Davos Notebook

Knowing one’s place in Davos

The big, big question for the hordes of journalists churning up the fresh, Davos snow is not how to end global economic turmoil, but where their hard-won World Economic Forum accreditation allows them to roam.

A record cast of more than 40 heads of state and government,  more than 30 finance ministers and central bankers, as well as 1,400 business executives, will be hotly pursued by 400 journalists, colour-coded into white and orange badge holders.

The 200 snow-coloured badges are the most highly prized. Anyone holding one is considered a participant, who can contribute to the great debate on setting the world to rights. They can follow World Economic Forum delegates anywhere, provided the security guards allow.

Their footsteps will be measured by pedometers handed out to every white-badge holder who enters the running for The-One-Who-Can-Walk-The-Furthest contest as they attend this year’s relatively low-key dinners and comparatively demure cocktail parties.

Another 200 orange badge holders, whose footsteps will go uncounted but who did receive coveted WEF laptop cases, are allowed into press conferences and the Davos Congress Centre where the debates and panel sessions will unfold. But, orange badge holders will not be able to listen to the great debates. They will also be excluded from the best parties unless they can gate-crash their way in.

My Secret Davos

Some go to Davos to think great thoughts. Some go to mingle and network. Some go to give or get answers to intractable problems.


Sure I’m here for the work – Reuters news is deeply involved in coverage with live TV every morning and a team of specialist journalists digging for scoops; I’m also moderating a couple of panels on Asian Innovation and on Brazil’s potential and participating in a further one on collaboration.

But forget all that, and the cocktail parties and the networking with other members of the International Media Council.

from The Great Debate:

Turning the tables: Can you help Davos leaders?

Klaus SchwabDavos is a well-rehearsed event and everyone knows the part they should play. Business and political leaders gather each year to tackle the major challenges of a global economy while the rest of the world, or those of its citizens who are interested, look on from afar. But this year, for obvious reasons, things are different. The notion of leadership has been coupled in the public mind with that of responsibility. The tone here is a little more humble and the attitude more open-minded. There's a recognition that new thinking is required.  A suitable time, perhaps, to turn the tables on convention and have Davos delegates ask the questions they can't answer and for global citizens to offer solutions.

Gamefully opening the discourse is Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and President of the World Economic Forum.

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If you've got suggestions for Klaus then use the comments section below.

from James Saft:

Could Davos mark the bottom?

It is, no doubt, going to be the most gloomy World Economic Forum in years ever. Fewer parties, lower profiles for the masters of the universe TARP.

OK, don’t get too excited but is it just possible that Davos is meeting at the bottom point for the global economy, which means, for those of you keeping score at home, that things might actually get better from here? It’s not much to go on, but some of this morning’s German IFO numbers were encouraging, particularly the forward looking expectations bit. Further, US home sales were higher than expected yesterday, though that is likely just the beginning of a foreclosure sale boom that will wither values and bank balance sheets. Credit markets are a bit less clogged too.

Weeellll, probably not really. A bottom isn't a recovery after all and for one thing we've yet to get the inevitable multiplying effects fully from crashing demand in emerging markets. Still somewhere under that snow shoots must be forming, right?

from James Saft:

Balance of power upended at Davos

So, back we go next week to Davos for the World Economic Forum 2009, titled this year "Shaping the post-crisis world."

Except the crisis ain't over yet and shaping the world while it is happening is proving to be about as easy as tying your shoes while riding a bicycle.

Let's dial back briefly to those more innocent days in 2008 and remember what was being discussed at Davos then.

Bankers – Ever thought about working for Big Pharma?

    Are you an out-of-work banker looking for a new job with
some stability? Considered the drugs industry?

    Daniel Vasella, chief executive of Swiss pharmaceuticals
company Novartis, reckons his sector is a pretty good place
to work when compared to “mercenary” banking.

    “We are not in a banking industry, where they fire a
thousand investment bankers
and then a year after they hire
a thousand investment bankers,” Vasella told Reuters.

Ok, now I’m scared

I was feeling a bit better having listened to corporate types at Davos say that their businesses still look good, but it was all undone by a real blizzard of negative statements on Saturday.

First off, at least for me, was Merrill supremo John Thain. He said that the credit crisis was beginning another wave, as consumer debt started to have problems. Thain, in one of the bleakest such assessments I’ve ever heard from an investment bank chief:

“Problems in credit markets are spreading to the consumer sector…Credit cards receivables, auto receivables, home equity loans.

Our “funny” Davos blog post

By Swiss law (and believe me there are some funny Swiss laws) it is illegal to blog about Davos without a funny, lighthearted piece about how rich everybody is. I don’t know why this law came into being, but I imagine it was as a result of international negotiations intended to insert irony and self-awareness into a very self-serious event. It also makes us poor media types feel better.

Here is ours, culled from overheard conversations this week:

I was sitting at a table, blogging, when a man politely asked me if he could sit in an unoccupied seat. After a while, two other men began talking to him very solicitously. It was clear, as these things are, that the seated man was important to the others.

After a time, one standing man said: “You know what his problem is, his jet is too big to land anywhere near here.”

Masters of Universe take a breather

Here’s the short version of a panel on private equity at Davos today: smaller new deals, rising defaults on older ones but no re-run of the mass defaults of the 1980s.

“Those (big) buyouts will come back in time, but money over next few years will be made not by doing new deals, but by improving companies they already have,” said Carlyle Group founder David Rubenstein.

“There will be leveraged buyouts (in 2008), but deals will be smaller — most likely $1, 2, 3, 4 billion deals as opposed to $30 to 40 billion deals,” he said on the sidelines.

Japan’s PM Fukuda baffled by new iPod

Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda got hold of the latest RED special edition ipod released only yesterday before a meeting with Irish rock singer Bono, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and former British prime minister Tony Blair on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.

But 71-year-old Fukuda will have to learn how to use iTunes: when he asked Bono if his songs were on the ipod, the singer told him: “You can download them.” RED iPod gives a portion of the purchase price to the Global Fund to fight AIDS in Africa.