Business briefs

Business leaders confident

American business leaders, in a striking turnaround, are growing more confident about the nation's economy, The Conference Board reported.

Rallying strongly, the business think tank's quarterly Measure of Business Confidence, which had declined to a reading of 53 in the first quarter, improved to a level of 60 during the second quarter. The survey covers about 100 chief executives in a wide variety of industries.

"The latest survey results show steady improvement in ceo confidence levels since the beginning of the year," said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center. "Growing optimism about profits suggests stronger corporate performance ahead.

Ceos' assessments of current business conditions improved substantially, surging to 55, up from 40 during the first quarter. Business leaders are also more upbeat about conditions over the next six months, with that measure rising to a level of 66, up from 60.

Crucially, about 65 percent of the chief executives canvassed said they expect profits to rise. But there are distinct differences between industries. About 67 percent of executives in the services industry expect an increase in profits. But among manufacturers, there are big differences between the durable goods industry, where 77 percent of leaders expect a increase in profits, and non-durables, where only 44 percent see profits rising.

Cost cuts figure prominently in the profit picture, and among those executives who expect profits to advance, 37 percent cite cost reductions as a key reason, with a smaller number, 28 percent, citing increases in market demand.

Job drought ending?

As 2003 draws to a close, so will a long drought in jobs, and a rebound in the job market can be expected by the end of the year, said Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an international outplacement company which tracks job cuts nationwide.

It's taking substantially less time for out of work managers and executives to find new jobs, and that sends a clear signal that that a jobs recovery is in the works. Job search time for executives "plummeted 19 percent from a 17-year record high of 4.2 months in the first quarter to 3.4 months in the second quarter, the lowest level since the fourth quarter of 2001," the company reported." Our quarterly surveys of managerial and executive job seekers, which we have been conducting since 1986, typically provide an accurate picture of the job market about six months ahead," said John Challenger, ceo.

Until the most recent survey, job search times had been on the rise since the second quarter of 2001, when they were at an all-time low of 2.07 months."

Home builders bullish

With interest rates near all-time lows, builders of single-family homes are growing more bullish about the prospects for the housing market, the National Association of Home Builders reported.

The NAHB's monthly Housing Market Index, a measure of builder confidence, picked up by two points to 64 in July, and a further gauge in sales expectations for the next six months rose three points to a reading of 73, its highest level in more than two years, the building trade group reported.

"The survey reflects builder sentiment during the month of July, when the lowest interest rates in nearly 50 years continued to stimulate both home building and mortgage refinancing," said NAHB chief economist David Seiders. "A bigger concern among builders in several regions is their ability to meet demand because land availability has been reduced due to regulatory constraints and the high cost of land in their areas."

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