April 16th, 2010
01:55 PM GMT
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He is simply known within market circles as Dr. Doom, since he precisely called the credit crisis and subsequent downturn in global financial markets. Today, Roubini is sharing the same concerns about asset bubbles as a result of continued low interest rates and the flood of capital pouring into equity markets and commodities. He is also not convinced about what many have defined as “V” shaped or sharp recovery.

But in my time with the economist, who is of Iranian decent and grew up in Istanbul, I decided to link our conversation to the key issues surrounding the region - notably the durability of the dollar as a reserve currency, Gulf monetary union, oil prices and Dubai’s debt crisis.

Roubini suggested that central bankers of the region look carefully at the European model when constructing the framework for Gulf monetary union saying, “One of the lessons is, monetary union can be successful if the member countries are relatively homogenous” and are prepared to set up a structure for burden sharing.

This has not been the case in Europe, where cracks in the convergence process were papered over and took a decade to emerge. That is what the Greek debt crisis is telling us today and wealthier states - notably Germany - have expressed displeasure at exactly the kind of burden-sharing Roubini is talking about.

As a result of the Greek crisis, Roubini believes the dollar’s role as the world's reserve currency is not under threat.

“There is no clear alternative," he said. "The Euro may not survive and the British pound is weak.” “Not survive?” I quickly responded. “It is a possibility … " he said. "You could have weaker states of the Eurozone like Portugal or Greece eventually exit the union and that will weaken the Euro.”

Dollar weakness over the past year has been one contributing factor behind the rise of oil, with the region’s most precious commodity priced in the greenback. Nevertheless, the NYU economist does not feel that fundamentals are supporting the recent 18 month high of $87 a barrel.

“Part of it is this wall of liquidity chasing assets because of easy money,” said Roubini. As a result he believes "oil at $60 is justified, but oil at $80 I don’t think is justified.”

That demand concern was reflected in both OPEC’s monthly oil market report (which shows demand growth of just 1.1 percent from a low level in 2009) and the International Energy Agency, which talks similarly about tepid recovery in the industrialized world.

Dubai’s recovery after its own debt crisis drew parallels to the real estate bubble in America’s Sun Belt - in particular Florida, Arizona, Nevada and California.

Roubini called Dubai’s bubble unique because of the lack of clarity about what is a private or state-owned entity. The state feels “they have to takeover the liabilities and bail them out because the consequences of a disorderly collapse would be even more damaging.”

As a result, Roubini says Dubai sent out mixed signals by indicating initially that the state would not have a role, only to have neighboring Abu Dhabi step in on two separate occasions.

Dr. Doom bluntly said that may have established the wrong precedent, "If we keep on socializing all the private losses the build up of the debt implies that you have to raise taxes, cut spending or eventually even default.”



April 9th, 2010
02:43 PM GMT
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Only two weeks after European Union leaders cobbled together a backroom deal for Greece, the stitches are coming undone and the southernmost member of the EU is back in the firing line.

What the 27 member bloc is lacking in transparency is being counterbalanced by the 10 member ASEAN. It has fewer members but the Southeast Asian group is a market of 600 million consumers.

The view from my hotel room in Singapore is all about business. The port is active again. After a steep decline in exports this time last year, 2010 is looking promising.

Construction on a few giants casino-entertainment centers is booming. Macau will have a new and fierce competitor.

The 21st Century economy as we have learned via terms like BRIC are not being defined by large regional trade blocs, but by clusters that share a common DNA for growth.

In this spirit, I will pull out the SIM card, not for my mobile phone but to connect Singapore-Indonesia-Malaysia. Their common economc DNA: 2010 average growth of between 5-7 percent and they look to China as an export opportunity, not a threat.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak in a speech to foreign correspondents in Singapore talked of 'open regionalism' and the new triangle of trade between Southeast Asia, the Middle East and China. After a recent tour of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and India, he will receive the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in May.

Middle East leaders have a natural affinity for the largest Muslim market in the world, Indonesia and the largest Islamic finance market, Malaysia.

SIM countries also share a common challenge with their Gulf counterparts. They are middle income states. Their populations are enjoying the fruits of export growth and oil and gas revenues, but their leaders need to keep moving them up the value chain. Abu Dhabi has invested in high technology with the hope of a wealth transfer as well.

