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Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Recession across the world's biggest economies is the main concern of chief executive officers gathering today in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

The threat of a decline ranked first among the concerns of business leaders surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP as executives including News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and Merrill Lynch & Co.'s John Thain attend the World Economic Forum's annual meeting. It was the first time that the risk of a slump topped the survey, which the accounting and consulting firm has conducted for 11 years.

``The big concern on the minds of CEOs is an economic recession,'' said Samuel DiPiazza, chief executive of PricewaterhouseCoopers, in an interview in Davos.

The assembly of business leaders, investors, policy makers and academics takes place after stock markets from Hong Kong to London tumbled on speculation the world economy will be hobbled as a U.S. slowdown spreads. While the Federal Reserve yesterday lowered its benchmark interest rate in the first emergency shift since 2001, U.S. stocks still fell for a fifth day.

``There's panic in the markets and the effect of the Fed's rate move is already fizzling out,'' said Axel Heitmann, a delegate and chief executive officer of Lanxess AG, a German maker of chemicals used by the leather and automotive industries.

Europe, U.S. Gloomiest

Just half the 1,150 executives surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers said they were ``very confident'' about revenue growth this year, down from 52 percent last year. The drop was the first since 2003 and most pronounced in the U.S. and Europe.

The prospect of shrinking economies beat out over- regulation, terrorism and a dozen other challenges listed in the PricewaterhouseCoopers survey. The mood is in contrast to the buoyancy of last year's meeting, where guests celebrated a bumper year of profits and bonuses, and the strongest global economy in three decades on the ski slopes and party circuit.

Last year ``it was go-go-go, we're all going to win,'' said DiPiazza. ``The CEOs of the developed world know we're in for a bumpy ride.''

In the U.S., 36 percent of executives said they were ``very confident,'' compared with 54 percent last year, while 44 percent of Europeans expressed the same sentiment, down from 52 percent. Japanese executives were the most skittish, with just 31 percent calling themselves very optimistic.

``We have this very serious financial crisis with global repercussions,'' Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard University economist said in Luxembourg yesterday as he headed to Davos. ``The U.S. is very lucky if the economy grows out slowly.''

Subprime Collapse

What's changed in the past year is the spreading fallout from the U.S. housing recession, which triggered a collapse in the market for subprime mortgages and investments tied to them. That has forced lenders to retrench, threatening consumer spending and business investment by pushing up credit costs around the world.

Economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Merrill Lynch are already predicting the world's biggest economy will fall this year into its first recession in seven years. The Fed yesterday said it cut rates ``in view of a weakening of the economic outlook and increasing downside risks to growth.''

The reduction in the target overnight lending rate to 3.5 percent from 4.25 percent was the biggest single cut since the Fed began using the rate as the principal tool of monetary policy around 1990.

Dollar, Oil

A falling dollar and near-record oil costs are providing more sources of discomfort for Davos executives.

``We are confronting a crisis, in many ways,'' Klaus Schwab, the forum's founder and chairman, said in an interview. ``The mood is concerned.''

One source of comfort was increased optimism among executives in emerging markets, reflecting the recent economic rise of countries such as China and India. In both China and Russia, 73 percent said they were ``very confident'' about revenue expansion in the year ahead, while 90 percent of those in India reported the same level of optimism. The level of optimism in Russia was more than double that of a year ago.

``Markets in China, India and Russia are growing much better and to a certain extent will provide compensation for the world economy for whatever losses the U.S. has,'' said Andrei Kostin, chief executive officer of VTB Group, Russia's second- biggest bank, in an interview.

Executives reported less appetite for international mergers and acquisitions, with just 38 percent of those surveyed saying they had completed or planned to conclude such a transaction, down from 47 percent last year.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers survey was conducted between September and November. About 40 percent of respondents were from companies with annual revenue of more than $1 billion.