US CEOs' view of economy slips a tad amid cliff debate

U.S. chief executives' view of the domestic economy remained grim in the fourth quarter, drifting down to a fresh three-year low, according to a Business Roundtable survey released on Wednesday.

In a sign of how uncertain the outlook is, as many CEOs planned to add jobs in the United States as foresaw cuts.

The group's CEO Economic Outlook Index fell to 65.6 in the fourth quarter following a sharp drop to 66 in the third quarter. Any reading above 50 indicates forecast growth.

Twenty-nine percent CEOs plan to add jobs in the United States in the next six months, with an equal percentage expecting to cut. Thirty percent of CEOs expect to boost their U.S. capital spending in that time frame, and 58 percent expect their sales to rise.

CEOs expect U.S. real gross domestic product to rise 2 percent in 2013, a slight improvement from their 1.9 percent prior expectation in the third quarter.

The survey comes a little more than two weeks before a year-end deadline for Democratic President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress to reach a deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of year-end mandatory spending cuts and expiration of prior tax cuts.

While there was little change, the results reflected an environment of continued economic uncertainty.

"The continued softness in quarterly sentiment reflects deep uncertainty about the future overall economic climate, realities of a slow-growing economy and frustration over Washington's inability to resolve looming 'fiscal cliff' issues," said Boeing Co CEO Jim McNerney, who serves as chairman of the Roundtable.

McNerney was one of 160 U.S. CEOs who sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders on Tuesday calling on them to reach a deal to prevent the economy from going over the fiscal cliff.

The uncertainty has begun to hit businesses in many sectors. When diversified U.S. manufacturer 3M Co earlier on Wednesday laid out its 2013 sales growth targets, which were below its long-term goals, it said concerns related to the fiscal cliff were beginning to hurt its results.

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