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CEOs tread cautiously at this year's global summit

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This article first appeared in the Morning Brief. Get the Morning Brief delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday at 6:30am ET. Subscribe

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Today’s bulletin is from julie hyman, anchor and correspondent for Yahoo Finance. Follow Julie on Twitter @juleshyman. Read this and more market news on the go with Yahoo finance app.

One of the regular accusations leveled at attendees of the World Economic Forum in Davos is that they talk about climate change… then fly to Zurich on private jets.

The WEF said it offsets all these trips by buying carbon credits. Some CEOs responded by flying commercially, which has a smaller carbon footprint.

But the executives and world leaders we spoke to last week seemed increasingly aware of how they are viewed outside their bubble in the Swiss Alps, and are making some attempts to address those perceptions.

As my colleague Brian Sozzi wrote in yesterday’s Morning Brief, participants at the World Economic Forum didn’t pay much attention to Elon Musk, although Musk has returned to fire at the annual meeting.

Ignoring the antagonistic billionaire, however, doesn’t mean the proceedings at Davos haven’t taken on a new air of self-awareness about this annual gathering of the global elite.

“It’s something that people are very aware of now and more and more,” said S&P Global CEO Doug Peterson in Davos. Peterson said he flies commercially for international travel. The Yahoo Finance team shared a commercial flight with another top US CEO en route back to the US this weekend.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 17: A view of the Zurich Kloten Airport after the arrival of the private and VIP planes of the participants of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting held in Davos in Zurich, Switzerland on January 17, 2023 (Photo by Michele Crameri/Agência Anadolu via Getty Images)

View from Zurich Kloten Airport on arrival of private and VIP planes of participants of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting held in Davos in Zurich, Switzerland on January 17, 2023. (Photo by Michele Crameri/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

But it’s not just internet trolls or climate activists like Greta Thunberg whose voices have been raised to the altitude where CEOs reside. Executives told Yahoo Finance they are hearing from their home communities and employees that they expect corporations to be good partners.

“Today we live in a world where our employees want to know us as humans,” said Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins. “Our employees really care about the culture. They care about their purpose. In fact, if you look at some of the most recent surveys, employees will say that pay is no longer number one.”

Tech executives, in particular, are keenly aware of the optics of hosting lavish parties in Davos while cutting back on expenses at home. Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince decided to tone it down this year, choosing not to throw the company’s typical hot party. (Cloudflare even sponsored a popular piano bar.)

“It just didn’t seem like the right year to celebrate,” said Prince. “When we see a lot of companies laying off people, when we see people in the tech industry really struggling, the idea of ​​flying a big artist, spending a lot of money on a lavish party, didn’t make a lot of sense. .”

Prince appeared to be throwing shade at Microsoft, which reportedly hosted Sting and 50 attendees at a party earlier in the week before news broke that the company was laying off 10,000 people.

Salesforce also threw a party whose coveted invites were hard to come by, and which featured a performance by The Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde.

But this party was squeezed between news of layoffs earlier this month and Monday’s revelation that activists Elliott Management and Jeff Ubben’s Inclusive Capital have acquired stakes in the software giant. Investors also noticed the disconnect. And maybe feel an opening.

These types of parties – some of them with purported themes like sustainability – are designed to illustrate that Davos is not a sinister gathering of a dark cabal of global executives, political leaders and non-governmental organizations, but is a chance for the high-flyers. to get a lot of facetime with your colleagues in a concentrated period.

This year’s conference also showed, sometimes to odd effect, that CEOs are trying to cross a tricky line between business and philanthropy, a challenge of so-called stakeholder capitalism.

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, who has pushed his huge money management firm even further into ESG investing, has been attacked by activists on both sides for going too far and not going far enough.

“Attacks are now personal,” Fink said during a panel last week.

What does all this Davos self-awareness and sensitivity mean for investors?

Probably more caution and caution on the part of companies and their leaders.

With the global economy slowing — and there was lively debate among Davos executives about how much — expect a little more tact from Corporate America 2023. And not just in its balance sheets, but also in managing its public images.

what to watch today

Economy

  • 8:30 am ET: Philadelphia Fed Non-Manufacturing ActivityJanuary (-17 over previous month, revised to -12.8)

  • 9:45 am Eastern time: S&P Global US Manufacturing PMIJanuary Preliminary (46.0 expected, 46.2 during prior month)

  • 9:45 am Eastern time: S&P Global US Services PMIJanuary Preliminary (45.3 expected, 44.7 during prior month)

  • 9:45 am Eastern time: S&P Global US Composite PMIPreliminary January (46.4 expected, 45.0 during previous month)

  • 10 am ET: Richmond Fed Manufacturing IndexJanuary (-5 expected, 1 during previous month)

  • 10 am ET: Richmond Fed trading conditionsJanuary (-14 during the previous month)

earnings

  • Microsoft Corporation (MSFT), 3M (MMM), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), hasbro (HE HAS), halliburton (HAL), Lockheed Martin (LMT), Verizon Communications (VZ), Lockheed Martin (LMT), general electrical (GE), The Traveling Companies (TRV), Financial Capital One (COF), Texas Instruments (TXN)

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