CEOs are acting with caution at this year’s global gathering

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Today’s newsletter is from Julie Hyman, presenter and correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow Julie on Twitter @juleshyman. Read this and other market news wherever you are with the Yahoo Finance app.

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

The WEF said it offsets all of these trips by buying carbon credits. Some CEOs have responded by taking commercial flights, which have a lower carbon footprint.

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

As my colleague Brian Sozzi wrote in yesterday’s Morning Brief, World Economic Forum attendees paid no attention to Elon Musk, even though Musk took a beating again at the annual gathering.

Ignoring the antagonistic billionaire, however, doesn’t mean the debates in 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 becoming more and more aware of,” Doug Peterson, CEO of S&P Global, told us in Davos. Peterson said he flies commercially for international travel. The Yahoo Finance team shared a business flight with another top US CEO on their way back to the US this weekend.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 17: A view of Zurich Kloten Airport as private and VIP planes arrive for attendees of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting held in Davos, Zurich, in Switzerland, January 17, 2023. (Photo by Michele Crameri/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A view of Zurich Kloten Airport upon arrival of private and VIP planes of attendees of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting held in Davos, 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 at the altitude where CEOs reside. Executives told Yahoo Finance that their home communities and employees expect companies to be good partners.

“We live in a world today where our employees want to know us as human beings,” said Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins. “Our employees really care about the culture. They care about your purpose. In fact, if you look at some of the latest surveys, employees will tell you that pay is no longer number one.”

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

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

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

Salesforce also hosted a party whose coveted invitations were hard to come by and which included a performance by Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde.

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

These types of parties – some of them with putative themes like sustainability – are designed to illustrate that Davos is not some sinister gathering of a dark cabal of world leaders, political leaders and non-governmental organizations, but is a chance for high-flyers to get plenty of facetime with their counterparts in a concentrated period.

This year’s conference also showed, with sometimes awkward effect, that CEOs attempt to straddle a delicate line between business and philanthropy, a challenge of so-called stakeholder capitalism.

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, who has taken his huge fund management company further in ESG investing, has come under attack from activists on both sides for going too far and not far enough.

“The attacks are personal now,” Fink told a panel last week.

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

Probably more caution and prudence from companies and their leaders.

With the global economy slowing – and there was heated debate among Davos executives over how much – expect a little more tact from Corporate America 2023. And not just on their balance sheets, but also on management of their public images.

What to watch today

Economy

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: Philadelphia Fed non-manufacturing activityJanuary (-17 in previous month, revised to -12.8)

  • 9:45 a.m. ET: US S&P Global Manufacturing PMIJanuary Preliminary (46.0 expected, 46.2 in previous month)

  • 9:45 a.m. ET: S&P Global US Services PMIJanuary preliminary (45.3 expected, 44.7 in previous month)

  • 9:45 a.m. ET: S&P Global US Composite PMIJanuary Preliminary (46.4 expected, 45.0 in previous month)

  • 10:00 a.m. ET: Richmond Fed Manufacturing IndexJanuary (-5 forecast, 1 in previous month)

  • 10:00 a.m. ET: Richmond Fed Trading TermsJanuary (-14 in previous month)

Earnings

  • Microsoft Corporation (MSFT), 3M (MMM), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Hasbro (HAS), Halliburton (HAL), Lockheed Martin (LMT), Verizon Communications (VZ), Lockheed Martin (LMT), General Electric (GE), Traveler Companies (TRV), Capital One Financial (COF), Texas Instruments (TXN)

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