American business leaders are having a reality check in the Trump era, skeptical that the president's campaign promises and Republican legislative priorities are likely to come to fruition in the near future. Their biggest concern: the outlook for trade.
According to the latest CNBC Global CFO Council Survey, a majority of U.S. CFOs are less than 50 percent confident that Congress will pass legislation on reforming Obamacare and personal income taxes by the end of this year. Nearly half are less than 25 percent confident that Congress will fund a border wall. On corporate taxes, the most important issue facing most CFOs, the average U.S. council member is only 56 percent confident Congress will pass reforms.
They are generally confident on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch.
The CNBC Global CFO Council represents some of the largest public and private companies in the world, collectively managing more than $4 trillion in market capitalization across a wide variety of sectors. The quarterly CFO Council poll was conducted from March 1–10.
Skepticism goes even further than campaign promises and action in Congress. Forty-five percent of all respondents believe that Trump's meetings with CEOs and business leaders are political theater and will not lead to policy changes that diverge from the administration's ultimate agenda.
Specter of a trade war
As business leaders are nearly split over the effectiveness of Washington's new leadership, they are in unison when it comes to fears over trade and immigration. Nearly all CFOs surveyed are concerned that the Trump administration's policies could trigger a trade war between the United States and China. The Council echoes the growing concern of business experts over the president's persistent tough language regarding trade deficits.
The looming changes to U.S. trade policy is weighing so heavily on the minds of CFOs that the group considers it the second-largest external risk factor to their firms. Consumer demand still remains the most commonly cited risk factor.
When it comes to Trump's stance on immigration, nearly 62 percent of U.S. respondents say his administration's current and future policies would negatively impact their business. Not a single member said such polices would have a positive effect on their firm.
Room to run
Despite growing concerns and uncertainty, Council members across the board see the global economy as stable or improving.
In addition, a healthy majority of respondents believe the Dow has more room to run and will cross 22,000 for the first time versus falling back below 20,000.
Complete survey results below:
(Note: Forty of the 102 current members of the CNBC Global CFO Council responded to this quarter's survey, including 21 U.S.-based members. Members represent a diverse mix of public and private companies from around the world, with more than $4 trillion in market capitalization.)