By Chelsea Emery
CARY, North Carolina (Reuters) - Top U.S. executives are becoming more hopeful about the global economy and the U.S. business outlook, according to a survey of business leaders released on Thursday.
More than 60 percent of corporate leaders surveyed by the Business Council in October now expect conditions in their own industry to improve over the next six months. In contrast, almost 90 percent of those surveyed in February said conditions were worsening.
The outlook is "better and improving, said James Dimon, Business Council vice chairman and JPMorgan Chase & Co <JPM.N> chief executive officer. "It's a really dramatic swing."
More than half of the Business Council members say they expect the global economy to continue to improve moderately during the next six months.
Still, worries about inflation prompted almost 46 percent of CEOs to say the U.S. government should begin to unwind its massive asset purchases to avoid inflationary pressures. In May, just 15 percent of respondents had supported the measure.
The Business Council is an association of about 120 CEOs from the largest U.S. companies. Members meet several times a year to discuss major business issues such as health care policy.
Some 70 percent of the survey respondents said they expected the retail sector to show continued moderate improvement.
"These results are encouraging, given that consumer confidence is rated the single most important factor in shaping the outlook for 2010," according to the survey, which was compiled by the Conference Board.
CEOs said their ability to raise prices had improved. More than 53 percent said pricing power had stabilized and 26 percent said prices were rising.
Still, executives remain cautious about next year. The majority of Business Council members expect the U.S. economy to grow at a rate of 2 percent or less during the first half of 2010.
"We need to create an environment here that attracts investment," said James Owens, chairman and CEO of Caterpillar Inc <CAT.N>. "We're going to need to make a transformation as an economy into one that saves more, invests more and exports more."
The theme of the October gathering, taking place on Thursday and Friday in Cary, North Carolina, is energy and climate change.
"As we attempt to emerge from the current (economic lag), energy will be an important component," said Rex Tillerson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Exxon Mobil Corp <XOM.N>.
When asked whether the United States or China would fare better in facing energy, climate and sustainability challenges, the Business Council vote was balanced, with 26 percent saying China and 25 saying the United States.
(Reporting by Chelsea Emery; editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Andre Grenon)