American business still is not showing any visible evidence of the sharp pickup in capital spending that the Carter administration is counting on to spur the economy this year and next, a new survey showed yesterday.
The Commerce Department's latest sampling indicates outlays for new plant and equipment are likely to rise only 5.5 per cent this year, after adjustment for inflation - a modest gain.
Although the figure marked a stepup from the 4.5 per cent "real" gain estimated in a January survey, it still was far below the 8 to 10 per cent rise the Carter administration says is needed to keep the recovery robust.
The report also revised to 7 per cent the "real" increase in capital spending outlays for 1977. In January's sampling, that figure was estimated at 8 per cent, but the fourth quarter's spending fell below expectations.
The lackluster showing was regarded as disappointing. Juanita M. Kreps, the Secretary of Commerce, said the slowdown from 1977 levels "confirms the vital need to resolve the uncertainty surrounding energy policy."
White House officials appeared less anxious about the figures. Analysts cited a recent survey by the McGraw Hill Publishing Company showing a somewhat more robust rise. Both surveys are known to have some flaws.
Capital spending is important because policy makers have been counting on an investment surge to fuel the recovery when consumer outlays begin to lag. Capital investment has been weak in the past several years.
Economists have been attributing the poor performance to lack of confidence by business in the economic outlook - particularly with respect to inflation. The slump in the stock market is regarded as a companion indicator.
The 5.5 per cent rise in outlays was computed after adjustment to account for inflation. Before any adjustment, the rise was 10.9 per cent, compared to 10.1 per cent in the January survey and 12.7 per cent in 1977.
Yesterday's survey showed businesses plan to increase their outlays by 5.9 per cent in the first quarter of this year, slowing to 2 per cent in the April-June quarter and 3.8 per cent in the second half.
The survey pegged actual spending on new plant and equipment in the final three months of 1977 at $138.1 billion, compounded to an annual rate - a decline of 1.6 per cent from the previous quarter's pace.
If yesterday's survey proves to be accurate, it would push capital spending for 1978 up to $150.68 billion, up from $135.8 billion in 1977. Of this total, manufacturing industries are planning a 12 per cent rise.