CEO Pulse: CEOs feel better now

Australian chief executives are more confident about 2013, but they do want Wayne Swan to resign and Joe Hockey to be clearer about what he is planning.

The latest Business Spectator-GA Research CEO Pulse survey is the most encouraging for two years.

CEOs are fed up with Treasurer Wayne Swan and the government, but that’s no surprise, and they think Treasury usually gets its forecasts wrong, which it does, but nevertheless Australia’s bosses are feeling better about their own businesses and the economy than they have since this time in 2011.

Since last quarter there has been a revival in employment and capex expectations, and cutting costs and achieving top line growth are no longer the issues keeping them awake at night – it’s now all about improving efficiency and getting and keeping good staff.

Sixty per cent expect to increase sales over the next 12 months, up from 52 per cent three months ago, and 53 per cent expect to increase profit, up from 48 per cent. In the second half of last year, most CEOs thought their profit would fall in 2013, which was a remarkable statistic.

The same percentage – 60 per cent – are now optimistic about their own business and the Australian economy over the next 12 months, up from 57 and 53 per cent respectively last quarter. Six months ago, most CEOs were glum about everything.

The results of our survey are more or less in line with the monthly business survey from NAB, issued last week. It showed that while trading conditions had deteriorated in March and “forward orders” fell sharply, business confidence improved.

But the NAB survey doesn’t ask businesses what they think of the politicians – ours does, and what they want is for Wayne Swan to resign and Joe Hockey to spell out more clearly what he plans to do.

The quarterly “scorecard” for the government’s performance in managing the economy is back to 2.7 out of 10, roughly where it was in September 2011 and almost equal lowest since we started doing these surveys.

Two-thirds of CEOs say they aren’t delaying any capital expenditure decisions until after either the federal budget or the election in September (18 per cent said they were waiting ‘til after the election), but unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority (86 per cent) said a Coalition victory would be best for the country and for their business.

Here are some quotes about Wayne Swan:

“Resign immediately … I would have fired this individual if he was in my organisation.”

“Resign, because he has proven to be incompetent by predicting a surplus and now reality has delivered a deficit.”

“Be very open about the shortfall in the budget, and then resign.”

As for Joe Hockey, he needs to “articulate a clear alternative economic strategy”.

“The Coalition will, on all indicators, be in office for an extended period and we have right to know what the bones of the economic policy really are.”

The survey sample comprised of 88 CEOs with an Australian turnover of $100 million or more, who opted to participate in a five minute survey between April 2 and April 14.

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