Singapore has been a high tech engine for two decades. Indonesia and Malaysia are busy forging new joint ventures in the Middle East and Africa for their palm oil and oil and gas companies. As Prime Minister Razak told journalists, implementation is the next course of action.

After ASEAN leaders finished their summit in Vietnam, they talked about making the bloc more relevant to their companies and people. They want to be pro-active in broadening ties with China and Japan. The East-East corridor of trade seems to hold more promise than the EU right now.

And if one needed to place a bet on the economic clusters of the future beyond BRIC? I would pull out the SIM card and place it on the table.

 



April 1st, 2010
03:11 PM GMT
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It’s been about a decade since Jim O’Neill coined the acronym BRIC and two decades since I first interviewed him as a leading currency economist with a Swiss bank based in London.

O’Neill has been hanging his hat at Goldman Sachs for years and beyond his BRIC research most recently garnered attention as one of the Red Knights, a small group of wealthy Manchester United fans working on a buyout of the famed football club.

I caught up with O’Neill in Cernobbio, Italy, the site of the annual European House/Ambrosetti workshop. It is a not a big affair – about 150 attendees – which means it is much better for brainstorming and networking, with the spring breeze coming off Lake Como providing added inspiration.

O’Neill is an ideal Marketplace Middle East interviewee, because he was one of the first in the west to see the world in a different way. When he coined the BRIC acronym, his counterparts in the research field poured cold water on the concept.

Yes his choice of countries had high populations, but the word on the street was they cannot deliver growth. Fortunately for him, the data answers all the naysayers, minus the severe bump in the road for the R in his equation. Russia is an invited participant of the G-8 but is still finding it difficult to find its free-market footing. When this downturn smooths out, O’Neill’s inclusiveness will prevail.

Many have tried in vain to jump onto the economic acronym bandwagon. One of the more recent additions has been “Chindonesia”. Nicholas Cashmore at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets came up with the term to describe the Asian triangle of growth with China, India and Indonesia. Sounds catchy, but his work has not garnered the support of the BRIC.

Meanwhile, O’Neill is looking at new frontiers and this is where the Middle East comes in. As the momentum continues to build in developing markets, the son of a Manchester, England postman is casting his economic net wider and raising a few eyebrows along the way with his selection of countries.

During our interview at Villa D’Este, O’Neill explained why he put three Middle Eastern players into what he calls “The Next 11” – the next wave of economic bright sparks. (He coined that phrase five years ago.)

Going from West to East around the globe, O’Neill and his team see the greatest potential coming from Mexico, Nigeria, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea and the Philippines. He believes most in western economies are overlooking what is really transpiring today – new trade relationships from the Middle East and Africa to Asia, without a European or American partner involved in the process.

The economist does not shrug off the political implications of some of the emerging relationships with Middle Eastern countries. For example, he says a timeline for Turkey’s membership into the European Union would be a “good way to explore bringing civilizations together” and that he “looks forward to the day when European leaders act in a more pro-active way” with the Muslim world.

Turkey and Egypt garner their fair share of attention due to their respective populations and the fact both have pursued an aggressive economic reform agenda has kept foreign direct investment flowing in. O’Neill likes Iran’s educated workforce and natural resources, but certainly recognizes that real economic progress will need to happen in an environment where the word “investment” replaces the first thought that often comes to mind, economic “isolation”.

If Iran does indeed open up, Gulf states move to a single currency and continue to mount record surpluses, it may be worth joining the chorus of others who have asked the economist to amend his original work.

Maybe BRIC can be expanded to ARABRIC?



March 5th, 2010
02:36 PM GMT
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Oxford, England - I was taken on a tour of the sprawling future home of the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies now under construction on the grounds of Magdalen College.

Senior fellow Dr Hasan Abedin illustrated how the center is sourcing the best materials from the Muslim world: finely crafted wood from Malaysia, colourful stone from Yemen and an ornate, but tasteful tower that will greet visitors.

The Prince of Wales is patron of the center, which was developed to “encourage a better understanding of the culture and civilization of Islam." It was in that spirit that I was invited to speak at the “Muslims in the Media” seminar. The aim was to give the audience of students, scholars and retired Foreign Service experts a feel for what is happening on the ground in the region.

