New York (April 6, 2004) -- Chief executives’ confidence in the economy surged during the first quarter to its highest level in 20 years, according to the latest survey by the Conference Board.

CEO confidence, which slipped to 66 in the final quarter of 2003, surged to 73 in the first quarter -- the highest reading since 1983, when the measure reached 74 in the fourth quarter, the Conference Board reported. A reading of more than 50 points reflects more positive than negative responses.

The number of CEOs who are bullish about hiring plans for this year soared during the first quarter. Half of all CEOs surveyed anticipate an increase in hiring plans over the course of the year -- up from less than 16 percent a year ago. That measure suggests that labor market growth should gain momentum in the months ahead, noted Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board’s Consumer Research Center. The number of CEOs anticipating a decrease in hiring fell to less than 12 percent from about 47 percent in the first quarter of 2003.

CEOs’ overall assessment of current conditions improved dramatically in the first quarter of 2004, with their measure of current economic conditions increasing to 78 from 68. More than 90 percent of CEOs claim current economic conditions have improved, up from more than 88 percent last quarter. In assessing their own industries, the measure increased to 71 from 60. Close to 78 percent say conditions have improved, up from 63 percent in the prior survey.

-- WebCPA staff

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