Economic Optimism among Small and Midsize Businesses in Q2 Matches 2008 Recession

The devastating effects of the pandemic on small and midsize businesses caused the Vistage CEO Confidence Index to plummet to 65.5 in Q2 2020

SAN DIEGO, JUNE 16, 2020 – Confidence in the economy among small and midsize business CEOs fell below 2008 recession levels, scoring a 65.5 in Vistage’s Q2 2020 CEO Confidence Index compared to a 69.9 in Q2 of 2008. The mark is down 22% from the 84.7 recorded in Q1 and the third-lowest mark in the history of the Vistage CEO Confidence Index. As a result of the shutdown, 80% of SMBs reported some level of revenue declines. Over two-thirds (67%) report declines of 50% or less. Revenue projections are the lowest they have been since the Great Recession with 31% of CEOs expecting decreased revenues in the year ahead. 33% of CEOs are also anticipating declines in their profits over the next 12 months.

“While the recent decline in the Vistage CEO Confidence Index is similar to the decline prior to the Great Recession, the causes are fundamentally different, as the current recession resulted from a purposeful shutdown of the economy.  In turn, the recovery has begun due to the start of the reopening of the economy.   Although the renewed GDP growth anticipated in the 3rd quarter may well signal an end to the “official” recession, it will take much longer to restore the financial viability to all firms, with significant differences across industries and regions of the country,” said Dr. Richard Curtin, research associate professor at the University of Michigan, who analyzed the data.

In addition to falling revenues and negative views of the current state of the economy, plans for hiring have also slowed significantly. Forty-one percent of CEOs plan to maintain their workforce levels, and 22% plan to decrease their staff, which is up significantly from last quarter’s 9% of planned decreases.

“Even the most optimistic economist foresees a long and hard climb out of the ‘Corona-ditch.’ Despite the recent positive jobs report, more than 20 million people – all of them consumers – remain out of work and therefore not spending,” said Joe Galvin, Chief Research Officer at Vistage. “We should begin to see signs of growth and further investment in the months to come, as more businesses reopen and employees continue to return to the workplace.”

In looking further out, more than half of CEOs surveyed (51%) expect economic conditions to improve in 6-12 months or longer. More promising findings reveal that most CEOs (47%) expect their business to regain momentum six months from now and 27% even believe their business will be stronger than before.

Part of this optimism will come with employees returning to work in the coming weeks and months. CEOs are already executing on return to work plans or thinking about what that looks like. Nearly a third of CEOs (31%) have already begun a phased plan to bring employees back to work, while 23% of respondents plan to continue remote working with employees for the time-being. CEOs have also implemented or plan to implement daily temperature screenings (46%) and symptom checks (48%) for employees returning to work.

Survey highlights include:

  • Prospects for the Economy Remain Somewhat Optimistic
    • Despite 93% of CEOs agreeing the economy has worsened compared to a year ago, 54% are optimistic economic conditions will improve in the U.S. in the year ahead.
    • A quarter of respondents (25%) anticipate worsening economic conditions for the year ahead.
    • 51% of respondents expect economic conditions to improve in 6-12 months or longer.
    • Six months from now, 47% of CEOs expect their business to be “moderately weakened but regaining momentum” and 27% expect their business to be “stronger than before.”
  • Revenue, Profit and Hiring Outlook
    • 20% of respondents have experienced revenue decreases between 25-49% because of the coronavirus pandemic.
    • 45% of CEOs expect increased revenues in the year ahead, but nearly a third of respondents (31%) anticipate declines in total revenue.
    • Profit increases and decreases are nearly equal as 37% of CEOs anticipate increases and 33% anticipate profit declines.
    • Hiring plans are largely in flux with 41% of CEOs planning to keep their total number of employees flat in the next 12 months. 22% of CEOs are planning reductions.
  • Returning to Work
    • 31% of CEOs have already begun a phased plan to bring employees back to work slowly, while 23% of respondents plan to continue remote working with employees
    • CEOs are implementing or considering the following testing protocol for employees returning to work:
      • Daily temperature taking – 46%
      • Daily symptom checking – 48%
      • Diagnostic testing for coronavirus – 6%
      • Antibody testing – 4%

Read the full results.

About the Vistage CEO Confidence Index

The Vistage CEO Confidence Index, established in 2003, is a quarterly survey of small to midsize business CEOs, presidents, and business owners about the U.S. economy. The Q2 2020 Vistage CEO Confidence Index includes responses from 1,392 U.S. CEOs, surveyed between June 1 and June 8, 2020. Since its establishment in 2003, the Index has proven to be a reliable indicator for changes in GDP and employment, two to three quarters hence.

About Vistage Worldwide, Inc.
Vistage is the world’s largest CEO coaching and peer advisory organization for small and midsize businesses. For more than 65 years, we’ve been helping CEOs, business owners and key executives solve their greatest challenges through confidential peer groups and one-to-one executive coaching sessions. Today, more than 45,000 members in 35 countries rely on Vistage to help make better decisions for their companies, families and communities. The results prove it: Vistage CEO members grew their annual revenue on average by 4.6% in 2020, while nonmembers with comparable small and midsize businesses saw revenue decrease by 4.7%, according to a study of Dun & Bradstreet data. Learn more at

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