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1 big thing: The return-to-office wars are over

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Just 6 out of 158 U.S. CEOs said they'll prioritize bringing workers back to the office full time in 2024, according to a new survey released by the Conference Board, Emily writes.

Why it matters: Executives are increasingly resigned to a world where employees don't come in every day as hybrid work arrangements β€”Β mixing work from home and in-office β€” become the norm for knowledge workers.

Zoom in: "Maintain hybrid work" was cited as a priority by 27% of the U.S. CEOs who responded to the survey conducted in October and November.

  • A separate survey of chief financial officers by Deloitte, conducted in November, found that 65% of CFOs expect their company to offer a hybrid arrangement this year.

State of play: "Remote work appears likely to be the most persistent economic legacy of the pandemic," Goldman Sachs economists wrote in a recent note.

  • About 20%-25% of workers in the U.S. work from home at least part of the week, per Goldman.

What they're saying: "The battle is over," said Diana Scott, human capital center leader at the Conference Board. "There are so many other issues CEOs are facing."

  • Headlines about CEOs determined to get butts in seats get attention, but they are the exception, says Brian Elliott, co-founder of the think tank Future Forum. "There are a lot more CEOs that are actually quietly becoming more flexible."

The big picture: Employees don't like being forced into the office five days a week β€” especially if the strategy behind the policy isn't clear.

  • For example, one bank worker recently said they were told to go to the office, only to wind up on multiple Zoom meetings with little in-person interaction. The experience was frustrating, they told Axios.
  • Though the labor market has softened, employers still care about keeping employees satisfied and don't want to fight with them. "It's not worth the fight," Elliott said.

Of note: Even the CEOs who were loudest about the importance of in-office work are running companies with hybrid options.

  • JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has been a vocal proponent of a return to office since 2020 β€” and while the bank's senior executives are required to come in five days a week, other JPM office workers can be home for two days.

Flashback: Before the pandemic, the tech was essentially in place to enable remote work, but executives were nervous about it.

  • At the time, Elliott was an executive at Slack and said they discussed moving to remote work.
  • But "we never did it because we didn't have any experience doing it and we were afraid it wouldn't work."
  • The pandemic changed the company's strategy, he said.

2. By the numbers: WFH

Data: Goldman Sachs estimate; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Goldman Sachs estimate; Chart: Axios Visuals

The share of Americans working from home at least part of the time has fallen quite a bit from its pandemic peak.

  • Yes, but: Before the pandemic, the share who worked remotely some of the time was just 3%.

3. Catch up quick

πŸ“° Baltimore Sun sold to Sinclair chairman David Smith. (Axios)

πŸš— Musk wants 25% voting control at Tesla. (Reuters)

πŸ‡¨πŸ‡³ China's economy grew 5.2% in 2023, Premier says. (WSJ)

4. NYC's plan to convert offices to homes

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A program to jumpstart the conversion of old New York City office buildings into residential space is up and running, Axios' Kate Marino writes.

What's happening: A total of 46 buildings are enrolled in NYC's Office Conversion Accelerator, which kicked off in August. Four have already begun the conversion process, and are expected to create more than 2,100 housing units, a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams' administration tells Axios exclusively.

Why it matters: Post-pandemic, cities have no choice but to evolve.

  • Hybrid work is here to stay; meanwhile, a long-standing housing shortage has helped send rents soaring.

The big picture: Converting some office space into apartments is much easier said than done. It's complex and expensive, and city building restrictions often get in the way.

  • City and state leaders across the country started talking about office conversions from the early days of the pandemic β€” and now, sweeping government programs to spur the process are finally taking shape.

How it works: NYC's Office Conversion Accelerator includes representatives from several city agencies β€” including the Department of City Planning, the Department of Buildings and the Landmarks Preservation Commission, to name a few.

  • It aims to create a first-of-its-kind support system for helping the owners of buildings navigate the process.
  • The program assists with things like identifying and addressing barriers to conversion, analyzing zoning feasibility, and helping projects secure the necessary permits.

State of play: The mayor's office is also proposing a package of changes to city regulations to eliminate red tape that's standing in the way of more conversions. Those changes β€” which could get a City Council vote this year β€” include:

  • Conversion eligibility for any building constructed prior to 1990 (currently the cutoff is 1961 or 1977, depending on the area).
  • Allowing non-residential buildings to convert to housing anywhere in the city that residential uses are permitted (right now, conversions are allowed only in a small number of office districts).
  • Enabling a wider variety of conversions β€” into formats like shared housing and dorms.
  • The proposed legislation would also end parking mandates for any new housing β€” not just office conversions.

Meanwhile: The Adams administration is also asking state lawmakers to put tax incentives in place for converting offices into affordable housing.

5. Get ready for another strong earnings season

Data: FactSet, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: FactSet, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

The backdrop for Q4 U.S. corporate profits looks healthy, Matt writes.

State of play: Big banking and financial firms started the festivities last Friday, with more (including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) this morning and hundreds of companies to follow in the coming weeks.

  • Wall Street analysts forecast S&P 500 earnings per share will grow 1.2% in Q4 compared to Q4 2022.

Yes, but: Estimates are by definition, wrong. And typically, they're lower than what ends up getting reported.

  • Case in point, just before the Q3 earnings season last year, analysts expected EPS growth of 0.5%. It turned out to be 6.1%.

The big picture: While any given company could produce ugly Q4 numbers, from a macro perspective, the backdrop for corporate profits looks quite good.

Between the lines: What's more, prices for consumers are still rising faster than the more subdued rate of inflation measured by the Producer Price Index β€” which tracks wholesale prices that business owners face.

The bottom line: It should be pretty fat.

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Axios Markets is edited by Kate Marino and copy edited by Mickey Meece.