Cautious optimism on US jobs outlook


With the first quarter of 2010 behind us, are there any concrete signs of economic recovery to match the upbeat rhetoric? In particular, has the outlook improved as far as the jobs market is concerned? As far as many of America's CEOs are concerned, it seems that the jury is still out.

According to the Conference Board's quarterly measure of CEO confidence, optimism has actually fallen slightly during the early part of 2010, declining from 64 in the last quarter of 2010 to 62 in 2010 (a reading of more than 50 points reflects more positive than negative responses).

CEOs' perceptions of current economic conditions have also fallen slightly, 71 per cent stating conditions have improved compared to six months ago, down from 75 per cent last quarter.

However, in assessing their own industries, business leaders' attitudes improved, with 59 per cent claiming conditions are now better, compared with 54 per cent last quarter.

Looking ahead six months, CEOs are slightly less optimistic. Around half expect economic conditions to improve in the next six months, a slight fall on the last quarter. Expectations for their own industries are also less optimistic, with 42 per cent of CEOs anticipating an improvement in the months ahead, down from 45 per cent last quarter.

"CEOs continue to rate current economic and industry conditions favorably, but expectations are that the pace of growth will not pick up in the months ahead, "said Says Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center.

As far as employment levels are concerned, this fragile confidence suggests that while more companies will be hiring than last year, any dramatic improvement is still a long way off.

But the good news is that while 30 per cent of CEOs anticipate an increase in employment levels in their industry, this is up significantly from less than 3 per cent a year ago. Meanwhile, the proportion of CEOs who anticipate cutting their headcount has plummeted to 22 per cent from 86 per cent a year ago.

The same cautiously optimistic message is reflected in separate research from ExecuNet, a membership network for senior business executives. Their survey of 184 executive recruiters carried out in March reveals that 11 per cent more companies expect to hire senior executives during the next six months than expected to shed them.