I drew a picture of near-term challenges, but long-term opportunities. The crisis over the past 12 months was not overly painful in the Middle East, compared with their counterpart economies in Europe and America. Dubai has stabilized after the debt bombshell it dropped at the end of November and if we look further afield, the market of 17 countries and more than 300 million consumers should continue to offer opportunity for investors..

I talked about how I see the Middle East at the crossroads of East and West, and how over the next decade it should truly garner a place as the fourth trading zone alongside Asia, Europe and the United States. After all, 10 percent of the G-20 is made up of countries from the region, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs has evolved his emerging market vision to include the “Next 11,” the next drivers of economic growth. Three of the countries are from the region: Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia.

There were plenty of nods of agreement in the audience, as if I opened some new doors of thinking to a group where knowledge was not in short supply.

My discussion was not sugar-coated by any means. We talked about what I see as the most pressing issues of the decade: stubbornly high youth unemployment of around 25 percent and a wealth gap that leaves those in countries like Yemen yearning for more opportunity. Combined, those real life challenges will intensify the need for change and swift action.

After a couple of video examples of our coverage, the floor was opened up for questions. Instead of the two or three polite enquires I was expecting, I fielded questions for a more than a half hour. While most were well aware of the oil and gas wealth leading to a construction boom and a wave of sovereign wealth investment in the past few years, they seemed skeptical about my other premises.

I drew a comparison with the NAFTA and GAFTA (Greater Arab Free Trade Agreement). While I noted the 17 signatory countries don’t act like a single market due to old-time rivalries, barriers to trade are coming down and greater unification will be in order. Eyebrows were raised, but the audience was not convinced.

I highlighted the creation of a Gulf Central Bank in Riyadh and a single currency that should be launched in the next five years. Alright, instead of all six coming on board, only four have committed to this effort. Again, questions were raised about whether this was a real effort and if it will actually happen.

Finally, this group saved their harshest analysis for the role of the sovereign funds. I noted that the strategy is evolving. Money is staying closer to home and being invested for example in North Africa - which is a good thing. Other funds are investing in industrial groups like Daimler and GE, but are expecting a technology transfer alongside their equity stakes. “Nice try, John” was the look I was given back.

After we finished the session, I was invited to break bread in the fabled dining hall of Christ Church College. We had a healthy discussion about where the region is going and why this audience has not warmed up to the regional build out.

What they continue to see are individual countries often competing in the same sectors and sovereign funds quick to jump into high-profile equity stakes or  buy trophy properties at the peak of the market. The pre-crisis moves have left a lasting impact on this group of informed observers who are eager to see if the region can deliver lasting change for the next generation.



March 1st, 2010
10:25 AM GMT
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The size and scale of the protests in Greece were hard to ignore. Athenians filled Constitution Square in the heart of the capital protesting the austerity measures being put forward by the government of George Papandreou. This is his first major test on the ground since taking office last autumn.

It is quite easy to be swept up into the strike action in Greece and the other labor protests we have been witnessing in Europe during this winter of discontent - affecting industries from the airline sector (Lufthansa and British Airways) to the energy sector (French giant Total) - but it would be a mistake to see them as classic disputes over wages.

In Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy protests go right to the heart of what many in the labor movement and broader society see as a birthright - to continue to enjoy benefits that in today's globalized world are disappearing fast.

Taking Greece for example, investors saw the recent strike by Ministry of Finance workers as somewhat ironic since they are the very members of the civil service who are at the forefront of the restructuring plan itself. It is not often discussed, but many government workers enjoy preferential tax rates, can retire at the age of 54 (in some cases earlier) and enjoy 14 months of pay for 12 months worked.

The Papandreou government is trying to reign in some of those policies. But as leader of the socialist movement, Pasok, those that brought him into power were not expecting changes to what they consider sacred covenants of their day-to-day existence.

I had a chance this year in Davos to share a tea with the Greek Prime Minister who seemed extremely determined to get the job done. He conveyed a certain Zen-like calm about what the job entails. The Prime Minister recalled having to defuse a university sit-in during his first week on the job as Education Minister (in his father’s cabinet), then in his early days as Foreign Minister dealing with a huge row with Turkey over Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish rebel leader who was on Greek soil.

While those were big challenges for a cabinet minister, this scale of top-to-bottom reform is clearly in a different league altogether. In today's crisis, no one is really arguing that there will have to be sacrifice, more how deep the pain will go. The strike is an effort by workers and students to carve a line in the marble so to speak.

