UPDATE 3-U.S. CEOs becoming more willing to hire-Roundtable

* 52 pct of CEOs expect to add jobs in U.S.

* 92 pct of CEOs expect their sales to rise

* CEOs see real U.S. GDP up 2.9 pct in 2011
(Adds quote on unemployment, paragraphs 9-10)

By Scott Malone

BOSTON, March 30 (Reuters) – U.S. chief executives’ view of
the economy brightened in the first quarter, with more than
half now ready to add jobs — a critical step if the economy’s
recovery is to gain steam.

The Business Roundtable’s quarterly CEO Economic Outlook
survey found that 52 percent of the 142 CEOs who responded to
the survey plan to add staff in the United States over the next
six months — the highest reading since the group began doing
the survey in late 2002.

The CEO economic outlook index also hit a record high.

“Our CEOs see momentum in the U.S. economy. We collectively
are expecting increased sales and as a result expect to do more
investing and hiring over the next six months,” said Ivan
Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N: Quote, Profile, Research), who
serves as the group’s chairman.

But he cautioned that many of the survey responses came
before the March 11 earthquake that set off Japan’s current
nuclear crisis, and noted that the after-effects of that event,
as well as oil’s rise back over the psychologically important
$100 per barrel mark, would weigh on corporate confidence.

“The question of how deep this goes throughout the economy
is a different question. And there we still need a lot more
information,” Seidenberg told reporters on a conference call.

CEOs’ changed views on hiring would be very good news for
an economy that has struggled with high unemployment even since
its last recession officially ended in June 2009 and for the
administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, who has faced
criticism for his handling of the economy. The U.S.
unemployment rate stood at 8.9 percent in February.

It is also in line with other recent data, including a
Wednesday report from payrolls processor ADP that said the U.S.
private sector added 201,000 jobs in March. [ID:nN30116504]

One reason job creation has lagged behind the U.S. recovery
is that companies have been reluctant to hire workers until
they saw firm evidence of rising demand and even then they have
been more likely to add lower-paid employees outside the United
States, said Jeff Joerres, CEO of staffing company
ManpowerGroup Inc (MAN.N: Quote, Profile, Research).

“We are signing up for three or four years before we get
back to a 7 percent unemployment rate,” Joerres said.

CEOS FORECAST SALES GROWTH

A key factor driving CEOs’ increased confidence is sales
growth, which 92 percent said they expected over the next six
months. Sixty-two percent said they planned to boost capital
spending over the that period.

For a related graphic click: http://r.reuters.com/bur78r

CEOs now look for U.S. real gross domestic product to rise
2.9 percent in 2011, up from their prior forecast of 2.5
percent growth.

The Roundtable’s quarterly CEO Economic Outlook index —
which measures all these variables — surged to 113.

Investors will get a more detailed read of corporate
America’s economic outlook over the month, as big companies
from Alcoa Inc (AA.N: Quote, Profile, Research) to General Electric Co (GE.N: Quote, Profile, Research) to JPMorgan
Chase & Co (JPM.N: Quote, Profile, Research) report first-quarter results.

The Roundtable, whose nearly 200 member companies
collectively generate close to $6 trillion in annual revenue,
conducted the survey between Feb. 28 and March 18.
(Additional reporting by Nick Zieminski; Editing by Dave
Zimmerman and Steve Orlofsky)

UPDATE 3-U.S. CEOs becoming more willing to hire-Roundtable