Chief executives’ confidence in the nation’s economy slipped in the fourth quarter of 2008, hitting its weakest level ever, according to a survey by the Conference Board.

The Conference Board’s measure of CEO confidence dropped to 24 in the fourth quarter from 40 in the third quarter.

The measure is based on quarterly surveys of more than 100 chief executives of U.S. industries. A reading of more than 50 reflects more positive than negative responses.

“The erosion in CEO confidence is a reflection of the rapid and severe deterioration in economic conditions experienced in the final months of 2008,” said Conference Board consumer research center director Lynn Franco. “Looking ahead, CEOs remain extremely pessimistic about overall economic prospects in the first half of 2009.”

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