As this Greek drama plays out with huge consequences for the country's people and finances, there are many in Frankfurt, Paris and Brussels who are looking back at the brief history of the Euro and what led to this "Southern Med" crisis.

There is a lesson in this effort for the counterparts in the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf where development of the single currency is underway. European countries were forced to come together after World War II. Major schisms can provide impetus for change, but it does mean leaders need to build the foundation of the process carefully.

One of the key architects of the European monetary union, former European Commission President Jacques Delors saw the launch of the Euro as a path to deeper political union. With a much bigger vision in mind, those who hurried this process along after the fall of communism and expansion of the European Union from 12 to 27 members overlooked or chose to ignore both the generous entitlements and, worst still, the levels of corruption and tax avoidance that permeate these economies.

In December, Papandreou admitted to other European Union leaders that "systemic corruption" was at the heart of the Greek crisis and said his government intended to take "harsh measures" to root it out.

The Euro has, without contention, created both stability and wealth in Southern Europe. In the past decade citizens have been lulled into believing that a price won't have to be extracted for Europe turning a blind eye to misdeeds. As they take to the streets in protest, they are finding out that the lenient times are drawing to a close.



February 12th, 2010
11:50 AM GMT
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As a cub financial journalist, the first theory one must understand is that of supply and demand. At its core, the model is based on price, usage of product and its availability. The price will fluctuate according to supply and demand.

However, in this world of record stimulus plans, solid growth on one side of the world – the East – and anemic growth on the other – the West - putting this theory to the test is more difficult, and even more so when you talk about oil.

That is where the Iran factor comes into play. Oil quietly rallied over the past week as Iran raised the stakes over uranium enrichment, preceded U.S. military’s precautionary air and sea security plan in the Gulf.

All of a sudden, supply and demand is not the order of the day, rather supply and security. Dig a little deeper and you will find that supplies are running six percent above the five-year average. There is plenty of crude in storage and floating in barges at sea.

The market has been supported by expectations for a second-half recovery and whether it won’t just be Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen to worry about but Iran as well.

During an interview with Abdalla Salem El-Badri, the OPEC Secretary General, we covered supply and security and it is fair to say he shares concerns about both. Iran is producing nearly four million barrels a day. When asked about his thoughts on moves to secure the region, without hesitation he said, “I don’t think we need any problems in that area. We have to be very careful. Things could collapse there.”

He was also careful to say he is not speaking as a government official or minister, but the secretary general touched upon similar concerns shared by business and government officials - that they fear the situation will only escalate.

U.S. President Barack Obama says the door is still open for talks, but a plan for stiffer economic sanctions is on the way and it will further isolate Iran from the international community.

This high-stakes diplomacy is taking place in a climate of tepid growth, based on record government intervention in OECD countries, especially in the U.S. and UK.

Badri, like many others who are watching supply and demand carefully, suggested policymakers should tread carefully when removing their economic support.

“This exit should be very carefully done because this exit will have an impact on growth itself and on demand. The first and second quarters will be very difficult, demand will pick up in the second half if we are careful to exit at the right time.”

Oil producers, especially those in the Gulf where costs are lower, are benefiting from a price band of between $70-80 a barrel, which Badri believes will last through 2010.

Demand for OPEC crude is running at about 29 million barrels a day, three million below the peak in 2008. He does not see that level of demand returning for another two to three years.

The International Energy Agency decided to boost its forecast slightly for this year based on stronger than expected growth in emerging markets. They too see that the industrialized countries of the OECD “will face considerable uncertainty.”

The European Union is trying to work through its Southern Mediterranean crisis, while Britain is dealing with extremely high levels of debt and so is America.

The supply and demand theory is functioning just fine at this point in time, but there are many moving parts that can throw it off-kilter and bring prices below the current comfort zone for Middle East producers.

Then there is security and the “Iran Factor,” which remain too difficult to gauge. As a key producer with the third highest proven reserves, worries over security and market uncertainty seem to be playing in its favor.



February 5th, 2010
06:00 PM GMT
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It was one of those moments where I needed to run a reality check of my own as I was preparing for our live coverage from Davos and an interview with Bob Diamond of Barclays Bank.

Diamond appeared on the first panel at this year’s World Economic Forum, ringing alarm bells about the impact of the proposed banking reforms by the Obama administration on his sector and the overall economy.

