U.S. chief executives' view of the economy brightened in the first quarter, with 92 percent expecting sales to rise over the next six months and more than half looking to add jobs, according to a survey.
The Business Roundtable's quarterly CEO Economic Outlook index surged to 113 -- the highest in the nearly 10 years the group has been doing the poll.
Our CEOs see momentum in the U.S. economy. We collectively are expecting increased sales and as a result expect to do more investing and hiring over the next six months, said Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon Communications Inc
Fifty-two percent -- the most in the survey's history -- of the 142 CEOs who responded to the survey said they planned to add jobs in the United States over the next six months, compared with 11 percent who planned to cut headcount. Sixty-two percent said they planned to boost capital spending.
CEOs now look for U.S. real gross domestic product to rise 2.9 percent in 2011, up from their prior forecast of 2.5 percent growth.
CEOs' changed views on hiring would be very good news for an economy that has struggled with high unemployment even since its last 18-month recession officially ended in June 2009 and for the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, who has faced criticism for his handling of the economy.
It is also in line with other recent data, including a Wednesday report from payrolls processor ADP, which showed that the U.S. private sector added 201,000 jobs in March.
That news helped boost U.S. shares in early trading -- continuing a rally that has seen the broad Standard & Poor's 500 index <.SPX> rise 12 percent since the start of the year.
Investors will get a more detailed read of corporate America's economic outlook over the month, as big companies from Alcoa Inc
The Roundtable, whose member companies collectively generate close to $6 trillion in annual revenue, conducted the survey between February 28 and March 18.
(Reporting by Scott Malone, editing by Dave Zimmerman)