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Higher taxes? CEOs are bracing for it

June 25, 2021, 6:30 PM UTC

Pandemic. Recession. Civil unrest. Chief executive officers are coming out of one of the most challenging periods for business leaders in modern history. Presumably with the worst of the crisis behind them, they can now turn their attention from putting out day-to-day fires and instead focus more on long-term growth.

To get a pulse on how CEOs plan to tackle these post-pandemic years—and where they’re planning to invest—Fortune conducted a survey of CEOs in collaboration with Deloitte. We received 110 CEO responses from June 1-7.* 

Here’s what we found.

The numbers to know 

77%

  •  …of CEOs expect their company to post strong growth over the next 12 months, including 30% who say “very strong.” 

38%

  • …of CEOs say “accelerated or pent-up consumer demand” will be the main driver of their growth over the coming 12 months. 

74%

  • …of CEOs expect the federal government to enact laws this year that increase their company’s overall tax burden. While 26% expect Congress to fail to do so. 

47%

  • …of CEOs expect the business effects of the pandemic to linger beyond 2021. 

58%

  • …of CEOs expect their artificial intelligence spending to increase over the next 12 months. 

The big picture

  • CEOs are very bullish. Among CEOs, 3 in 4 expect strong growth for their company in the next 12 months, while 1 in 4 anticipate modest growth. Among our sample, none said “weak growth.” But that doesn’t mean their bottom lines won’t be impacted: Among CEOs we surveyed, 3 in 4 expect the federal government to increase their firm’s tax burden this year. 

A few deeper takeaways

1. Digital transformation isn’t slowing down. 

Digital companies thrived during the pandemic. Companies and industries that were behind the curve—in particular K–12 and higher education—struggled the most. That explains why firms plan to keep their foot on the digital pedal: Among CEOs, 67% plan to increase spending on A.I. and 82% plan to up technological modernization spending. That latter number includes cybersecurity. Nobody wants to be the next Equifax

Back in May, 74% of surveyed Fortune 500 CEOs said they expect their company to reduce office space in the future. That reduction is already picking up: Among the CEOs we surveyed this month, 51% told Fortune they plan to cut real estate expenses in the coming year. As leases come up, expect more companies to walk—especially in satellite markets. 

2. When it comes to political stances: Employees > consumers. 

Following the murder of George Floyd, corporate America became more vocal on social issues—especially racism in America. That hasn’t stopped: Delta, Coca-Cola, and JPMorgan Chase joined a long list of firms this spring that expressed public outcry to voting law changes being passed through statehouses.

“Let me be crystal clear and unequivocal, this legislation is unacceptable,” said Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey soon after Georgia Republicans unveiled their voting law changes.

But how do CEOs decide when to weigh in—and when not to? Among CEOs we surveyed, 85% said alignment with their company’s strategy, values, and purpose was a top consideration. What’s striking is how little CEOs said they consider customer sentiment (16%). Meanwhile, 46% say employee sentiment is a top concern. 

I’d love to know what you think of the newsletter. Email me with feedback at lance.lambert@fortune.com.

Lance Lambert
@NewsLambert

*Methodology: Fortune surveyed CEOs in collaboration with Deloitte between June 1-7. A total of 110 CEOs responded to the survey, which was sent to the Fortune CEO Community. That Fortune CEO Community includes Fortune 1000 CEOs, Global 1000 CEOs, and CEOs who attend Fortune conferences. 

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