Page last updated at 14:21 GMT, Sunday, 31 January 2010

Davos 2010 ends with bankers on the defensive

By Tim Weber
Business editor, BBC News website, in Davos

World Economic Forum logo
Little concrete reform has been agreed at Davos

Bankers have indicated that they may agree to far-reaching reforms, as the World Economic Forum in Davos ends.

Top regulators warned that they could take drastic action to take some of the risk out of the financial industry.

However, the annual meeting of some of the world's most powerful business leaders and politicians ended with few new plans or real achievements.

There was agreement though that job creation and free trade had to be key ingredients of any economic recovery.

Larry Summers, economics adviser to US President Barack Obama, probably coined the most memorable phrase of this year's Davos when he said the world was experiencing a "statistical economic recovery, but a human recession".

A B20 to complement the G20

The lack of results of the discussions at this year's forum are arguably a perfect reflection of the general uncertainty that has gripped most political and business leaders here in Davos.

While overall chief executives are much more confident now - "the world is a better place than 12 months ago" said Peter Sands, chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank - there is little agreement on how exactly the recovery will play out, and whether the economy could still experience a "second dip" downturn.

Open trade is absolutely critical to development, to lift people out of poverty
Peter Sands, chief executive, Standard Chartered Bank

Capturing the tenor of most economic forecasts was the phrase of a "LUV-shaped recovery" - an L-shaped long-term low growth recovery in Europe; a U-shaped slow growth recovery in the United States; and a sharp upturn in emerging economies like India, Brazil and China.

Business leaders, like Azim Premji of Indian IT services giant Wipro, warned that the real issue of this economic crisis was employment, while others warned that Western economies especially could face years of jobless growth.

The biggest worry of most chief executives - from both developed and emerging economies - was that politicians could give in to populism and approve protectionist measures.

"Open trade is absolutely critical to development, to lift people out of poverty," said Mr Sands, whose bank operates mainly in Asia.

Josef Ackermann, the boss of Deutsche Bank, proposed the creation of a B20 group of business leaders, to ensure the voice of business was heard when the G20 group of leading countries met again to co-ordinate economic policies and financial regulation.

Banker bashing

Most of the discussions, however, centred around the failings of the financial system and how to fix it, and discussions often descended into some form of banker bashing.

While at the start of the forum many bankers robustly defended their position, speaking out in favour of high bonuses and against tough regulation, by the end they had softened their tone.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva fo Brazil
A number of high profile leaders were not at Davos

Some of the world's top bankers - including those at Deutsche Bank and Barclays - indicated that they might be prepared to pay a global financial insurance levy, so that the next bank bail-out would be financed by the industry, not by taxpayers.

It probably helped that the many bosses of financial watchdogs and central banks in Davos, while talking softly, carried very big sticks. In numerous private meetings they outlined their numerous options to take the risk out of the banking system.

Davos, however, also illustrated that regulators are not anywhere near to agreeing the actual details of regulation - except that another financial crisis could only be averted if there was some kind of global framework for financial regulation.

Both Mr Sands and Mr Ackermann warned that there would have to be a trade-off between making the financial system safer and raising the cost of, or even limiting, the availability of credit.

A business Davos

One possible reason for the lack of any deal on trade or financial regulation in Davos was the absence of key politicians.

While French President Nicolas Sarkozy kicked off the meeting with a stirring call to reform and renew capitalism, many countries were notably under-represented at the forum.

Bill Gates speaking at Davos
Bill Gates pledged billions of dollars to help poor countries

There was hardly any US presence, Brazil's president Lula cancelled for health reasons, while the German foreign minister, the Pakistani prime minister and the Afghan president all cancelled at short notice.

China and India had sent key officials, but Russia none.

As a result, this year's event World Economic Forum was much more business-focused - probably to the relief of most business people here, who in recent years had grumbled that key issues had been pushed aside by political posturing and Hollywood glitz.

It also made the forum an early signal for the coming global power shift, where emerging economies grow larger than the West, and political power moves from the West towards the South and the East as well.

Humanitarian commitment

Arguably the most tangible result of Davos was probably a series of commitments to humanitarian causes.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda made the most spectacular announcement, pledging $10bn (£6.3bn) over the next 10 years to help research, develop and deliver vaccines for the world's poorest countries.

Many business leaders also made detailed promises on how they or their companies would help Haiti to cope in the aftermath of the earthquake.

This was not a normal year for Davos - it had few outcomes, but an intensity of discussion and debate that is unusual even for this high-powered event.

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