That message circled the globe quickly, and 24 hours later Diamond came to our live-shot location to give us his analysis after the State of the Union address.

President Obama was preceded on the subject the night before in the Swiss Alpine Resort by his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy - who positioned himself off of the bar charts to the left.

In case you missed the subtleties, this is a high-stakes showdown within the G20. While Sarkozy is flanking the left; Diamond and his core set of commercial bankers are on the right.

I posed a question on the correct solution to this challenge and received the most balanced response from Stanley Fischer, who has spent time in all three camps as Deputy Managing Director of the IMF, as a private banker for Citigroup and now as the Central Bank Governor of Israel.

Fischer believes that some intervention is needed and the line between investment banking and general consumer banking often gets blurred within the world’s largest institutions.

While the world’s wealthiest and most powerful debated the merits of greater regulation, I was watching the conferences on Yemen and Afghanistan from a distance. The debate in Davos: proprietary trading and bonuses. The debate in London: halting the rapid decline of two potential failed states.

Prior to this deep and prolonged economic crisis - made worse by loose lending and trading by Western institutions - the wealthier Gulf states started to invest their surpluses closer to home, with a particular eye on Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco. But vast swaths of the Middle East and North Africa - part of the Muslim community - are being left behind.

In Yemen, 43 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day according to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

“You can understand everyone below the age of 25 is revolutionary,” said Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, Yemen’s foreign minister, “He becomes more so when he does not have a chance for a job.”

The London conference on Yemen was convened to halt the country’s rapid decline into a failed state. As a base for an al Qaeda cell and with conflict on the border with Saudi Arabia, the government is fighting what appears to be a losing battle.

Policy makers and business leaders from the West and the East are mindful of the wealth gap in the Muslim world but have been slow to take action. At the London Conference, Yemeni officials say only seven percent of the $5 billion pledged to Yemen five years ago has been delivered.

In total, there are 1.5 billion Muslims, a big potential market, but 39 percent live below the poverty line, according to the World Islamic Economic Forum.

The chairman of the World Islamic Economic Forum, Musa Hitam was in London to address the issue of economic empowerment.

"One and a half billion Muslims to begin with. Wow! Big figure. But that figure in terms of value in terms of value and potential and economic terms is relatively much smaller than a western market say of 200 million," he said.

That is today’s reality. Per capital income in Yemen is roughly $2,500 a year according to the IMF. Next door, in Saudi Arabia it is ten times more. It is a similar story in Sudan, which is also home to vast natural resources.

Successful Muslim economic models, with reform programs well underway certainly exist. Southeast Asia’s largest market Indonesia is a member of the G20 - along with Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Today Muslim countries represent one fifth of the world’s population but only six percent of global output. It is a figure leaders shy away from discussing, but know all too well needs to be addressed.



January 26th, 2010
03:54 PM GMT
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We were taken around for our television shoot today by a communications executive who works with a global public relations firm out of Riyadh. While awaiting clearance, he asked about my shuttle journalism between my London base and the Middle East, which this week will include Davos. That discussion led to analysis of “Davos Man” as depicted by historian Samuel Huntington.

The premise is that about 2000 people belong to a global village and they gather at meetings such as the Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh where I am now. “Why Riyadh?” you may ask. It is a new destination for Davos Man because the government is spending about a half trillion dollars over the next five years to rebuild its economy. Chief Executives like those sort of numbers no doubt.

The problem according to Huntington is that it is difficult for new ideas to emerge because this club of people is sharing the same information. While it is partly true, the other side to that premise is that one gathers a lot of intelligence in the field.

A top tier Davos Man is Tony Blair, as a member of the World Economic Forum Foundation Board. The former British Prime Minister gave a thoughtful hour long speech here in Riyadh, especially impressive since he will be facing a tough grilling Friday before the Iraq enquiry Friday in London. He seemed pretty “zen-like” during our interview yesterday.

See CNN's full Davos coverage

Since Blair is in the air a great deal, as Middle East envoy and business consultant to an array of companies and governments, he does have his finger on the global pulse. Blair talked about the seven lessons for developing countries eager to participate in the global economy.

At the forefront of this effort says Blair is that the attitude of mind has to be opened not closed. This is especially intriguing in Saudi Arabia. The ruler, King Abudullah, is introducing quite radical change in the country, but he continues to meet resistance from religious conservatives. They see globalization as a threat not an opportunity. Blair talked of bringing in new ideas. The government is doing so, but will they filter out beyond the major economic hubs of Riyadh and Jeddah? That is still to be determined.

