May 20th, 2011
05:49 PM GMT
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When you buy a 50 cent newspaper in Zimbabwe, you don’t receive change in coins. Instead, you get a small, round, grey token, which you redeem at the same newspaper vendor when you buy from him another day.

When your supermarket bill is rung up and the total is $5.21 the cashier offers you some sweets to make up the 79 cents change difference.

When you buy a pizza or a burger at a Harare fast-food center, your change is a thin paper voucher, which you’d better cash in quickly because within days the ink has rubbed off in your wallet. All you are left with is a grimy blank piece of paper.

When you hop off a local minibus taxi be sure get your change from the driver. Sometimes he hands it over, other times he rounds up the cost of trip, leaving passengers shortchanged. Mostly, he hands over a dollar note to two strangers exiting his taxi at the same place – telling them they have to divide the change.

Sometimes, frustrated, poor commuters come to blows on the side of the road over how to split taxi-fare change.

Taxi passengers – like shoppers and newspaper vendors – can’t receive their change because there are no coins in Zimbabwe. The smallest denomination is a $1 U.S. note.

The country adopted the U.S. dollar two years ago after the collapse of the Zim dollar. Since then, rampant, record inflation has stabilized but the realities on the streets indicate there are still very challenging economic realities for Zimbabweans.

Firstly, the price of produce and goods has become more expensive because the country now has to import most foodstuffs. A chicken at a supermarket costs around $10 U.S.

Secondly, because there are no coins, many shops and restaurants automatically round up the price of their goods and services – so ordinary Zimbabweans find themselves footing the bill for an ad hoc “change tax.”

Zimbabweans say proudly that they are a resilient people, that they survived even tougher economic times in the past decade. Indeed, that seems true because from what I have witnessed this week on the streets of Harare, they seem to have stoically adapted to an economy that is run on dollars and sweets, not dollars and cents.

May 20th, 2011
05:21 PM GMT
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As Christine Lagarde prepares to take the reins at the International Monetary Fund, her cool head in a crisis and capability in negotiating consensus will stand her in good stead.

I first met Madame Lagarde in 2007, shortly after she was appointed France’s Finance Minister – the first woman to hold such a role among the world’s eight most industrialized nations.

I remember being transfixed by two things: her imposing stature (standing six-feet tall versus my five-foot nothing) and considerable self assurance. Yet Lagarde’s “Iron Lady” ego and Thatcheresque looks belie a more deadly weapon to those who stand in her way. For Ms Lagarde is, above all, charming.

At a meeting of EU finance chiefs in the South of France a year later, I watched Lagarde’s male counterparts both cower and drool as she delivered a powerful pre-dinner speech in the garden of a Riviera villa. She was wearing a suit that meant business and satin stilettos that said cocktail time.

The evening was warm, the champagne flowed and with Lagarde on the stage, the credit crunch seemed a distant memory even though Europe was already lurching into a recession.

Lagarde, whose country was now halfway through its rotating EU presidency, was on top form even if the financial sector was not. You see, part of Lagarde’s charm is that she embodies contradictions.

But that gathering was France entertaining its clubby eurozone neighbors and now Lagarde will soon be playing to a larger audience with more power, more money. Those who have met her more than once over the years, like me, have no doubt she will rise to the challenge. 

In fact, while some eurozone colleagues may shrink behind the weight of their hefty responsibilities (see Greece) Lagarde shines when given a tough job to do.

Soon after becoming France's Finance Minister, with the onset of the credit crunch well and truly apparent, I remember Lagarde summoned the heads of all of the country's banks and made them be brutally honest with her about their finances.

Looking back on those days in a recent interview for the documentary 'Too Big to Fail,' the French Finance Minister admitted with candour that the first time she found out about the collapse of Lehman Brothers was 'after the event.'

She certainly won't be able to say the same about Greece – if or when (according to an increasing number of analysts) – it defaults.

At first glance Lagarde seems as Gallic as they come. She always makes time during her busy schedule to have a proper lunch – le dejeuner is in fact something of a ritual on the sixth floor of number 139 Rue de Bercy, the seat of the finance ministry in Paris.

