The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting looks set to be as unintentionally hilarious as ever
Robert Louis Stevenson arrived in Davos in 1881 wrestling with a grand project – and left with Treasure Island. You may question if that is an exact metaphor for what’s going on in the Swiss mountain retreat this week, but it is just the type of symbolism that appeals to delegates at the World Economic Forum, so please don’t mock this boondoggle.
The WEF’s annual meeting is almost certainly the most important glühwein-guzzling session on the planet (during January), and scepticism is merely a sign of envy that you can’t get in. Certainly the 11,000 permanent Davos residents will be honoured to receive their important guests, as their town gets a temporary bump up the per capita ego rankings, while the rest of us tune in to the world’s largest intellects and wallets pretending this isn’t all about networking.
As usual, the organisers have plumped for an un-mockable theme – Resilient Dynamism – as well as staging enticing sessions such as Friday afternoon’s unmissable: “Enterprise Resilience”. There delegates will be educated on how “enterprises [can] improve resilience to global risks” by a bill that includes, er, Tom Albanese.
That is resilient. It was only last week that he was ousted as Rio Tinto boss after a series of catastrophic acquisitions.
There is, as Sir Alex Ferguson might put it, a resonance of squeaking emanating from HM Treasury.
Britain’s retailers clearly endured a tight Christmas – if you hadn’t worked that out from the swelling casualty list, it was confirmed by the Office for National Statistics on Friday, with figures showing that high-street and online spending fell by 0.6% in the three months to December.
That performance merely intensified speculation that the economy contracted in the final quarter of 2012 and, while it’s not yet certain it did, we will find out more this week when the ONS makes its first stab at fourth- quarter GDP. Some cheery souls reckon that will show we’re five-sixths of our way towards a historic triple-dip.
All of which leaves George Osborne in an unusual position, as he sits hoping that an army of forecasters have called the current quarter wrong. Sadly for the chancellor, he’s not relying on the economists to mess things up, but the meteorologists, who have a better hit rate. Presently, they reckon it will continue snowing until the middle of this week, knocking the already feeble economy, as well as prompting further rumbles at 1 Horse Guards Road.
Crunch time for Chemring
Investors in Chemring Group, who are desperately trying to forget what happened last year, should look away now. There will follow a brief synopsis of the events of 2012.
In a tough market for defence spending – compounded by technical problems afflicting new products – the company issued a pair of profit warnings and its potential saviour – a bid from US private equity group Carlyle – suddenly collapsed after the US firm decided the price wasn’t right. Chief executive David Price certainly wasn’t: he also lost his job.
New boss Mark Papworth took over at the back end of last year and Steve Bowers, who seems to be well-respected in the sector, was named as finance chief earlier this month. Against that backdrop it is tricky to see how 2013 could possibly be worse, although the company is expected to kick it off with a fairly depressing set of numbers when it announces full-year results this week.
Investec reckons that revenues will edge up 2% to £737.6m while profits will slump by 42% to £70.8m, so much depends on how impressive the market believes Papworth’s initial performances are – and especially if he can avoid more bad news. That is not a given. The old City adage has it that profit warnings come in threes.