As the world's elite settle into a snowy, icy week of panels and cocktail parties in Davos, they'll have a lot to worry about: a nationalist wave is upending the global system. They're also looking more optimistic about their businesses than they were a year ago.
In its annual survey of almost 1,400 chief executives, the audit and professional services firm PwC found the majority are now concerned that protectionism, not free trade, is on the rise, alongside skepticism of big businesses on both the left and right.
"Over the last couple years, what you see is an increase in the amount of concern around geopolitical risk, uncertainty that is more pronounced," PwC's global chairman Bob Moritz told BuzzFeed News. The other major issue that's come to the attention of business chiefs recently, Moritz said, was the public's perception of what they do, especially on social media.
"They're taking an extra step to say how does this play in the eyes of the public," Moritz said. "That consideration is definitely higher on the the management team's agenda than before."
59% of the CEOs polled were concerned about protectionism, including 64% in the US and Mexico. PwC said that the CEOs they talked to "question whether globalization has done anything to close the gap between rich and poor or mitigated the issue of climate change." Some 58% said "it's become harder to balance globalization with rising trends in protectionism."
There is, as expected, a marked gap in the confidence between chief executives and the general public on the benefits of globalization. 60% of them seem to think globalization has worked on its own terms, improving "the movement of capital, goods, and information," while only 38% of the general public believe that.
But the political tides haven't put a dent in CEO's optimism about their businesses. 41% of UK chief executives were "very confident" that they would see revenue growth in the next year, compared to 33% last year. In the US, it jumped from 33% to 39%. In Mexico, public enemy number one of Donald Trump's economic message, optimism about near-term revenue growth fell from 46% to 38%.
Overall, 38% of CEOs were "very confident" they would bring in more money in 2017, compared to 35% last year.
"The question around [trade policy] is that while these risks exist, do they see a material impact in next 12 months?" Moritz said. In the UK, for example, no one knows what an exit from the EU will look like, but that could be years off. "The economic reality is that foreign exchange risk has decreased, there's a lot more investment in manufacturing and things like that," Moritz said.