What’s keeping business leaders up at night?

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For this month’s issue, Fortune Analytics partnered with Diligent Institute, the research arm of Diligent, a global leader in modern governance providing SaaS solutions across governance, risk, compliance, audit and ESG. Diligent granted us exclusive access to the raw data that powers their Corporate Sentiment Tracker. To build that tracker, they continuously scrape the web for executive statements and news coverage of more than 1,489 public companies. The power of the tool is, of course, assessing how business leaders in aggregate are feeling.

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The numbers to know 

10

  • … The number of terms that were among the top 100 (i.e. the 100 terms used most frequently by corporate leaders) in each of the past 36 months. Those terms are: change, China, economy, future, growth, India, markets, people, strategy, and warns.

24

  • … The number of months over the past three years that 5G was among the 100 most used terms by corporate leaders.

25

  • … The number of consecutive months that inflation was among the 100 most used terms by corporate leaders. That streak dates back to December 2020.

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Big picture

  • Heading into 2023, corporate leaders are feeling a bit uneasy. Last month, 52% of corporate leaders’ public statements had a negative connotation (see the second chart below). That compares to 45% in November 2021 and 29% in November 2020. A lot of it can likely be chalked up to stubborn inflation and elevated recession odds.

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A few deeper takeaways

1. Twitter soars up the charts.

While corporate leaders are notorious for avoiding media spotlight, Elon Musk has not only chased it but also, seemingly, loved every second of it. Well, at least he did before 2022. In recent months, Musk’s turbulent takeover of Twitter has muddied the innovator’s public image and become a topic of interest for fellow CEOs. In fact, last month Twitter was the No.7 most commonly used term in corporate leaders’ public statements.  

2. CEOs are talking a lot about inflation—that’s not a good thing.

Not only did researchers at Diligent calculate the terms most frequently used by executives, they also ran a statistical calculation to evaluate if the term had a positive—or negative—usage.

Some things, like “inflation” and “FTX” implying a negative message, are obvious. Others are a bit surprising, including the fact that when corporate leaders talk about “Apple” it almost always has a negative connotation. 

3. Rhetoric wise, CEOs remains somewhat bearish.

On paper, the U.S. economy (outside of rate sensitive sectors like housing and tech) remains fairly strong. The jobless rate is under 4%, while corporate earnings and retail sales continue to be resilient.

That said, corporate leaders appear to be preparing for choppy waters in 2023. Case in point: Just look at how often they talked about “recession” throughout the year.

Our new weekly Impact Report newsletter examines how ESG news and trends are shaping the roles and responsibilities of today’s executives. Subscribe here.

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