January 24th, 2011
05:56 PM GMT
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It is easy to take pot-shots at the World Economic Forum in Davos. As most of the developed world groans its way back to growth, there is something a bit obscene about rich, famous and powerful people getting together on a Swiss mountain side to talk about how to make things better.  It has a ring of “let them eat cake” about it.

This year’s jamboree will add fuel to the fire - with a large new Congress Centre entrance, with oodles of lights.

But as I say every year - that ignores what happens here.  I don’t for one moment think that the sometimes pretentiously titled panels are really what this event is about.  (Some are without doubt interesting and stimulate thought and debate, but you don’t need to schlep to Switzerland in winter to do that.)

Rather, Davos is about access, meetings, talking and schmoozing, which is why the most important rooms here are not the big halls where tedious panels will take place, but the bilateral rooms where government ministers and CEOs meet each other.

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January 24th, 2011
02:31 PM GMT
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Riyadh:  The home to the world’s largest oil reserves and the largest economy in the Middle East seems far removed from the populist youth revolt in Tunis, but government and business leaders in the region are keeping a watchful eye on the events in North Africa.

The fifth annual Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh, intentionally positioned just before Davos, is an excellent opportunity to take the pulse of the wealthier Gulf States and those who have an interest in seeing off the domino effect which has touched Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen.

The GCF is the “sand” component of what has built a reputation for being the “sand to snow” week, where about 100 participants go to both, including the chief executives from Rio Tinto, Alcoa and top cabinet members of the Kingdom.

While Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have ample surpluses to dole out food and wage subsidies to calm nerves from the protests in the region, they are mindful that in an era of social media and rapid file sharing, they don’t want to take chances.

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January 24th, 2011
01:18 PM GMT
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Out of work? Looking to find a new job? If you worked in construction, manufacturing or administrative services you may not want to even bother updating your resume. There is a good chance the job you lost during this last recession is never coming back. At least that is what some economists say.

Huge structural forces like globalization and technology mean companies can function without you. Sure, manufacturers still need to get products to market, but they are increasingly choosing to build and assemble them in Asia or India where people work for a fraction of the cost of an American.

Big blue-chip companies still need to do payroll and taxes, but they can now have a computer program do it … rather than a human being.

It is a brave new world out there where companies can be more profitable with less workers and employees need to retrain or get left behind …

Or is it?

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January 21st, 2011
05:21 PM GMT
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This week we have been talking about the shift in global power and the ascendancy of China. There is no getting away from this fact – China will eventually overtake the U.S. as the largest economy – and both sides have to live with each other.

Nowhere can that be seen more clearly than the $1 trillion dollars in U.S. government debt owned by the Chinese.

The U.S. has needed the Chinese to fund its overspending and trade imbalance. The Chinese can't afford for the debt to become tainted by reckless U.S.  deficits.

The two countries are stuck with each other – and that will become ever clearer in the years ahead. they are called the G2 – for one reason. Who needs who? They need each other.

This week's Q&A will tackle the speed of China's ascent: can they overtake the U.S. by as early as 2020?

Last week's Q&A - in case you missed it:

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January 21st, 2011
11:51 AM GMT
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Tunisia, a relatively small country of just 10 million restive citizens, is packing a big punch right across North Africa. In economic parlance, one would call it a contagion and leaders across the region are trying to heed the warnings.

The Arab Economic and Development Summit was a venue for taking a longer term view on creating the conditions for pan-Arab integration and job creation. As a result of the Tunisian revolution - as many are labelling the groundswell for change – it quickly morphed into an emergency summit at the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh.

The secretary general of the Arab League used unusually blunt terms to jump-start a process that, candidly, has taken too long to gather traction.

“The issues causing the revolution in Tunisia are not far from the issue of this summit, which is economic and social development,” said Amr Moussa. “The Arab citizen has entered a stage of anger that is unprecedented.”

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January 21st, 2011
04:22 AM GMT
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New York (CNN) – “We are very concerned that these companies are being financed by the Chinese government and are potentially subject to significant influence by the Chinese military.”

The accusation leveled against two Chinese telecoms firms – ZTE and Huawei – in a letter published by some U.S. lawmakers last October.  It was designed to undermine a lucrative deal with a U.S. telecommunications company and illustrates the unease and suspicion still present as Chinese President Hu Jintao begins the last day of his high-profile visit to the U.S.

Today, ZTE – the world's fifth largest telecommunications equipment maker – is still pressing ahead with attempts to expand in the United States. But the experience has clearly left its mark on Lixin Cheng, the company’s CEO for North America.

“In the U.S., the fundamental principle is a free economy, free market and a free country,” he told CNN at the firm’s U.S. headquarters outside Dallas. ”Surprisingly I learned from the press that for some projects the government intervenes. I do not believe that should happen.”

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January 20th, 2011
07:01 PM GMT
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January 20th, 2011
01:39 PM GMT
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I recently spent some time chatting to the Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti. We have talked, on camera, in the past and he is always candid and sometimes surprisingly honest in his interviews.

He has admitted to having some sort of post-traumatic stress syndrome after enduring years of brutality and imprisonment by the Mugabe regime. In the past two years, he and his party, the MDC, have been in a ‘unity government’ with Mugabe’s ZANU PF. It is, he says, a bit like "supping with the devil" or engaging in some sort of "unholy alliance." But he and his peers have persevered, he says.

Biti’s job has been to try to stabilize the Zimbabwean economy; he says his first task was to bring down hyperinflation, which he did by stopping the printing presses, which were churning out Zimbabwean dollars. By implementing what he calls ‘commonsense policies’ there has been a slow normalization of the economy.

However, foreign investors, multilateral institutions and states are still very wary of investing in Zimbabwe. The fact that President Robert Mugabe is still a player makes many people concerned about the levels of political risk in Zimbabwe. The degree of uncertainty is just too volatile for many.

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January 20th, 2011
12:56 PM GMT
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January 20th, 2011
06:32 AM GMT
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Hong Kong (CNN) – Behind the pomp and pageantry of Wednesday night’s state dinner in Washington for Chinese President Hu Jintao was the undercurrent of rancor foaming in the U.S. over China’s economic rise.

There is a perception of a zero-sum relationship between the world’s two largest economic powers – that China’s rise comes at the expense of the U.S. economy. That perception was heightened right about the time the apple pie was being served at the White House, when back in Beijing,  China released data that showed the economy grew 10.3% in 2010. Meanwhile, the latest unemployment figures in the U.S. show nearly one in 10 Americans are out of work.

China’s ascent stands in stark contrast to the anemic economic recovery in the U.S., and has ratcheted pressure from Washington for Beijing to let the value of its currency rise, saying it is being kept far below its actual worth, thereby giving Chinese exports an unfair cost advantage. Beijing has argued that everyone – especially U.S. consumers – would be hurt if the value of yuan suddenly skyrocketed, sending up prices of the vast amount of Chinese goods sold in the U.S.

But for American business interests in China, the current currency battle is a short-term sideshow to the real issue that threatens to dog U.S.-Sino relations in the years to come: Access.

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