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President Trump delivers opening remarks at the beginning of a policy forum with CEOs. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Confidence among the nation's top CEOs saw the biggest quarter-over-quarter drop in 7 years and hit a level not seen since the 4th quarter of 2016, according to a closely-watched survey by the Business Roundtable.

Why it matters: Corporate America's level of optimism has dramatically receded from the levels when President Trump took office. Amid heightened trade war uncertainty, CEOs have downgraded expectations for hiring, capital spending and sales growth — potentially exacerbating fears that the record economic expansion could be coming to an end.

“American businesses now have their foot poised above the brake, and they're tapping the brake periodically.”
— Joshua Bolten, president and CEO of Business Roundtable, in statement

Details: The BRT's economic outlook index has declined for 6 consecutive quarters.

  • At 79.2, this quarter's reading came in above the 50-point level that would indicate the onset of a recession, but the reading "suggests some moderation in the pace of economic growth going forward," the lobbying group noted in the release.
  • 20% of CEOs surveyed expect their company's sales to decrease in the next 6 months — a notable jump from the 9% that said the same last quarter.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

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On the next episode of "Axios on HBO," Axios co-founder Mike Allen interviews White House Senior Advisor Cedric Richmond.

  • Catch the full interview and much more on Sunday, February 28 at 6 pm. ET/PT on all HBO platforms.
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Italy tightens COVID restrictions as experts warn of growing prevalence of variants

Health workers prepare vaccine doses in Iseo, Italy. Photo: Stefano Nicoli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Italy on Saturday announced it was tightening restrictions in five of the country's 20 regions in an effort curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Driving the news: The announcement comes as health experts and scientists warn of the more transmissible coronavirus variants, per Reuters.

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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