The week of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum is a fire hose of news. Headlines, predictions, sightings and tidbits that months and years later are recognized as the flash point for much larger shifts and trends can often get overlooked.
To help you sort through it all, we’ve put together this crib sheet of everything that we think was important that happened here in Davos. (Yes, I’m writing this from Davos on my way home.)
Before we get into the substance, a couple of observations.
The World Economic Forum has traditionally brought together the world’s top political and business leaders. But this year, the political leaders were largely absent — remaining in their home countries to handle crises largely of their own making (President Trump with the shutdown and Prime Minister Theresa May with Brexit).
The surprise guest this year was Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, making his first appearance; it may be an indication of Apple’s increasing dependence on foreign markets for growth.
The topic du jour (besides the shutdown) was a debate over where the global economy was headed. Chief executives professed confidence that their earnings would continue apace, while economists and investors talked about the prospect of a recession in 2020. And others, like Ray Dalio — and Seth Klarman, who did not attend, but whose annual letter was a constant talking point — worried about social unrest. Interestingly, Dr. Doom — Nouriel Roubini — was actually upbeat.
A Chinese chief executive described his country’s economy as “ugly” — he used that world repeatedly — suggesting that the underlying foundation there was more fragile than most economists acknowledge. That could lead to weakness in China spreading to the rest of the world. And the general sense is that while the U.S. and China may reach a trade détente, we might be headed for a decades-long economic cold war.
Larry Fink’s letter and the concept of E.S.G., shorthand for “environmental, social and governance,” got a lot of discussion this year — it felt like it might be a tipping point in the dialogue. European companies are still more interested in E.S.G. than U.S. companies, but it feels like a trend that isn’t going away. TPG’s Rise Fund started a new company, Y Analytics, to measure E.S.G. Bono, a board member of Rise, was on hand to talk about impact investing and to support his Red brand, which he started a decade ago in Davos (DealBook broke that story at the time) as well as his One franchise. Matt Damon was in town to raise money for his water.org, which is turning into a quite successful story (side note: Mr. Damon had to borrow a suit because his bag got lost by Swiss Air). Jane Goodall was also in Davos — and let me say that she is as nice as she is important. Even the Vatican sent a delegation to talk about conscious and inclusive capitalism.