Chief executive officers’ outlook for their company and economy improved markedly in the first quarter from the end of 2010, the Business Roundtable First Quarter 2011 CEO Economic Outlook Survey shows.

Even more impressively, the accompanying Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook Survey Index increased to its highest point since the Business Roundtable launched the survey in 2002: a reading of 113, up from 101 in the fourth quarter of 2010. The index fell to its lowest point, -5, in the first quarter of 2009. Its previous high point was 104.35 in the first quarter of 2005.

Ninety-two percent of the 142 member CEOs surveyed expect their company’s sales to increase in the next six months, 8% expect no change, and none expect sales to decrease. In the fourth quarter of 2010, 80% of the CEOs expected sales to increase, 15% foresaw no change, and 4% were bracing for decreases.

Sixty-two percent expect their company’s capital spending to increase in the next six months, up from 59% at the end of 2010. And 52% expect to hire more workers, up from 45%.

In addition, CEOs expect GDP growth of 2.9% in 2011, up from expectations of 2.5% in the fourth quarter.

“The last three quarters have shown steady improvement in the CEO economic outlook,” said Ivan G. Seidenberg, chairman of the Business Roundtable and CEO of Verizon Communications. “This shift continues a trend as reflected in recent employment data, with the private sector leading the way in creating more jobs.”

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