Confidence among U.S. chief executive officers in the first quarter climbed to the highest level in almost three years, a private survey shows.

Bloomberg News reported that the Young Presidents’ Organization said last week that higher expectations for the economy, sales and labor market helped push up its Global Pulse Index of U.S. sentiment to 65.1, the strongest since the survey began in July 2009, from 62.2 in the prior three months. Readings greater than 50 show the outlook was more positive than negative. The Dallas-based group’s gauge of sales in the coming 12 months advanced to 71, the highest since records began, from 67.8 in the previous quarter.

Fifty-six percent of the executives surveyed said the economy would improve in the next six months, up from 51% in the prior period. More optimism among businesses may help encourage faster growth in payrolls, which grew in April at the slowest pace in six months.

“Confidence among U.S. CEOs shrank in the second and third quarters of last year in response to a variety of factors, but that has changed over the past two quarters,” Stephen Slifer, YPO Global Pulse economic adviser and chief economist at NumberNomics, said in a statement. “GDP is growing again.”

While the Labor Department’s data showed a weaker-than-projected 115,000 gain in April employment, according to the Bloomberg News survey median, the YPO’s employment index increased to 61.6, also the highest since records began, from 59.8. A measure of capital spending plans climbed to 63 in the first quarter from 60.5 in the prior three months.

The gain in the U.S. gauge helped boost it above the YPO’s Global Confidence Index, which increased to 63.8 at the beginning of 2012 from 61.2 in the fourth quarter.

The non-profit service organization’s findings for the U.S. were based on responses to an electronic survey conducted during the first half of April.