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Data: Deloitte; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Top executives of North American companies said expectations for earnings and revenue growth for the next year have declined slightly, but prospects to return more money to shareholders are on the upswing, according Deloitte's quarterly survey of more than 130 chief financial officers.

The big picture: At U.S. companies, expectations for shareholder payouts are at the highest level in the survey's 8-year history, accelerated in recent months — along with stock buybacks — by proceeds from the GOP's tax law. Whether corporations use the windfall to fund dividends or share repurchases as opposed to reinvesting in the broader economy has been a sticking point for those who oppose the tax law.

Other findings:

  • For the first time this year, executives said internal factors like quality of talent or innovation were more of a risk to company performance than external ones like an economic slowdown, interest rates, or policy uncertainty. Still, CFOs were "overwhelmingly" worried about the trade war and tariffs.
  • More than 70% of CFOs said U.S. stock markets are overvalued. That's the most in two quarters, but still below the two-year average.
  • Optimism about their own company's prospects fell for the second straight quarter, led by companies in the technology and banking sectors.

Go deeper

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The blockbuster New York Times report on President Trump’s taxes reveals that the president is $421 million in debt, with more than $300 million coming due during Trump’s potential second term — and the identities of the president’s creditors remain unknown.

Why it matters: If some, or all, of this debt is held by foreign actors, it raises serious national security implications.

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House report: U.S. intelligence agencies have failed to adapt to China threat

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The House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday released a report finding that the U.S. intelligence community has failed to adapt to the growing threat from China, arguing that it will struggle to compete on the global stage for decades to come if it does not implement major changes.

The big picture: The 200-page report, based on thousands of analytic assessments and hundreds of hours of interviews with intelligence officers, determined that the intelligence community's focus on counterterrorism after 9/11 allowed China "to transform itself into a nation potentially capable of supplanting the United States as the leading power in the world."

Updated 24 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Tim Scott says Trump "misspoke" when he told Proud Boys to "stand by"

Photo: Bonnie Cash/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) told reporters on Wednesday that he believes President Trump "misspoke" when he told the far-right "Proud Boys" group to "stand back and stand by" in response to a question about condemning white supremacy at the first presidential debate.

Catch up quick: Moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump on Tuesday, "Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down?" Trump asked who specifically he should condemn, and then responded, "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left."