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(Reuters) - U.S. chief executive officers are gloomier about their plans for hiring and capital expenditures over the next six months, and are more wary about their sales prospects, according to a quarterly survey from the Business Roundtable released on Tuesday.
The CEOs' hiring plans were particularly weaker, with 34 percent expecting U.S. employment to increase in the next six months, down from 43 percent in the Business Roundtable's second-quarter survey. Twenty percent expect their employment to decrease in the next six months, compared with 14 percent in the prior survey.
The chief executives expect U.S. gross domestic product growth of 2.4 percent this year, compared to their estimate of 2.3 percent growth in the second-quarter survey.
"While some U.S. economic indicators are improving moderately, the results from our survey of CEOs seem to reflect an underperforming U.S. economy held back by policy uncertainty and growing conflicts around the world," Randall Stephenson, chairman of Business Roundtable and CEO of AT&T Inc (T.N), said in a release.
Stephenson said a key reason for increasing pessimism about capital spending and hiring was concerns among the CEOs that Congress may not extend a series of temporary tax breaks, including credits related to research and development.
"Most of us are not terribly optimistic that the tax extender packages are going to happen ... and as a result people are adjusting their outlook on capital spending," Stephenson said on a conference call with reporters.
Tax reform is a priority for the Business Roundtable. Nearly 90 percent of CEOs said tax reform would encourage more investment or cause them to expand their U.S. operations, according to the survey.
In the CEO survey, 39 percent of respondents said they expect to increase capital spending compared with 44 percent previously.
While 73 percent still expect sales to increase over the next six months, 7 percent now expect sales to fall, up from 2 percent.
The Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook Index, a composite index of expectations for sales, capital spending and employment over the next six months, fell in the third quarter to 86.4 from 95.4 in the second quarter. An index above 50 indicates an economic expansion.
The survey included responses from 135 CEOs, and was conducted between Aug. 11-29.
Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli