New year, same fear: Recession is still a top concern for CEOs in 2020, according to a new survey

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  • Recession is the top worry globally in 2020 for CEOs and C-suite executives, according to a survey released Thursday by The Conference Board.
  • It’s the second year in a row that recession fears have been at the top of the global list. In the US, recession jumped from the third-biggest fear in 2019 to the top one in 2020.
  • Business leaders are also worried about trade uncertainty, political instability, and more competition from disruptive technologies, the survey found. Internally, they’re worried about attracting and retaining the best talent.
  • Read more on Business Insider.

At the start of 2020, business leaders around the world are worrying about the same thing they did in 2019, according to a survey from The Conference Board released Thursday.

Recession topped the global list of external worries for CEOs and other C-suite executives for the second year in a row, according to the survey, which asked nearly 750 CEOs and 800 C-suite executives about the issues that will require immediate attention in 2020.

In the US, recession fears rose from being the third-biggest concern in 2019 to be the top one for the year ahead.

“The ongoing concerns about recession risk among business leaders reflect the slowing economy of the past year and the uncertainties about the outcome of the trade disputes and other policy concerns,” Bart van Ark, chief economist at The Conference Board, said in a press release.

He continued: “However, given a slightly better outlook for the global economy and an easing of trade tensions, we anticipate that a drumbeat of negative sentiment – which can become a self-fulling prophecy – can be avoided, and that we will see more confidence about business prospects in 2020.”

The Conference Board survey isn’t the only one showing that business leaders are bracing for recession in 2020. More than half of US businesses expect one will will start around the November presidential election, Duke University’s CFO survey released December 11 showed.

Aside from fearing a global recession, business leaders are worried about trade uncertainty, political instability, and more intense competition from disruptive technologies, The Conference Board survey found.

Many of these risks to business escalated in 2019. While the US economy managed to avoid a recession in 2019 after a slew of indicators sent up red flags, other economies weren’t so lucky. In Europe, the UK, Italy, and Germany are either in or near recession, and China’s economy also continues to slow.

Trade concerns ramped up as well, as talks between the US and China dragged on. While a phase-one deal is set to be signed, there’s still uncertainty around what a phase-two deal between the two countries will look like.

And in 2020, a number of countries will hold important elections that could rattle markets and hurt business sentiment. The UK, US, and Germany are all at risk of leadership transition in 2020, which could be bad for markets, wrote Scott Helfstein of Morgan Stanley in a recent note.

Internally, CEOs and C-suite executives are most worried about attracting and retaining top talent, the survey found. Also high on the list were developing innovative products and cultures, and cultivating future leaders.

“The global challenge in acquiring and retaining talent requires companies to be more strategic – knowing not only what qualities and skills to recruit for, but also how to recruit more efficiently and effectively,” said Rebecca Lea Ray, Ph.D., executive vice president of human capital at The Conference Board.