Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (CNN) – For the past three years I have taken part in what is known within a group of 50 business and policy makers here in Riyadh as the “sand and snow expedition.” It starts from the capital of Saudi Arabia at the Global Competitiveness Forum and finishes at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
From an editorial standpoint you can, in one week, capture the views of the world’s largest oil producer and the latest on the Arab Spring before moving on to an arena with some 2,600 chief executives and political leaders trying to share the stage perched high among the Swiss Alps.
The visit in Riyadh included an exclusive interview with the wealthiest businessman in the Middle East, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal (pictured), chairman of Kingdom Holdings. From the 67th floor of the tower that bears the name of his group, Prince Alwaleed delved into some of the most sensitive issues in the region, from the Arab Spring to sanctions on Iran.
In the halls of the GCF, executives expressed deep concerns about potential conflict with Iran and the impact such a move would have. As he does with some of his investments, Prince Alwaleed took a contrarian view.
(CNN) – The global research department of HSBC has released a report predicting the rise and fall of the world’s economies in the next 40 years.
The world’s top economy in 2050 will be China, followed by the United States. No surprises there – since China’s reforms in the 1980s, economists have said it’s not a question of if, but when, China’s collective economic might will top the U.S.
But among the smaller, developing nations, there are several surprises by HSBC prognosticators:
Abu Dhabi (CNN) – Iran is using what is normally a quiet holiday lull in the West to make the most of its military manoeuvres in the Strait of Hormuz, which have concluded after 10 days. The navy test-fired two types of long-range missiles, following the launch of medium-range devices on New Year’s Day.
From afar, it would appear that Iran is throwing its trump cards on the table very early in this standoff with the United States, the European Union and the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar).
Abu Dhabi (CNN) - There is a milestone about to be set which is going largely unnoticed around the world. Oil will average more than $100 a barrel for an entire year for the first time.
Here in the Persian Gulf states, they call it three digit oil. Simply put, that is a number above $100.
Due to advancements in healthcare and people generally living longer, they say 60 years old is the new 40, meaning we are more youthful in age in the 21st century.
Does this apply to the oil market where $100 a barrel is the new $80 - not too hot, not too cold but just right for oil producing countries and consuming nations alike?
Hong Kong (CNN) – The lights are out at Jinko Solar. After three days of sometimes violent protests, China closed one of the company’s solar panel manufacturing plants.
The place: the town of Haining, about a two-hour drive southwest of Shanghai.
The reason: residents allege Jinko’s plant caused a mass die-off of fish and a cluster of cancer cases, including leukemia, in the local populace.
The admission: Jinko Solar now says pollutants, with fluoride levels exceeding normal limits, may have washed from its factory into a nearby river because of improper storage.
Anger first erupted on Thursday when more than 500 people gathered outside Jinko’s factory gates demanding answers. Some protesters broke into the company compound, overturning several cars and damaging buildings.
By Monday, local police said they had detained more than 20 people - some protesters for stealing and a handful of Jinko employees for destroying the camera of two local journalists - and local officials had forced the factory to go dark.
(CNN) - Within hours of the Japanese earthquake, natural gas price futures for summer delivery started to rise. Within three trading days, Barclays reports that UK natural gas prices have shot up more than 13%. It's only a matter of time before the suppliers pass that rise onto customers.
Why should this happen?
New York (CNN) – Ford's new Focus Electric drove into the glare of the assembled media in a Manhattan showroom, approaching a mocked-up version of a domestic garage. Bill Ford - the great grandson of Henry - plugged the car into a charging station.
The display was part of a twin city ceremony in New York and Las Vegas to herald the auto giant's answer to the electric passenger cars released by General Motors and Nissan in 2010.
Ford is currently riding high, with record profits and strong consumer reviews. In recent years, the firm has refocused on its iconic brand and diversified its range of models. But it comes to the eco-party late: The car will not be released until late this year - nearly a year after its rivals.
"The biggest difference is we're electrifying our mainstream vehicle called the Focus," Executive Chairman Bill Ford tells CNN. "It's not a one-off vehicle. And of this platform, we're going to have a conventional gasoline engine, we're going to have a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and we're going to have pure electric."
This portfolio of consumer options is key for Ford: Demand for electric cars remains an unknown quantity and the company is planning to let buyers drive manufacturing and supply.
