Global Investing

from Davos Notebook:

Groundhog Day in Davos

groundhog

The programme may strike a different  note -- this year's Davos is apparently all about Shared Norms for the New Reality -- but much of the discussion at the 41st World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos this month will have a distinctly familiar ring to it.

Last January, the five-day talkfest in the Swiss Alps was dominated by Greece's near-death experience at the hands of the bond market and recriminations over the role of bankers in the financial crisis, as well as worries about China's rapid economic ascent and a lot of calls for a new trade deal.

Fast forward 12 months and not much has changed.

Ireland has joined Greece in the euro zone's intensive care unit and Portugal and  Spain are getting round-the-clock monitoring. The annual round of bankers' bonuses is once again stirring up trouble. China looms larger than ever on the global stage, after overtaking Japan in 2010 to become the world's second-biggest economy. And trade ministers who signally failed to make headway last year say they really must get down to business when they meet on the sidelines of Davos this time round.

For a sense of the deja vu, take a look at the WEF's latest hot-off-the-press report on Global Risks -- a 50-page tome on the spider's web of interconnected threats now facing the world. Not much progress in addressing them has been made, it seems. Government debt and the danger of sovereign default remains top of the risk hit-list, alongside macroeconomic imbalances, the fragility of the economic recovery and resource limits. It is a very similar litany as a year ago.

Worryingly, while the threats remain all too visible, the report's authors conclude that the world is now uniquely vulnerable to any further shocks in the wake of the financial crisis.

from Summit Notebook:

Tax evaders on the run

  By Neil Chatterjee
    The U.S. has promised it will hunt down tax evaders.
    And it seems tax evaders are on the run.
    DBS bank, based in the growing offshore financial centre of
Singapore, told Reuters it had been approached by U.S. citizens
asking for its private banking services. But when told they would
have to sign U.S. tax declaration forms, the potential clients
disappeared.  
    Swiss banks also approached DBS on the hope they could
offload troublesome U.S. clients to a location that so far has
not been reached by the strong arms of Washington or Brussels.
    DBS said no thanks. In fact many private banks and boutique
advisors now seem to be avoiding U.S. clients.
    Will this spread to other nationalities, as governments
invest in tax spies and tax havens invest in white paint?
    Is this the end of offshore private private banking?

from Summit Notebook:

Geneva is for wealth management

Even for an American who's not wealthy, Geneva has a reputation as a global centre for wealth management - the place the world's rich come to stash their money and (they hope) make it grow.

    But you don't necessarily expect it to be so aggressive -- after all, the rich tend to be demure when it comes to their banking.

    Imagine one reporter's surprise, then, on arriving in the airport in Geneva and seeing bank ads everywhere. Think of the casino adds in Las Vegas's McCarron Airport or the technology ads in San Jose's Mineta Airport: it's the exactly the same in Geneva, only with wealth managers.

On Bankers and Busing

Bankers are having a rough time of it lately.  It is not just that their companies are collapsing beneath them and their bonuses are the subject of global hate and derision. They also have to put up with the barbs of journalists (who are very familiar with being at the bottom of the popularity pile).

The latest example comes from Tim Dowling, scribbling away for Britain’s Guardian newspaper.  Mr Dowling has penned a useful primer for bankers who suddenly find themselves living in the real world.

You can read the complete guide by clicking here.  But Global Investing’s favourite tip concerns the use of London’s celebrated buses:

Bankers’ ball binned, a step towards appeasement?

The storm raging through financial markets has already cost bankers much of their business, bonuses and public esteem. But now they won’t even be able to drown their sorrows in their usual glass of bubbly at one of the most cherished events in Frankfurt’s social calendar.

The glitzy, champagne-laden black-tie gala that usually closes Frankfurt’s annual Euro Finance Week and hosts the VIPs of Europe’s banking and insurance industry, has been cancelled.

Top German banks, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank and Dresdner Bank concluded that such a show of opulence was not “suitable for the times”, writes Spiegel magazine.

Never Mind The Bankers

Malcolm McLaren, the man who gave us The Sex Pistols, has found the real punks — bankers. In an interview with Britain’s The Observer, he says punk was not just about spiky hair and ripped t-shirts.

“It was all about destruction, and the creative potential within that. It turns out that the bankers may have been the biggest punks of all.”

McLaren says we are now at a transformative moment.

“We’re at the end of the culture of desires; we may be going back to a culture of necessity.”