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.
Davos, Switzerland (CNN) – I have arrived in Davos, a few days ahead of the World Economic Forum. Getting here early before the hot air starts rising from the WEF gives me a chance to witness this elite mountain resort without the fuss and to think about what might happen at this year's junket. Writing this I can see the last straggler skiers enjoying this year's superb snow - the best in a decade - which frankly is more than can be said for the prospects for this year's forum. I think this will be one of the most complicated and will produce relatively little by way of initiative and solutions.
It will be "Davos do little."
London (CNN) – The World Bank is not an organization noted for hyperbole and exaggeration. Certainly the sober-suited Washington bankers don't usually go around the world forecasting calamity, unless it is to drum up more support for the disadvantaged and poor.
And that's why their comments surrounding the Global Economic Prospects for 2012 were so unusual. The bank has just downgraded growth estimates for this year, by the biggest amount in three years.
It forecasts the euro area will be in recession (-0.3 %) and developing nations will see growth at 5.4%, down from earlier forecasts of more than 6 percent.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (CNN) – With 260 billion barrels of oil, Saudi Arabia has more than double the proven reserves of Iran, its nearest competitor within OPEC.
In an interview in Dhahran, in the Kingdom’s Eastern Provence, the veteran energy minister Ali Al Naimi said the country is ready step back in as the swing oil producer if sanctions undermine Iran’s exports of 2.2 million barrels a day.
“We have the capacity to produce 12.5 (million barrels a day) and we are idling now between 9.4 and 9.8. So we have substantial spare capacity,” he said.
(CNN) – The ratings downgrade of France by Standard & Poor's is embarrassing, but its economic impact will be limited – and the country will embark on a full court press to pretend it doesn't matter.
Let's not forget the U.S. lost its triple A rating; the dollar is still being printed and economy is doing better. But this will pile pressure on the eurozone: S&P has a history of jumping first, and other agencies could follow.
The risk is in its downstream hit on Europe's bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility [Editor's note: The fund has now been downgraded ]. The fund only holds its top rating by virtue of the countries whose cash it is backed by, and France is one of the major players.
The French downgrade could hit the bailout fund's triple A rating, which will make it harder to raise sufficient funds from investors to feed the bloc's needs for cash. That could cause hiccups for the bailout programs already in place.
But of far more importance Friday was news that creditors have failed to reach a deal with the Greek government on haircuts to the country's debt.
According to a statement from Greece's creditors, plans to slash the value of the debt in half, as part of the country's negotiations to get its second bailout, have stumbled. This could prove a ticking time bomb if it is not defused. The news means Greece is once again the big crisis.
The eurozone rescue plan is falling to bits but it's Greece we need to watch, not France.
London (CNN) – I am a simple man at heart, one who is usually three steps behind the latest technologies and battles hard to try to keep up. So I didn’t really understand the full thrust of Google’s latest news when I first heard it.
Google has changed its algorithm to add social media results to our searches. Users of Google+ will now find information from their friends, pictures from Picasa and all sorts of things that I have no idea about but which are lurking mysteriously on the web.
Google says this makes searches more personal, and gives information which is relevant to you. Surely, if social media is the future, this is all reasonable? So why is everyone up in arms about it?
London (CNN) – Shock! Horror! Crisis! Apple’s iPhone was not the top selling phone at Christmas – Samsung’s Galaxy S II was. Can this be? What has gone wrong? Surely some mistake?
OK – I need to declare I am not an Apple worshipper. Yes, I have an iPad, which I l love, and an old iPod which I use when travelling, but otherwise I am a PC person through and through.
I tell you this in advance because there is nothing more polarizing that the subject of Apple versus the rest of the world.
Apple users believe they have seen the light and are messianic about the company. Everyone else thinks the Appleites have drunk the Kool-Aid, probably need therapy and gleefully look forward to when the Apple empire’s cool veneer starts to wear thin. FULL POST
London (CNN) – The decision by China’s airlines to snub Europe’s carbon emissions tax opens a new front in the battle of European Union versus the Rest of the World.
From this year, airlines which use EU airports must pay a carbon tax, regardless of the carrier’s nationality. They pay for the emissions of the whole flight - not just the bit in European air space.
Carbon credits are issued for up to 80% of emissions, meaning airlines are left with hefty bills to cover the balance.
What has enraged the Americans, Chinese, Latin Americans - in fact just about everyone - is that the EU imposed a blanket scheme.
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).
London (CNN) – I have always been fascinated by the international date line; The arbitrary line where one day gives way to the next. When flying across the Pacific I often try to stay awake for that moment when you gain or lose a day as you cross this artificial barrier. So Samoa’s decision to shift its dateline has enthralled me.
Samoa is slap-bang in the middle of the Pacific, just 20 miles from the U.S. side of the line. Currently, Los Angeles is two hours ahead, and Sydney, Australia - on the other side - a whopping 21 hours ahead. (Ed's note: Many thanks to everyone who pointed out our own time zone slip, which is now corrected.) According to the country, most business is done with Australia and New Zealand, so Samoans are losing out on two days of business, because of the timings of work weeks and weekends.
So on Thursday, at the stroke of midnight, Samoa will shift the line. And it will instantly be Saturday morning, just after midnight.
Friday would never have existed for those who live in Samoa. Vamooshed. (I know how it works, but I still can’t get my head around it).
About Business 360
CNN International's business anchors and correspondents get to grips with the issues affecting world business, and they want your questions and feedback.