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CEOs don't expect to hire more, even as they expect sales to grow

  • Optimism abounds in the most recent measure of how CEOs view the economy.
  • For the first time in 24 quarters, more business leaders now see labor as the greatest cost facing their companies, rather than regulation.
  • JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon told reporters the benefits of tax reform will trickle down to American workers eventually.
Jamie Dimon speaking at the 2017 Delivering Alpha conference in New York on Sept. 12, 2017.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Jamie Dimon speaking at the 2017 Delivering Alpha conference in New York on Sept. 12, 2017.

Optimism abounds in the most recent measure of how CEOs view the economy, according to the Business Roundtable.

Despite the cheery outlook, more business leaders now see labor as the greatest cost facing their companies.

This is the first time in 24 quarters that CEOs identified labor costs, rather than regulation, as the No. 1 burden. CNBC's Kayla Tausche reported that chief executives expect sales to increase as a part of the growing economy but that they plan to simultaneously hire fewer workers.

The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate most recently at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, according to the Labor Department.

At the same time, CEOs have recently expressed a reluctance to spend more if the tax reform bill goes through. In November, chief executives attending a conference in Washington were asked if they would "increase capital investment" after the reform. When only a few raised their hands, chief White House economic advisor Gary Cohn asked the CEOs, "Why aren't the other hands up?"

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, who also chairs the Business Roundtable, told reporters the benefits of tax reform will trickle down to American workers eventually, but "it's not going to happen tomorrow."

"Investment in tools that make [workers] more productive" is what will come of savings from tax reform, Business Roundtable CEO Joshua Bolten said, and the increased productivity will drive wages higher.

The CEO economic outlook index rose to 96.8 in the fourth quarter — a 2 percent increase from the previous quarter.

Plans to invest capital are at the highest level in nearly six years, the report found. The survey also says CEOs believe GDP will grow by 2.5 percent next year.

Source: The Business Roundtable

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