So far so French… yet what makes Lagarde properly palatable to politicians across the Pond is that she has spent many years in the United States, reaching the top of Baker & McKenzie, one of the country’s biggest law firms, as its first female chairman. Lagarde’s time in the U.S. has left her with impeccable English and fluent in the language of finance, making her one of the most lucid and respected politicians in Europe.

Her pulling power extends to the media as well. Last year Forbes magazine rated her the world’s 43rd most powerful woman and she was voted best European finance minister by the Financial Times in 2009.

But for Lagarde, being European –or indeed French – may prove to be a double-edged sword. France has dominated the top positions at the fund since its inception in 1945, providing four out of its past 11 managing directors. And while emerging markets have stoked debate about opening up the field, experts say it’s unlikely European countries will relinquish control anytime soon with bailouts for Greece, Portugal and Ireland to consider. So, with a new European MD at the fund Ms Lagarde will have to choose her moves wisely-lest she attract accusations of 'Old World' favoritism.

For the 24-member executive committee making the appointment this week, things couldn't have turned out better, as Agustin Carstens, the Mexican Central Bank Governor, would make an ideal fit to replace John Lipsky as Deputy MD.

Such an appointment would also appease growing calls for more developing world representation among the top tiers at the IMF.

Christine Lagarde is a woman with many facets but her laser-sharp focus is what marks her out most. The mother of two once represented her country’s hopes in synchronised swimming. Her hair may be silver but make no mistake she's going for gold. Whether the IMF and the eurozone will have any left when they've finished bailing out Greece is another matter.

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May 20th, 2011
01:40 PM GMT
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Urgently required: A senior level politician to chair international organization with a myriad of shareholders from around the globe.

Board members include the U.S., Germany, France, China and Saudi Arabia. Candidate must feel at ease with leaders ranging from Barack Obama to Wen Jiabao and have a wide-range of contacts from Wall Street to Shanghai and all places in between.

The financial crisis of 2008 demands this person would have an intricate knowledge of financial instruments, Basel III banking rules and monetary policy. The ideal candidate is a European that commands the respect of the Chancellor of Germany, embraces the G-20 architecture and has the backing of the President or Prime Minister of your home country. Female candidates are encouraged to apply.


May 20th, 2011
01:33 AM GMT
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CNN - Job of the week: "one managing director required to run the world's biggest 'lender of last resort'. The successful candidate will be an experienced policymaker with excellent diplomacy skills. Those with a 'colorful' personal life though need not apply."

You can just imagine officials at the International Monetary Fund scrambling to put the final touches to its latest job spec following the resignation of their managing director last night.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn's decision to step down to fight allegations of sexual assault has got the world's highest-profile power-brokers quickly dusting off their resumes. His departure has also sent economists into a frenzy with many drafting their own lists of who might make cut.

The reality is that we may not know for several days or even weeks who will take control of the fund's $750 billion lending capacity and its 2,500 staff. This is because the appointment of a new MD is both political and economic.

The decisions on who gets nominated and eventually chosen occur behind closed doors, first at a country level and then on an international stage.

In fact, the opaque nature of the selection process, combined with emerging markets calls for more of a say, means the IMF has now agreed to increase its transparency about how its next MD will be chosen.

In the meantime though, this is broadly speaking how it worked the last time, when Strauss-Kahn himself became MD in 2007:

Read the rest of the article here

May 20th, 2011
01:23 AM GMT
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New York (CNN) – There was a lot of cheering in the New York offices of LinkedIn – with good reason. On its first day of trading shares of the social networking site for professionals soared over 100%.  That kind of price action raises a lot of questions.

Can the company like up to the hype?  Do people only use Linkedin when they are looking for a job?  Did they leave too much money on the table by not pricing the IPO higher?

I put some of these concerns to Jeff Weiner the CEO.  He wouldn’t address the valuation directly but he did tell me they were very focused on finding investors who were focused on the long-term.  It was his primary concern in this IPO.  Weiner is very clear that he and his team are planning on plowing most of their profits back into the company.  They may not even be profitable next year.


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