Recession is the number one fear for CEOs in 2019, survey says

  • Recession seen as CEO's number one external concern for 2019.
  • US bosses are most fearful of cybersecurity breaches.
  • Keeping and attracting talent the biggest concern within businesses.

As the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos approaches, a new survey of over 800 CEOs has revealed that global business leaders see recession as their number one external concern for 2019.

Threats to global trade and political instability ranked second and third, respectively, according to the survey Thursday by the research group The Conference Board.

The recession risk was touted as the number one concern in Japan, China and Latin America but was only placed third by American executives. In the U.S. threats to cybersecurity was listed as the source of greatest unease with new competitors second.

Trade barriers between the U.S. and China have created fears that a full-blown trade war could derail economies around the world. However, among the C-suite executives questioned in China, trade troubles ranked second while in the United States it came as low as fourth.

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Source: The Conference Board

The picture for internal business concerns was much clearer among CEOs around the world, with all regions ranking the attraction and retention of talent as their number one concern.

"As global competition increases while the pool of available workers decreases, it comes as no surprise that executives cited talent as a top issue in 2019 that's keeping them up at night," said Rebecca Ray, a report author and the executive vice president of human capital at The Conference Board.

There was also a strong consensus among CEOs that disruptive new technologies could upset their existing business models and markets.

China's bosses stood out in the internal concerns category, by revealing fear over how to align compensation with business performance as wage pressures in the country increase.

In addition to gauging concerns for 2019, the survey also asked CEOs and other C-Suite executives about what they think the organization of the future will look like and how their own will perform.

American CEOs expressed the highest confidence level in their culture of any region globally while Chinese counterparts were most confident about their leaders and talent.

Next week, business and political leaders descend on Davos in Switzerland to attend the annual World Economic Forum.

A WEF report this week, called the Global Risks Report 2019, suggested that an increased risk of political confrontations between major powers will prevent business and governments from tackling pressing problems such as climate change or cyberattacks.

WEF surveyed around 1,000 experts and decision-makers with 90 percent saying they expected further economic confrontation between major powers. Almost the same percentage said they expected further weakening of multilateral trading rules.

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