Colin Barr

Following the money in banking, economics, and Washington

Who cares if CEOs are confident?

May 9, 2011: 12:04 PM ET

How out of it are America's overpaid CEOs?

Pretty out of it, if you can glean anything by comparing some recent glowing surveys of CEO confidence with the sinking signs coming out of the job market.

How many yachts can it waterski behind?

The latest bad news on the jobs front comes from the Conference Board, which said Monday its employment trends index posted its biggest decline last month in two years. The index is based on eight data series collected elsewhere, including the government's initial jobless claims report and a privately conducted small business hiring survey.

Despite Friday's positive jobs report headline, five of the eight indicators turned negative in April, the business networking group said. This is not, let's say, a good sign.

"While employment is growing at the fastest rate in years, the leading indicators for employment are decisively flashing yellow," said the Conference Board's Gad Levanon. "It is unlikely that the current pace of job growth can be maintained in the months ahead."

Yet you'd see no yellow flashes anywhere to look at the various surveys of the seven-digit-paycheck set. The preferred tint there is rose.

The latest is one this month from the Young Presidents' Organization, which advises that chief executives are more confident than ever.

"Ever" is admittedly a relative term here, stretching all the way back to April 2009. Even so, the record finding jibes with the one trumpeted earlier this spring by the Business Roundtable, which said its CEO confidence index hit its highest level in its nine-year run.

Both surveys supposedly show that top executives at cash-rich U.S. companies are finally ready to start investing in a move that should push up job growth. And that's surely going to happen to some extent, given the signs corporate leaders have cut as much as they can (except of course for their own compensation, some things being sacred and all).

So we will no doubt see some hiring out of these guys. But it won't likely be enough to make the rest of us confident about the economy, which is the more important thing.

Follow me on Twitter @ColinCBarr.

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About This Author
Colin Barr
Colin Barr
Senior Writer, Fortune

Colin Barr has covered finance for Fortune.com since November 2007. Previously he was a writer and editor for TheStreet.com, winning a 2006 Society of American Business Editors and Writers award for "The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street," and for Dow Jones Newswires. He is a 1991 graduate of Penn State and lives in Port Washington, N.Y., with his wife Meena Bose and their two kids.

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