America’s boardrooms remain deeply pessimistic about the future of the economy, with a sizable and growing majority now convinced that the U.S. is on track for a recession in the months to come.
Our April Director Confidence Index, a poll of 133 U.S. public company directors, conducted April 18-22 in partnership with the Diligent Institute, plummeted 9 percent between March and April.
Directors say they are concerned about the impacts of record-high inflation above all else. The vast majority now predict business conditions to get worse over the course of the next year, at 61 percent. Directors are wary of the federal government’s ability to lead the nation away from this path as businesses continue to face issues in the global supply chain and a race for talent.
Our leading indicator is now at 5.7, as measured on a 10-point scale where 10 is Excellent and 1 is Poor. This is the second month in a row that directors’ rating has reached a record low and the first time our indicator has dipped below the rating of 6, or “good”.
A growing number of directors are also voicing their dissatisfaction with the current Administration, citing stifling regulations and lack of leadership from both the White House and the Fed. Directors remain concerned over the ongoing war in Ukraine, its effect on supply chains and the economy, and the uncertainty over how it will all end.
These findings continue to align with Diligent Institute’s Corporate Sentiment Tracker, an AI-powered tool which tracks the issues corporate leaders are speaking about most frequently in the news and whether they’re speaking about those issues in a positive or a negative way. At the time this report is being written, overall corporate leader sentiment is at 60% positive and the top term in the last 14 days is “inflation.”
The “current policies of the Biden administration are resulting in unprecedented pressure on the underpinnings of the nation’s economy and consumer spending,” says Chris Clemente, Chairman & CEO at Comstock Holding Companies, Inc., a real estate company. “Record high oil & gas prices are directly correlated to President Biden’s lurch to the left and are contributing to the record setting inflation.” Clemente expects conditions to deteriorate further, down to a 5/10 from his 7/10 rating of current conditions. “While intentions may be noble, i.e., a green economy, trying to force a desired outcome through burdensome regulations without any concern for the impact on average people is foolish.”
Others agree that leadership in Washington in lacking but maintain that conditions will at least remain stable.
“The US debt level, inflation, leadership vacuum in DC, direction of Fed (more lack of leadership), lack of focus of electorate are all elements in my forecast,” says Stephen Kasnet, board chair at Two Harbors Investments, who rates both current and future conditions a 7/10.
A director at a semiconductor company rates both current and future conditions as a 4/10, explaining, “My forecast is driven by these elements: 1. High interest rates, 2. War in Ukraine, 3. Supply chain hang-ups and shortages, 4. An administration that is misguided and interfering with business and 5. Linger effects of the COVID virus.”
Directors’ sentiment surrounding the current business environment dropped slightly this month, down less than 1 percent, hovering at a 6.6 out of 10. This is 5 percent below their rating of current conditions one year ago, in April 2021.
The findings closely mirror the montly survey by our sister publication, Chief Executive. CEOs they polled rate current business conditions as a 6.6/10 for the month of April, down 3 percent from March and 6 percent below their rating of current conditions one year ago. CEOs’ forecast for the future of business conditions plummeted at the same rate as directors, down 9 percent month over month. Their rating is now 6.1/10, still 7 percent above that of directors and within “good” territory. Nonetheless CEOs’ optimism is at its lowest level since the fall of 2016 amid the Clinton v. Trump election. CEOs share many of the same worries as directors, voicing concerns over inflation, supply chains and the threat of a Fed-induced recession.
Also in April, the proportion of CEOs forecasting business conditions to deteriorate shot up to 50 percent, from only 38 percent in March. Directors followed suit and now a whopping 61 percent of directors expect conditions to deteriorate, up from 44 percent in March.
“Excessive inflation and its impact on consumer households and their ability to meet debt obligations while putting food on the table and gas in their tanks,” says one director in banking. He lists the reasons why he rates current conditions as a 7/10 but expects them to plummet to a 4/10 over the next 12 months, “Rising interest rates and their impact on the housing market. I am fearful of an economic recession within the next 12 to 18 months.”
One director of an office supply manufacturing company says, “Recovering demand in many sectors and markets is being impacted by supply chain challenges, geopolitical worries, inflation impacts and rising interest rates which will likely further temper global economic activity.” He expects conditions to drop from a 7/10 now to a 6/10 in the future.
Only 17 percent of directors expect conditions to improve, while 23 percent expect the business environment to remain the same.
The hopeful directors say that inflation has hit its peak and that the war in Ukraine will resolve the next year. With that comes stabilization in the supply chain and less uncertainty overall, improving business conditions.
“I believe we have reached peak inflation. Unemployment rates are low. The Ukrainian war should be over within 12 months. There do not seem to be the same supply chain snarls today. The economy remains strong. As inflation moderates, war ends, supply chain becomes more robust, the business climate should be better in 12 months,” says the director of a bank. He expects conditions will improve by one point to an 8/10 12 months from now.
THE YEAR AHEAD
The proportion of directors forecasting increases in profits and revenues both dropped this month, down 8 and 15 percent, respectively. In April, 70 of directors expect increases in profits over the next 12 months and 74 percent expect the same for revenues. These are the lowest proportions expecting increases since Q3 of 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 crisis.
The proportion of directors forecasting increases in capital expenditures fell by 17 percent in April, to 45 percent. This is the lowest proportion of directors forecasting increases to capital expenditures since January of 2021.
About the Director Confidence Index
The Director Confidence Index is a monthly survey of public company board members on the state of the overall economy, the outlook for business and other topical issues impacting public companies. Conducted in collaboration between Corporate Board Member and Diligent Institute, the Index benchmarks confidence among the governance community and is a forward-looking indicator of market movements and corporate strategies.
About Corporate Board Member
Corporate Board Member, a division of Chief Executive Group, has been the market leader in board education for 20 years. The quarterly publication provides public company board members, CEOs, general counsel and corporate secretaries decision-making tools to address the wide range of corporate governance, risk oversight and shareholder engagement issues facing their boards. Corporate Board Member further extends its thought leadership through online resources, webinars, timely research, conferences and peer-driven roundtables. The company maintains the most comprehensive database of directors and officers of publicly traded companies listed with NYSE, NYSE Amex and Nasdaq.
About the Diligent Institute
Diligent Institute is the corporate governance research arm and think tank of Diligent Corporation. The Institute produces publicly available cutting-edge research on corporate governance practices by directors, for directors, with a global perspective. Learn more at diligentinstitute.com.