US CEOs report record economic optimism as tax bill progresses

Washington (AFP) –


US corporate leaders are increasingly upbeat about growth in the world's largest economy as lawmakers prepare to enact deep tax cuts, the Business Roundtable said Tuesday.

The group's index of CEO sales projections, spending and hiring plans over the next six months hit its highest level in nearly six years.

The Economic Outlook Index rose to 96.8 points for the fourth quarter, up from 94.5 in the July-September period and the highest since early 2012. Hiring plans dipped slightly, but remained high.

CEOs project GDP growth of 2.5 percent for the year, in line with recent years but below the White House's target of three percent.

The Business Roundtable's chairman, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, said the high hopes were pinned on Washington delivering a pro-growth agenda.

"To continue this momentum, it is critical that we enact pro-growth tax reform that will level the playing field for US business to be globally competitive," Dimon said in a statement.

For the first time in six years, however, more CEOs cited rising wages rather than regulatory compliance as the top cost pressure for their companies.

- Rosy outlook on regulation -

After some last-minute snags, Republican lawmakers are inching towards the finish line in enacting the first sweeping tax code overhaul in three decades -- despite official projections it could add $1 trillion to the budget deficit over 10 years and widespread criticism that benefits go primarily to the rich.

The House and Senate have to reconcile their different versions of the bill, which would cut corporate taxes to 20 percent from 35 percent.

Supporters say this brings the US tax regime in line with other developed countries and will encourage multinational corporations to repatriate their earnings. But effective corporate tax rates already are significantly below 35 percent, when the many deductions and loopholes are factored in.

Analyses of the Senate tax package say it will produce minimal to modest gains for the economy.

Economists at investment bank Goldman Sachs estimated this week the Senate bill could boost growth by 0.3 percentage points in 2018 and 2019, but could be minimal or even negative from 2020 and beyond.

Joshua Bolten, the Business Roundtable's president and CEO, told reporters that Republican efforts to slash regulations and taxes "helped create the confidence for companies to increase their capital investment."

The survey's index for capital expenditure plans rose to 92.7 points, its highest level since the second quarter of 2011.