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U.S. CEOs now see a double-dip recession as more likely than a V-shaped recovery

July 30, 2020, 12:37 PM UTC

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow declared Sunday that the U.S. economy was experiencing a V-shaped recovery. But that bullish view is not shared by American chief executive officers.

The Conference Board provided Fortune an exclusive look at its survey of global CEOs and C-suite executives. Among the U.S. CEOs, 42% foresee a U-shaped recovery—that is, a more moderate rebound—while 26% expect the dreaded L-shaped recovery, and 23% a W-shaped recovery, or a double-dip recession. Only 9% of U.S. CEOs predict a V-shaped recovery, or when an economy rebounds nearly as quickly as it contracted.

But the rest of the world is a bit less pessimistic, finds the Conference Board’s survey of more than 1,300 CEOs around the world in June. In China, 64% of executives expect a V-shaped or U-shaped recovery, the two best possible outcomes. That number was 59% among European business heads, and 51% among U.S. CEOs.

Economic pessimism can translate into CEOs being less likely to pull the trigger on the business investments needed to drive the economy out of this crisis and generate growth within their firm.

Among U.S. CEOs, only 12% expect their company’s revenues to rebound before the end of 2020; 51% say in 2021, and 22% say 2022 or later. Only 17% of company chiefs in China and 14% in Europe foresee revenues recovering in 2022 or later.

Also in the survey, the U.S. has more companies that say the pandemic didn’t cause revenue to fall. Among CEOs in the U.S., 15% did not see their revenues decline during the crisis, compared to 10% in China and 8% in Europe.

How can it be that the U.S. is the region where both the highest share of firms were unaffected by the crisis, but that most corporate chiefs there now expect a recovery to drag out over multiple years? Many tech firms are actually benefiting from a pandemic that is speeding up digital transformations. And the U.S. is packed with these tech firms, like Adobe, which have seen their sales climb during the pandemic.

The Conference Board finds that 60% of European CEOs and 57% of their American counterparts say the accelerating digital transformation is the most important long-term impact resulting from the pandemic. That number is 40% among CEOs in China.

“CEOs and C-suite executives see opportunity to transform their organizations into digitally driven enterprises that will be leaner and more agile in a post-COVID-19 world. At the same time, they see a long-term strategic opportunity to cut costs,” wrote researchers at the Conference Board in the report.