter earnings. About 73 percent say they expect sales to grow over the next half year, 23 percent forecast no change, and only 5 percent predict shrinking sales.

That's up from the 68 percent in the fourth quarter who had expected sales to grow; 17 percent had expected declining sales then, and 15 percent forecast no change.

"As the economy recovers and demand returns, we are seeing across-the-board increases in sales, resulting in increased capital expenditures, less job reduction and some employment stabilization," said Ivan G. Seidenberg, chairman of the group and CEO of Verizon Communications Inc.

Nearly half — 47 percent — of the CEOs surveyed said they will increase capital spending in the next six months, up from 40 percent in the fourth quarter.

The CEOs predict the economy will grow 2.3 percent for 2010 after shrinking 2.4 percent in 2009. In the fourth quarter of last year, the economy grew at a 5.6 percent annual pace.

The survey, taken from March 15-30, surveyed 105 CEOs.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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