Top CEOs call for coronavirus stimulus to keep economy from backsliding

About 1 in 4 chief executives of some of the nation’s largest companies say their businesses have recovered or will have by year’s end, despite the lingering ill effects of the coronavirus recession, according to a new survey.

But the economy remains fragile, they say, and the federal government must provide “further, major support” to ensure that it does not backslide.

Business Roundtable surveyed 149 members about projected sales, capital spending and hiring for the next six months. The CEO Economic Outlook Survey rose to 64 in the third quarter, the headline index’s first quarterly increase in nine quarters, according to a report released Wednesday. The index, which has surveyed CEOs since 2002, is up 29.7 points since last quarter but remains below the historical average of 81.7.

More than a third of the group—whose members include the CEOs of Apple, Chevron and JPMorgan Chase—expect economic conditions to remain bumpy until 2022 or later. The poll, conducted from Aug. 31 to Sept. 16, showed a gradual economic recovery from the pandemic, mirrored in the labor market, consumer spending and industrial production. But the findings show that CEOs do not see the recovery reaching every sector soon, particularly small businesses.

Joshua Bolten, president and chief executive of Business Roundtable, said in the report that federal aid earlier in the pandemic for companies, small businesses and workers helped improve CEO outlook, but there’s more to be done.

“Further major support from the federal government is necessary to prevent economic recovery from being derailed,” Bolten said. “Failure to act, along with the lack of comprehensive and coordinated efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, would impose long term damage on the U.S. economy, hurting most the workers and small businesses least able to absorb the blow.”

On Tuesday, the number of reported deaths related to the novel coronavirus passed 200,000 in the United States. That, and the 6.83 million confirmed cases, does not account for what has not been reported, and the rise in infections, hospitalizations and deaths that chief executives, echoing health officials, say will continue if more preventive action is not taken to mitigate the spread of the virus.

The CEOs have projected increases in:

— Hiring. The category jumped more than 20 points, to 46.6. By comparison, the subindex’s historical average is 58.5.

— Capital investment, which climbed nearly 34 points, to 58.8. The historical average is 75.6.

— Sales expectations, which surged 35 points, to 86.5. That compares with an average of 111.2.

“As CEOs of America’s largest employers continue to work with lawmakers and public health officials at all levels of government to ensure safe reopenings across the country,” said Doug McMillon, Walmart’s chief executive and the chairman of Business Roundtable, “Business Roundtable urges the Administration and Congress to come back to the negotiating table and pass more legislation to further ease the economic challenges American workers, small businesses and suppliers are experiencing.”

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