22 Jan 2014

At Davos, the crisis is now off the menu

The official World Economic Forum is still discussing big global issues, and rarely an hour goes by without a panel on inequality and poverty. But Davos Man is trying to put behind him some six years of financial fear. Doom Davos and Deleveraging Davos have been replaced by Dealmaking Davos. The dust is settling.

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The world’s megabanks are sending camera crews around to pick up an “upbeat message” for their clients. There is much excitement about robots, Big Data thermostats, 3D scanning, and of course, a coming wave of massive mergers and acquisitions deals.

The key to this is what the advisory firm Deloitte identifies as a $2.8 trillion cash pile in the hands of about 400 of the world’s largest companies. The pile is double the pre-crisis level and ever more concentrated in the hands of fewer companies, such as Apple, Google and Samsung.

They may just be starting to spend. Google recently shelled out some of the pile on Nest, the designer of digitally controlled household gadgets.

On the way to Davos, I was invited to a board meeting of Siemens UK, where the bosses were clearly experiencing renewed confidence in the world economy and in Britain.

The unemployment numbers have just come in at 7.1 per cent. They are an impressive set over the three months, though the forward guidance headache looms large. Unemployment will soon hit 7 per cent (though over one month it’s up to 7.4 per cent, so maybe still a few months away).

Mark Carney is making a number of appearances this week in Davos. Businesses are anxious to hear that forward guidance will be recalibrated or reguided.

The number one fear of the people holding the investment purse strings is a too hasty normalisation of monetary policy. The Federal Reserve and the ECB are more important in this regard than the Bank of England, but this returning confidence is rather fragile.

An intriguing idea I heard last night was that when a rate rise comes, it could be a fractional rise of say 0.1 per cent or even less rather than the traditional 0.25 per cent.

Such is the sensitivity about releasing the corporate cash pile into an avalanche of investment. More on the jobs numbers, and an interview with one of those corporate titans shortly.

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