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U.S. CEOs slightly more optimistic on economy, hiring: survey

(Reuters) - U.S. chief executives expect to hire more workers in the next six months and for sales to improve modestly, a tepid if slightly optimistic reading on the U.S. economy, a Business Roundtable survey has found.

The group's CEO Economic Outlook Index, released on Wednesday, rose to 84.3 in the second quarter from 81 in the first quarter and 65.5 in the fourth quarter of 2012. Any reading above 50 indicated economic growth was expected.

The survey results showed that corporate optimism was inching higher as consumers spent more on a range of goods.

Roughly 32 percent of CEOs said they expected to hire more workers in the next six months, a slight improvement from prior surveys. Roughly 26 percent of CEOs expected to cut workers, a 1 percentage point increase from the last survey.

The unresolved U.S. debt crisis as well as an "uncertain political environment" were holding back the American economy, the survey found.

"Overall, CEOs see the U.S. economy still on a slow road to recovery," Jim McNerney, chairman of the Business Roundtable and CEO of Boeing Co , said in a statement.

CEOs said they planned to spend less on capital projects in the next six months. Many companies have stashed billions in cash amid uncertainty about U.S. tax reform. Some estimates have put Corporate America's cash stockpile near $2 trillion.

The Roundtable surveyed 141 CEOs from May 13 through May 31.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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