The outlook of chief executive officers of leading companies improved significantly in the fourth quarter from the previous quarter, according to the Business Roundtable’s 2010 CEO Economic Outlook Survey.

Eighty percent expect sales to increase in the next six months, compared with 66% who thought so in the third quarter. Fifty-nine expect to increase their capital spending, up from 49% in the third quarter. And 45% expect to hire additional employees, up from 31%.

“Demand is returning, as evidenced by anticipated sales increases, and that is good news,” said Business Roundtable Chairman Ivan G. Seidenberg, who is also chairman and CEO of Verizon Communications.

The Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook Survey Index also rose, to 101, up from 86 in the previous quarter.

However, CEOs expect GDP to grow only 2.5% in 2011. “So, there is still more work that needs to be done to get the economy back on the path toward strong, sustainable growth,” Seidenberg said.

The Business Roundtable also included a new question, on cost concerns, in this quarter’s survey. CEOs said their three biggest cost pressures are materials, healthcare and labor.

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