The Business Council, an informal grouping of 125 CEOs of America's biggest companies, published an embarrassing correction on Tuesday to a survey of its members' outlook on the US economy.

Citing a “tabulation error”, the council said that its members were in fact “guardedly optimistic” about the outlook for 2005, in place of last week's prediction of “sluggish” growth.

The council said its members had actually projected “moderate to solid” growth of somewhere between 2.1 and 4.5 per cent in the survey. Last week the survey had reported 70 per cent of its members expecting flat to 2 per cent growth.

The survey was released during the group's annual meeting in Irving, Texas. Its findings contrasted sharply with the 3.8 per cent growth figure for 2005 predicted recently by the National Association for Business Economics and the 4.1 per cent estimate by the Congressional Budget Office.

The report was also released during a highly charged week in US politics, just before the second presidential debate between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry.

Philip Cassidy, the Business Council's executive director, cited a basic error by staff preparing the report. “It was a computational error.

“The spreadsheet shifted so the wrong numbers appeared in the wrong columns,” he told Reuters. “It was just one column on the spreadsheet.”

Some of the business leaders present in Irving last week had expressed surprise at the survey's results.

Chad Holliday, chairman of the Business Council and Dupont's chairman and chief executive, expressed surprise at the downbeat aggregate assessment, because respondents had been more optimistic about their own companies. David Berson, the economist who prepared the report, said that the “revision confirms that the outlook is considerably more positive than originally thought and provides better alignment between projected economic growth and the sales and profits anticipated from their own firms by the council members in 2005”.

Mr Berson works as chief economist for Fannie Mae, the government-sponsored mortgage lending company whose accounting methods have come under intense regulatory scrutiny.

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