Blair also noted that it is not a race. One needs to learn before they teach others how to open up. He points to the Singapore model of development where they adopted the best global practices. It did not happen overnight but over a three decade span. Singapore now has a great deal to share with others – although it only had a small population to turn around.

Blair spoke of the changing paradigm in the world, that the shift to the East is both economic and geo-political. On our program we often look at what I like to call The New Silk Route, the rebuilding of business ties between the Middle East and Asia. You can feel the rebuilding of that route in Riyadh, as the Kingdom looks to become a much more influential player as it uses its role as the number one oil exporter to diversify and open up.



January 25th, 2010
03:42 PM GMT
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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (CNN) - I woke up after an overnight flight from London with the Winter sun of the Arabian desert and the sound of steel rods being loaded up, cranes moving beams, workers toiling away. The Kingdom is spending a half trillion dollars over the next five years – recycling oil wealth closer to home – and you can see it everywhere. All that spending barely got Saudi Arabia into positive growth last year, but that is far better than the global recession of 2.2%. Saudi Arabia is expected to grow by four percent this year.

We are at the crossroads with the CNN covering the Global Competitiveness Forum with thought leaders mainly from the West looking to establish a foothold in the region’s largest market. Michael Dell, John Chambers of Cisco, Martin Sorrell of WPP all make it a point to come here before Davos. They share stories of innovation and even failure.

See CNN's full Davos coverage

Saudi government leaders want to set the climate for reform and hope these visitors can help that process along. There is a business push in Riyadh but as the local leaders I am speaking to on the ground know, this has to reach into all corners of society to get collective buy in.



January 18th, 2010
05:59 PM GMT
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Some of you may recall the 1984 television campaign by fast food giant Wendy's, “Where’s the Beef?” It featured a little old lady looking under a giant hamburger bun, wondering why there was a lack of real beef.

The ad became part of that year’s U.S. presidential campaign, with Walter Mondale chiding Democratic opponent, Gary Hart that his new ideas lacked substance.

The commercial could apply to the start of this trading year and the new decade. There is a lid on most equity markets right now, pointing to what appears to be a beefless recovery.

Germany reported the worst annual performance since World War II, down five percent in 2009. Most European followers feel comfortable that a recovery of 1.5 percent is possible this year, but with eurozone unemployment at 10 percent, the “feel good factor” after record government intervention over the past year is fading fast.

I sat down with Umayya Toukan of Jordan this past week, while he was in London to receive his award for Central Bank Governor of the Year. We talked about what is a critical turning point in global economic policy: When is the right time to start closing the monetary spigots?

“That is the most critical issue,” he said. “There will have to be exit strategies made public actually, in particular the timing of the exits.”

Toukan acknowledged that due to political cycles around the globe, marking those exits will be difficult. Nevertheless, bringing back budget discipline is essential in his view.

Toukan was given the award for his prudent monetary policies prior to the downturn and the swift bank guarantees offered when the crisis hit home.

Jordan is a small country by population, but punches above its weight due to an army of white-collar workers scattered throughout the Gulf and its open economy. Trade represents nearly two-thirds of GDP in Jordan.

The country was riding the recent trend of capturing investment from the Gulf that stayed closer to home in the MENA region. Last year, that regional foreign direct investment dropped by 50 percent. As these economies shore up their books, it will be essential to see that investment pick up once again. During Germany’s horrendous performance last year, investment dropped 20 percent.

For the year, the IMF is forecasting global growth of about 3.5 percent with Indonesia ahead of the pack. China’s move to boost reserve requirements for its banks sent shivers through financial markets, since it came about a quarter earlier than anyone expected. China will grow at least eight percent, but it will not be a runaway train - the brakes are already being applied.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Abu Dhabi have so much investment already earmarked that the start to the new decade will only build on last year’s performance. The Kingdom, for example, is ploughing $80 billion a year into domestic projects for the next four years, but with an eye on bringing down its budget deficit and inflation within acceptable levels.

That does not seem to be the same conversation in Washington, London or Brussels. The exercise of reigning in spending has not started just yet and still investors and consumers - in the absence of economic momentum and job creation - are asking, “Where’s the beef?”



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