Ever the optimist. (World Economic Forum/swiss-image.ch)
January 21, 2016
Any chance that the first full day of the World Economic Forum in Davos would be marked by fresh-faced delegates with a spring in their step was quickly dashed. The news that greeted the global elite as they emerged from their Alpine chalets was unrelentingly gloomy.
Markets around the world tumbled throughout the day, reflected in the frowns of CEOs staring into their smartphones and double-takes whenever they caught glimpse of a scrolling ticker. On stage, Indian central bank chief Raghuram Rajan said, “we are in a world where we don’t know the fundamental value of any asset.” A financial services executive admitted to Quartz on the sidelines that “we are in completely uncharted territory, and there is a level of uncertainty that pervades everything.”
And how’s this for uncertainty? Mary Erdoes, who oversees $2.5 trillion in assets at JP Morgan Asset Management, noted that in a recent survey of big institutional investors about their best trade ideas, the top idea for a one-year horizon was to short emerging-market stocks. The best trade over three years? Buy emerging market stocks.
Meanwhile, Iranian officials used their time at Davos to accuse their Saudi counterparts of creating “a lot of mess” in the region. And German president Joachim Gauck noted that restricting refugee numbers in Europe was not “per se unethical.”
Then came the Northern Lights. Newly installed Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was tipped to make a star turn at Davos, and he delivered the pitch-perfect neo-utopian geopolitical message that goes down well among this crowd. (This despite a bit of teleprompter-driven stiffness at the start of his remarks.)
The relentless optimism of Canada’s leader—slipping seamlessly between English and French—was enthusiastically out-of-step with the prevailing mood of the other big names making appearances on the first day of the jamboree. “I believe in positive, ambitious leadership,” he said.
Despite tumbling oil prices, the threat of terrorism, and onset of climate change, “I can’t help but be tremendously optimistic,” he stressed, taking the glass half-full stance on every issue that others fretted about during the day. (See for yourself.) Even his sleight against the hosts managed to be endearing somehow: “Davos is lovely but you’ve got to come to Whistler,” he joked, drawing chuckles from the crowd.
After this appearance we dubbed him “the most optimistic man on earth,” so it would be churlish not to name Justin Trudeau the winner of Davos on day one. 🏆