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Kicking off 2023 at 43, the Conference Board Measure of CEO Confidence, produced in partnership with The Business Council, is up from 32 in the last quarter of 2022. Even so, the reading is still under 50, indicating that there were more negative than positive responses among the 142 CEOs surveyed.

The latest survey shows that although CEOs have a bit more confidence now, many are still cautious about the months to come:

  • Most (93%) CEOs are preparing for a US recession over the next 12 to 18 months — this measure is down slightly from 98% in the Q4 survey, with 86% anticipating a brief, shallow recession with limited global spillover.
  • Up from 5% in Q4, only 16% of CEOs said economic conditions are better than they were six months ago. More than half (55%) said conditions were worse (down from 81% in Q4). Looking ahead to the next six months, 18% of CEOs expect economic conditions to improve (up from 5% in Q4), and 48% expect worsening conditions (down from 73%).
  • Within their own industries, CEOs have a bit more optimism — 23% of CEOs reported better economic conditions than six months ago (up from 15%) and 43% said they were worse (down from 52%). More than a quarter (26%) expect things to improve within the six months ahead (up from 19%), and 33% expect them to be worse (down from 54%).

“While CEOs are still girding for a recession in 2023, they continue to experience a tight labor market,” said Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., Vice Chairman of The Business Council and Trustee of The Conference Board. But there are some signs of improvement. Though 57% of CEOs report challenges attracting qualified workers, this measure is down from 68% in Q4. And down from 44%, 37% of CEOs anticipate adding to their workforce this year.

“Regarding managing elevated input prices,”  Ferguson added, “nearly 6 in 10 say they are passing higher costs on to consumers. Generally, going forward, CEOs will monitor consumer price inflation and GDP as gauges of the health of the US economy in 2023.”