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These 5 things are keeping America's top execs awake at night: survey

America’s most powerful executives have so many major issues swirling around their heads right now, it’s surprising they get any sleep at all.

U.S. CEOs and C-suite executives list the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine availability, recession risk, tighter regulations and higher corporate tax rates as their top five things keeping them up at night as they kick off 2021, according to a new survey released Thursday by The Conference Board. The number one concern among CEOs globally was the pandemic, rounded out by recession risk and vaccine availability.

Another interesting finding: they are more eager to have staff return to offices post pandemic than their overseas counterparts.

The Conference Board compiled data out of 900 CEOs and 600 C-suite executives from Europe, Asia and North America for its survey. The findings (seen below) were tabulated from Nov. 7 to Dec. 10, or after the contentious presidential election but before the insurrection this month on Capitol Hill.

CEOs from around the world remain very concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic.
CEOs from around the world remain very concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the myriad of real world concerns, The Conference Board says CEOs generally remain hopeful for the year ahead.

“While CEOs continue to fret about a possible downturn, 2021 is poised to be the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. In most regions — especially the United States — CEOs believe the distribution of a successful vaccine will have a significant impact on their businesses this year. The spread of COVID-19 vaccines will, among other benefits, provide greater clarity and predictability around short-term planning and operations,” said The Conference Board’s Chief Economist Dana Peterson.

Whether that tiny bit of CEO optimism translates into initial 2021 financial outlooks this coming earnings season is anyone’s guess. But make no mistake, Wall Street is banking on CEOs delivering in a big way on the bottom line this year as the pandemic potentially rounds the corner by the spring.

First quarter 2021 S&P 500 earnings are seen rising 16.5% year-over-year, according to FactSet data, a sharp reversal from the 8.8% drop in the fourth quarter of last year. For 2021, analysts are looking for 22.5% earnings growth. The forward price-to-earnings multiple on the S&P 500 is 22.6 times, well above the five-year average of 17.5 times.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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