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Trump set to take on Davos globalism and optimism

·Editor in Chief

DAVOS — The snow has stopped, the sun has broken through, and the CEOs and heads of state have arrived. It’s the first official day of Davos, which is kicking off with a keynote by Indian Prime Minister Modi, who some would have you believe was practicing Trumpism before Trump was.

“We must accept that globalization is slowly losing its luster,” Modi said in his speech, blaming in part the United Nations for failing to effect real change. Sound familiar?

Even so, the mood at Davos this year is decidedly upbeat, actually the best in memory at least according to one long-time attendee. And that may not be such a good thing. “That must mean it’s all going to crash,” joked Larry Fink, after I relayed that optimistic observation upon bumping into him on the ground floor of the Congress Center. When I mentioned the mood to Jes Staley, Barclays CEO, he nodded and noted that last year the talk here was all about income inequality. This year, not so much, suggesting that the streaking stock market has unfortunately made this group at least forget about that gap.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

As you can tell, the power swirl here has begun in earnest here, particularly in the elite Strategic Partner’s lounge, where most attendees are not allowed unless they have an appointment. Companies pay big bucks for their executives to hang out there. (It is perhaps ironic that Davos, which preaches global egalitarianism is so hierarchal. Here was Ray Dalio picking at a plate of salmon, there’s Larry Fink badging in, meanwhile across the way, CEOs of two of the biggest banks on the planet are deep in conversation.

It turns out that many CEOs came in last night from France, where President Macron hosted what is called French Davos, a one-day event held at Versailles (which is conveniently closed on Mondays) to discuss world events and hear about the French economy. In attendance was Jamie Dimon, a jet-lagged Lloyd Blankfein and UPS CEO David Abney, among others.

I also ran into all manner of media types this morning including Ben Smith of Buzzfeed, Marty Baron of the Washington Post and Ed Felsenthal of Time, and I picked their brains about Rupert Murdoch’s Facebook mini-manifesto, where he blasted the social network for not paying publishers. Reactions ranged from, ‘he’s right and was all along,” to “I’m not shedding any tears for Rupert,” to “none of us are getting paid.”

And yes, there is much talk of Donald Trump. One top Internet executive said to me that Trump’s speech would be a direct response to Xi Jinping’s speech here a year ago, where the Chinese president asserted that with the United States in retreat, China was ready to assume the mantle as the world leader. And, this exec continued, he expected Trump to escalate his tough on China talk after this speech, which of course follows the administration’s announcement of tariffs on Chinese solar panels and washing machines.

And then there’s the somewhat curious timing of Trump’s speech here, Friday afternoon at 2pm local time, when usually most attendees have departed. Former House Majority Leader and now Moelis & Co banker Eric Cantor has a theory. “I think it was the only slot they had. You’ve got Modi today, Theresa May, Merkel and Macron. What are you going to do, boot out one of them? Friday was what was available.” Anyway, Cantor points out, the speech isn’t so important for the audience here, it’s all about the TV audience and clips from the speech.

For the rest of the week the outlook remains sunny—both inside and outside the Congress Center—that is until Friday when once again snow is expected. And Trump speaks.

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Andy Serwer is Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief. Follow him on Twitter: @serwer.

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