Three months ago, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, I commented to one of the best-known men in American finance that he seemed pretty glum. He agreed, and said that was true for virtually every financial executive there.
But he said, there was one exception. John Thain, the newly appointed chief executive of Merrill Lynch, was smiling a lot, he said, and with good reason.
At least according to Bloomberg’s Michael Lewis. And why, pray tell, is it appropriate to refer to the 5-day long E-binge as such?
1. A lot of people say a lot of things at Davos but no one really has the cojones to, you know, ‘say’ anything.
Examine the public statements extruded by the World Economic Forum any year and you’ll find the same warmed-over prudence, the same dreary feeling that someone is about to punctuate the nebulous tedium with a proposal to create a commission.
2. Phonies wanted.
Davos is where people with no talent for risk-taking gather to imagine what actual risk-takers might do. Davos Man needs to sit in judgment; Davos Man needs to brood. So great is this need that he will brood about virtually anything, no matter how little he knows about it.
3. We haven’t seen this much overthetop worrying such we attended the 1987 Jewish Mom Expo at Nassau Colisseum.
“The surging demand for derivatives is making financial markets more vulnerable to any slowdown in the global economy.”
The piece came with supporting quotes from European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, Bank of China Vice President Zhu Min and the deputy chief of India’s planning commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia — but not a worrisome fact in sight. None of them seemed to understand that when you create a derivative you don’t add to the sum total of risk in the financial world; you merely create a means for redistributing that risk. They have no evidence that financial risk is being redistributed in ways we should all worry about. They’re just — worried.
4. Most of the people who attended this thing spend their days in bubble baths while being fed bon bons and having US Weekly read aloud to them. The ones with heroin problems hold out their arms at various intervals and have someone who actually bears the title “heroin injector” inject the drug into their pliable (as a result of inactivity) veins.
Even if these global financial elites knew something useful that you and I don’t — that, say, 50 hedge funds were about to go under and drag with them half the world’s biggest banks along with a third of the Third World — they would be unlikely to do anything about it.
5. The reason people go to Davos is because it makes them feel good about themselves in ways their mothers (fathers/husband/swives/doormen/dry cleaners) never did.
…perhaps the only point of standing in the snow and expressing your doubts to a television camera to prove that you are the sort of person whose doubts matter…
It’d been a while since we’d heard from our crackpot team of Davos reconnaissance artists (otherwise known as legitimate reporters) so we took it upon ourselves to check in with the group. Here’s what’s shakin’ in Switzerland, thus far:
+ China is working overtime to try and make some friends. But now that it’s telling the globe, and we quote, “We want to make friends with all countries. It’s never too late to be our friends,” is it coming off as a little too desperate? Perhaps China should start embracing our favorite platitude, and sure fire way to get into someone’s pants make nice with the rest of the world: treat them like dirt and they’ll stick to you like glue. [Forbes]
+Wall Street executives feel good about their risk-management practices; the Beard of Reasoning, does not. [Bloomberg]
+ KarstadtQuelle’s Thomas Middelhoff’s sperm has put in a lot of overtime to save Western Europe—what are you doing to help? [DealBook]
+ The roasted chicken served at the “Terrorism Lunch” was loaded with sesame seeds. [IHT]
+Climate change: thanks to the efforts of Larry David’s wife, mostly everyone (except for Bushie and co.) is up for stopping it. But no one wants to foot the bill. [CNN Money]
+ European Internal Market Commissioner Charles McCreevy defends the “constitutional right” to lose your own money. [WSJ]
+For someone who purportedly supports Germany, Claudia Schiffer is a less than “hands on” spokeswoman. Angelina definitely would’ve put out. [DealBook]
If you were taking a body shot off of Melinda Gates’ chest at Davos and overheard someone mutter “is there a Chinese guy bitching about Starbucks?,” it was not the oxycotin chaser talking, it was Rui Chenggang.
Chinese television anchor Rui Chenggang is throwing a hissy fit over the Starbucks that resides inconspicuously in the Forbidden City, located in the middle of Bejing, surrounded by a six meter deep moat and ten meter high wall. The literal translation of the Chinese term used to describe the Forbidden City means “Purple Forbidden City,” which sounds like a bad Jefferson Starship song or porno, and thus was lost in translation. Home to Emperors in the Ming and Qing dynasties and now home to the Grande Half-Skim Cinnamon Dolce Latte, the site is the world’s largest palace complex.
Can you imagine there not being a Starbucks within a world’s largest palace complex distance from your office? For me, case closed, for Rui-dog, he’s out for justice, and this time it’s personal. When not sculpting his guns at the office or eating a whale’s vagina (a Chinese delicacy), anchorman Chenggang is blogging about evil American companies or how President Jintao’s gold Marc by Marc Jacobs bag is both undeniably adorable and totally not okay, all at once. Chenggangbang originally launched his complaint against Starbucks in his blog, which then led to a comment denouncing the coffee chain’s location on Chinese television last week. Now, Rui has been Chengspotted at a press luncheon in Davos expressing his surprise to the widespread reaction to his blog, which has attracted over half a million readers and elicited over 2,000 comments.
