THE BLOG

Is the World Going to Hell in a Handbasket?

25/01/2016 11:26 GMT | Updated 24/01/2017 10:12 GMT

The 'great and the good' have assembled at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) that is held in the Swiss in Davos which is a popular winter sports resort with conference facilities that makes it easy to protect so many of the world's key thinkers. Interestingly mere mortals can, in theory, attend. That is presuming you have been security cleared and are willing to stump up the entrance fee of £19,000 plus membership of WEF and be prepared to cough up for an extremely expensive hotel.

As usual there are is a list of crucial themes to be addressed. These include the future of work and the impact of artificial intelligence, inequality (again), terrorism and the migration crisis and climate change (again). Unsurprisingly given that many executives of the world's leading companies will be attending as well as key intellectual economic thinkers, markets and the prospects for the future.

'Davos' as this event has become known is an opportunity for the fabulously rich and very powerful to rub shoulders with each other and mix with the glitterati of show-business and sport under the guise of examining economic problems that beset every country; an objective that that has been in place right from the its commencement in the 1970s by academic Klaus Schwab.

For the last few years, and certainly since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, WEF has met with a backdrop of particular crisis that if not immediately solves will potentially lead to disaster. This year's shindig has taken place against portents that suggest we are in for some rough times ahead; harbingers of doom arguing that there could be another global recession.

For starters the price of a barrel of oil is at a 12 year low. For those of us who remember the shock that hikes in 1973 and 1979 produced respectively by embargo by members of OPEC (Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) as well as Egypt and Syria, and decreased output following the Iranian

Revolution this may see like good news. However, the recent drop suggests a malaise that indicates there is a severe downturn in demand from emerging economies, most notably China.

That there is a glut of oil because America is now more self-sufficient in oil production makes any downturn in the economy of China all the more profound. Traders are spooked. And after some 37 years of being an outsider Iran's re-emergence as a player means that there will be even more of what used to be referred to as 'liquid gold'.

Chins is not the only emerging economy that is being affected by a downturn. Brazil, Russia, and South Africa are also having problems that caused the International Monetary Fund to downgrade their predicted forecast for growth in these countries which is causing the price of stocks in mining companies producing key commodities such as iron and copper to fall.

Many economic commentators argue that the 'weapon' used to deal with the consequences and so called contagion of the GFC - quantitative easing or effectively increasing money by electronic printing - is one of the causes of overvalued stocks.

What we are seeing is a deflation of the bubbles that have been created.

All of this has been taxing the minds of the attendees at Davos. The reality is that there is a limited amount that can be done in the short-term. We are seeing a rebalancing of the economic world order that will inevitably cause pain here in this country and beyond.

The loss of jobs in steel-making is an immediate problem.

And whilst we may enjoy lower petrol prices those who invest in stocks will experience losses unless they are prepared to keep their shares. Sadly those who depend on annuities for their pensions will also be likely to see a reduction in what they receive.

The overall prognosis is not terribly good and continuing uncertainty will lead to, as one commentator at consultancy A T Kearney stated, "a global economy on a hair-trigger," in which even "minor shocks or perturbations can generate very significant effects."

Perhaps the best hope comes from the man cited as calling it correctly when he predicted the GFC Nouriel Roubini. He believes that whilst there are some tough times ahead in the short-term normality will eventually return.

The problem is that for those workers who lose their jobs in the process or the small investors in China who may have lost their money betting on stocks the new 'normal' may be far from pleasant.