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(Bloomberg) -- Bankers, politicians and CEOs trudged their way through several feet of snow in the Swiss ski resort of Davos so they could attend the second day of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting. What they found was good news about a once-ailing Europe, warnings about the financial crisis to (possibly) come, and protectionist shockwaves from across the Atlantic.
Is it 2006 all over again?
With the stock market soaring, finance executives are telling investors to avoid repeating the mistakes of 2006. The leaders of Citigroup Inc., Barclays Plc and Carlyle Group LP all drew parallels between today’s markets and those before the Great Recession. They fretted in unison that growth could be upended if interest rates rise quicker than anticipated. “There is an ambivalence out there that’s concerning,” Citigroup Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat said during a panel discussion. “When the next turn comes—and it will come—it’s likely to be more violent than it would otherwise be if we let some pressure off along the way.” Barclays CEO Jes Staley added, “we’ve got very little capacity in the capital markets to deal with a real move in interest rates.’’ David Rubenstein of Carlyle warned that, “generally, when people are happy and confident, something wrong happens.’’
Every year, news breaks far away only to reverberate in Davos hours later. Often it comes from Washington. That was the case Tuesday after U.S. President Donald Trump slapped tariffs on solar panels and washing machines. BlackRock Inc. Vice Chairman Philipp Hildebrand said protectionism is the biggest risk to a global recovery, while Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz said Trump’s move is “bad for the global environment, it’s bad for the American economy, it’s bad for jobs in the U.S.’’ Petrobras CEO Pedro Parente warned against Trump’s parallel effort to bring back coal, but Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, predicted “the penetration of solar in the U.S. will continue.” Even before the announcement, the $1.5 trillion Republican tax overhaul was drawing a mixed reception. Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman and Adena Friedman, the CEO of Nasdaq Inc., praised it as a growth driver, but Bank of America Corp. CEO Brian Moynihan said a tight labor market may not meet the demand for workers, and Frank Appel, CEO of Deutsche Post AG, cautioned that tax cuts would only enjoy a “limited short-term impact.’’
Decline of the west
Booming markets or no, the financial crisis has had a lasting impact on who’s hot and who’s not in the Swiss Alps. Wavering western powers have been supplanted by China, and now India. In a speech Tuesday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned attendees against the kind of protectionism the White House announced just hours earlier. Modi said he is working to double India’s $2.3 trillion economy by 2025 as he spearheads efforts to attract foreign investment. Reaching the $5 trillion mark will be no easy task, given middling growth forecasts. Nevertheless, Modi’s government recently eased restrictions on foreign direct investment in single brand retail, real estate brokerages and power exchanges. He also allowed overseas airlines to invest in state carrier Air India Ltd. Previously, he relaxed rules on investment in defense, construction, insurance and pensions.
Key man Draghi
For years, the European economy was the sick man of Davos. Greece’s financial woes, the longevity of the euro, the rise of populism and the challenges of Brexit have all made the region the biggest headache of the annual meeting. No more, as the continent sees a renaissance few would have thought possible. Harvard University’s Ken Rogoff said it’s been a “phenomenal story’’ and Carlyle’s Rubenstein called Europe a “very attractive place to invest.” Credit was given to European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. “Europeans should take our key man insurance on him because when he goes, a real giant will have gone because he’s done an incredible job,’’ said Rubenstein.
Uber digs out
Just as Davos can be rattled by events elsewhere, the conclave is often used to broadcast news to the world. That was the case Tuesday when Uber Technologies Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi announced the embattled company would be profitable within three years. This would be quite the achievement for the global ride-hailing service, which has been losing billions of dollars annually. Almost six months into his tenure, Khosrowshahi is attempting to reverse what has been an unprecedented period of turmoil—one that’s unlikely to end soon. The company faces a slew of government investigations, allegations of sexual harassment and increasing competition from rivals worldwide—largely parting gifts from his predecessor, Travis Kalanick.
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