Starbucks has 53 other locations in Bejing, none more popular than the Forbidden City location, partly because the bathroom inside the Forbidden City Starbucks contains the only other Imperial throne within the complex.
With the success of the Starbucks location, a slew of other American franchises and other businessmen are rumored to be opening locations in the Forbidden City including:
-A Pizza Hut inside the Hall of Supreme Harmony (huge startup synergies with the Hall’s current pagoda architecture)
-A Taco Bell inside the Palace of Heavenly Purity (image consultants were responsible for this, trying to shed the chain’s E.coli burrito factory reputation)
-A disgruntled hot-dog vendor outside the Gate of Divine Might
Also the Mongolians have been spied trying to smuggle in one of their patented woks past the Meridian Gate and into one of the Three Front Halls.
The Starbucks website is currently unable to map the location of its Forbidden City branch, and you need to call the store directly for hours. Tempest in a Coffee Cup – [DealBook]
If you guessed Todd Thomson, you are dead wrong but apparently have a sick and twisted sense of humor, and for that win two points and a copy of the Welch family’s Winning: The Answers. Now, onto the real answer: everyone at the World Economic Forum in Davos, that’s who! When we told you earlier this morning that we—snubbed as we were without an invitation*—would be giving you round the clock updates on what’s going to be a historic Five-Day Long E-bender Meeting of the Minds, we meant it. We’ve been checking in with our trifecta of unofficial reporters**, which include DealBook, Bloomberg, and the teeny camera on Daniel Loeb’s left lapel (and, when the change is necessary, his belt buckle) and, boy, do they have some mind blowing mildly amusing stuff to report. Let’s start in reverse order because, truth be told, we’re feeling frisky:
1.Loeb’s hidden camera: it’s hard to make out but it looks as though we’re in…we’re in…we’re in a bathroom. Loeb’s talking to some guy who, um, this is weird, has no shirt on and has—what the hell…a tie around his head? Hey, Minkin, come take a look at this, is Loeb actually talking to a shirtless guy with a tie around his head or are we just down tripping from this morning? The guy Loeb’s talking to IS Loeb? Okay…weird but okay…It’s hard to make out but it sounds like he’s saying something about “day by day”? We have no idea what all this means, just that ridiculousness of this kind is typical Loeb and typical Davos.
2.Bloomberg: Reports that Larry Summers is putting the spin skills he acquired last year after his little mishap with the ladies to good use, because “Davos is perhaps the one place that’s more politically correct than even the college campus.” Translation: it’s the beginning of the week people, what do you expect? Everyone’s just getting to know each other and there’s a lot of uncomfortable silences and awkward fumbling of buttons and zippers. Just wait, though; by the end of the week everyone will know where and how everyone else likes to be touched and we’ll be smooth sailing.
Bloomberg also wonders aloud in its party coverage whether or not it can get away with shaming WEF planners for “loving lofty themes,” when Bloomberg itself writes sentences like “To outsiders, it’s the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. To the cognoscenti, it’s simply Davos.” Comes to the conclusion that it cannot.
a.There’s no snow.
b.The parties lined up for this week are going to be OFF THE HOOK. Apparently the “hottest ticket this year” is an invitation-only breakfast on Saturday given by Billy-boy Gates and his wife, Melly. Bill’s been known on more than one occasion to go crazy and EAT BREAKFAST FOR DINNER, so who the heck knows what he’s got up his sleeve this time.
Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ Sam DiPiazza is having a cocktail party tonight which you know can only mean one thing—KEGGER. You didn’t hear this from us, but the sleuths at DB report that SD is rumored to be going for his keg-stand personal best tonight, and must beat 136 seconds. Let’s see what happens.
Tomorrow, Steve Forbes is throwing “what promises to be a raucous party, which rock star Bono, whose investment firm, Elevation Partners, just bought a stake in the Forbes publishing company, is expected to attend.” For everyone who will be in attendence’s sakes, let’s hope not—Bono is known on the party circuit to get shamelessly drunk and make outrageous claims like he wrote the lyrics to “Roxanne,” refusing to allow anyone to reason with him and totally killing everyone’s buzz.
The Nebbishy Master of the Universe has planned a party for Friday night which should be the social event of the week, considering his recently acquired pocket change but, then again, considering who we’re dealing with, it could end up being cheap beer and 1-topping pizza on paper plates. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that).
More as it unfolds.
* Jerks. JK. JK, we’re serious.
**in that we’ve contracted their services without their knowledge because we’re just that good.