With oil prices expected to rise throughout 2011, some analysts are predicting interest will jump. But others say progress for all electric cars will be hamstrung by the lack of public charging stations and an inability to travel long distances.
If Ford's gamble will pay off remains an open question.
London, England (CNN) - I have just sauntered into BP's global headquarters in London for the third quarter results press briefing. I walked right past security, picked up my pass without showing I.D., and now I sit in reception.
The last time I was here was for second quarter results and this building was under siege.
From live trucks to top news anchors to protesters, to beefy security front and side, this building was surrounded. I couldn't get close to the front door.
Certainly the story has evolved and the media has largely moved on and there is an election in the USA today. When I was in America last week the BP stations I saw were busy; so much for a boycott. And no one I chatted to mentioned BP.
We will hear today the cost of the clean up and BP's plan for the future from new CEO Bob Dudley. A lesson perhaps to other companies that come under siege; a change at the top can be one of the key solutions to lowering the temperature on a story that takes on a life of its own.
London, England (CNN) – By the end of Thursday, Britain will have the ability to get four percent of its electricity consumption from wind, thanks in part to the addition of 100 turbines 11 kilometers off the coast of Kent.
The new site is Vattenfall’s "300 MW Thanet Offshore Wind Farm," a major renewable energy initiative spearheaded by the previous British government. It could supply more than 200,000 homes.
The four-year-old project has been delayed by two years, and at one point was owned by a hedge fund. But now, under Vattenfall, it’s ready.
It seems to me that Britain is getting less praise than Denmark and Germany, or less notice. And today changes that. Britain is so windy it’s estimated an offshore turbine in the UK generates 50 percent more power than a turbine in Germany.
Of the 16 offshore wind farms now under construction around Europe, half are in Britain according to the European OffShore Wind Industry.
That translates to much more wind farm capacity being constructed in the UK (2.4 gigawatts) during the first half of 2010 than the rest of Europe combined (1.5 gigawatts).
In total, wind is close to supplying energy to nearly three million British homes, according to UK energy association RenewableUK.
The challenge is to find places where locals won't complain, which is why offshore wind farms are so desirable. The wind there is also stronger.
Of course, the farther offshore you go, the more it costs to construct and carry power back to shore.
Thanet will not keep its crown as the world largest operational offshore wind farm for long though.
In late 2012 or 2013, the London Array wind farm - a project being funded by energy companies E.ON, DONG Energy and Masdar - is scheduled to start generating electricity just north of the Thanet site.
The owners say the 300 proposed wind turbines could become the world's first one gigawatt offshore wind farm.
When up and running, the London Array will go a long way to helping Britain reach the UK government’s target of providing 15 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015.
How does that compare to where you live?
(CNN) – Kevin Rudd’s sudden loss of his own party’s backing as Prime Minister of Australia seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom that has ruled politics since Bill Clinton successfully stumped for U.S. president in 1992 on the back of this slogan: It’s the economy, stupid.
In the midst of the storm clouds that have surrounded the global economy during the “Great Recession,” the Australian economy has been a ray of light.
Australia never fell into recession. Rudd was widely credited for successfully steering the nation through the credit crisis, thanks in no small part to its commodities-rich trade with China and other emerging economies.
As recently as six months ago, CNN’s Stan Grant reports, Rudd enjoyed record approval ratings for a sitting prime minister.
Two major culprits, both of which have a deep impact on business in Australia: The failure of his emissions trading proposal – which would have introduced tougher cap and trade policies for industrial polluters – and a 40 percent “supertax” planned on mining companies.
A once passionate advocate of reducing global emissions, his softening on the issue upset his environmental base. His support of mining taxes, naturally, upset the nation’s powerful mining interests (at the close of trading in New York, shares of both Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton were up more than 2 percent on the news of a possible leadership shakeup).
Rudd’s inability to steer these two measures created doubt within his own Labor Party that he could successfully lead them to victory in upcoming elections.
Moreover, it appears Rudd alienated the supporters closest too him, who saw him as controlling and mercurial in his leadership style.
Which goes to show that its not always “the economy, stupid,” when it comes to politics. Instead it appears Rudd forgot that other maxim of politics, coined by former U.S. Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill: All politics is local.
It’s a lesson for executives, too: If you don’t have the support of those around you, you don’t have any support at all.
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