CEOs Are Getting More Optimistic

Optimism among mid-market CEOs is on the rise, with nearly twice as many rating their outlook a “10” compared to two months ago, according to the latest CEO survey from Marcum LLP and Hofstra University’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business.

The Marcum-Hofstra CEO Survey is a periodic gauge of mid-market CEOs’ outlook and their priorities for the next 12 months. The survey polls the leaders of companies with revenues ranging from $5 million to $1 billion-plus.

The percentage of CEOs who rated their business outlook a “10” (on a scale of 1-10) rose from 8.9% in February to 16% in the latest survey, which was conducted in April. Those who rated their business outlook 8-10 also increased, from 36.5% to 42.1%. 

While overall optimism went up, there were substantial differences among sectors. Optimism at the highest levels (8-10) was driven by large increases among CEOs in financial services and financial institutions, professional services, real estate, construction, and healthcare. For example, 40% of construction CEOs rated their outlook at the highest level in April, compared to just nine percent in February.

At the same time, optimism dipped slightly at the top range among CEOs in retail and consumer products, manufacturing and distribution, technology, and government/nonprofit/education, the survey found.

“The sharp increase in optimism among middle-market CEOs is obviously very welcome and, hopefully, is a positive indicator, at least in the short-term. But it is a mixed bag for different industries, with those in the tangible goods, tech and public sectors not yet recovered to the same degree as those in the professional services industries. The global situation in Europe and the return of inflation here further complicate things, but entrepreneurial companies generally rise to the top. Based on what we’re seeing among our clients, I’m optimistic that forward-looking companies will continue to gain strength in the post-COVID economy,” said Jeffrey M. Weiner, Marcum’s chairman & chief executive officer.

This latest Marcum-Hofstra survey is the first since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and CEOs reported that the conflict is having significant impact on their businesses and decision-making.

More than three-quarters of CEOs (77.4%) indicated rising energy costs are impacting their businesses. Of those, a little more than a third (35.7%) said they are passing along some or all of the higher costs. Another 37.7 percent say they are absorbing the higher energy cost, despite significant impact on their bottom-line. The remainder (26.6%) say they’ve managed to absorb the costs with minimal impact.

Global events have also heightened CEOs’ concerns about cybersecurity, with nine in 10 saying they are more concerned about such threats and 68.5% reporting they have been increasing their investment to defend against possible attacks.

“Managing the intense pace and volatility of world events – whether it is the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the global growth concerns as China’s COVID-19 lockdown intensifies or Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter– is the ‘new normal’ for mid-market CEOs,” said K. G. Viswanathan, interim dean of the Zarb School.

The ‘Great Resignation’ continues to be a challenge for mid-market CEOs, with more than three-quarters (76.7%) reporting they have lost more employees in the past year than is typical. Nearly 20 percent say they’ve lost “significantly more” employees during the last 12 months.

Survey participants described what they are doing/offering to retain employees, with bonuses and work flexibility being the most popular responses. Some highlights include:

  • “Allowing hybrid work.”
  • “Better sign-on bonuses, opportunities to work more from home.”
  • “Evolve culture fundamentally. Give more responsibility and opportunities, offer incentive-based pay … recognize each person’s uniqueness.”
  • “Extra health benefits.”
  • “Free health benefits for family of every permanent employee.”
  • “Higher wages.”
  • “Increased our match in the 401K contribution.”
  • “More vacation.”
  • “More profit-sharing.”
  • “We are offering day-care stipends.”
  • “Cookies. Cupcakes. Extra pay. PTO (paid time off).”