- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2009

GENEVA | Nervous business executives from some of the world’s biggest corporations attending the DavosWorld Economic Forum beginning Wednesday want to know how major political leaders, ministers of finance and central bankers plan to pull the global economy out of the ditch.

The deepening recession and the battered global financial economy will occupy the minds and dominate this year’s WEF.

With economic growth flagging in all the major Western economies, including the United States, Japan and Europe, and the likelihood of more contraction as the year goes on, many executives are likely to drop the idea of hitting the ski slopes.

Instead, they are likely to put all their energies into trying to network and analyze how what the various leaders say may have an impact on their operations.

With the business climate also getting worse by the day in big emerging economies such as China and India, which until recently were still steaming ahead with healthy growth rates, it can no longer be taken for granted that they can help cushion the impact of the economic slowdown in rich nations.

In this context, most of the 2,500 political and business leaders from 96 countries attending, including more than 40 heads of state and government, will be eager to hear what message Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao delivers during his keynote address Wednesday.

Participants will also be listening closely to what other leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have to say in their keynote presentations.

Major emphasis is also likely to be given to remarks by the 36 ministers of finance and central bank governors attending the forum.

A large number of the sessions will focus on the ways to navigate out of the crisis. Some of the themes include outlooks for global industry and economy, financing industry in an era of capital scarcity, managing global risks and analysis of the dollar.

A large number of the estimated 1,400 business executives present will be in a listening mode, especially on issues central to the future prosperity and survival of their companies. Many non-American executives will also be eager to get first impressions of how their competitors and peers view the prospects for the new administration of President Obama.

Aside from all the doom and gloom, Davos is also about networking and preparing the ground for big deals, and some of those less affected by the crisis such as well-heeled sovereign wealth funds from the Persian Gulf, will be looking around for new investment opportunities and some fire sale bargains.

At the other end, some cash-strapped corporations will be trying to persuade investors still with cash that their companies could be a good deal.

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