Davos hopes to turn risk into reward

THIS year is meant to be one that takes the world “from risk to opportunity”, according to a pre-Davos briefing paper, but the 30 heads of state and their entourages meeting in the Swiss ski town from tomorrow are likely to be more preoccupied with the former than the latter.

In a sign of the 2011 World Economic Forum’s (WEF) focus on the downside, Davos will this year serve as a platform for the launch of a global Risk Response Network, a team of coordinators aiming to bring together policymakers, academic and risk analysts.

And among its ambitions will be to head off a possible currency war by fostering “strategic dialogue on international currency interactions”.

But however nicely politicians might speak in public, the meetings that count will take place in back rooms, far from the glare of cameras.

German chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish finance minister Elena Salgado will both be in attendance, as will ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet. And with negotiations ongoing over how to put the euro crisis to bed, Trichet will be keen to know when he can stop mopping up sovereign bonds on the secondary market.

But the Eurozone crisis is just one aspect of the “Shared Norms for a New Reality” that is meant to form the basis for this year’s debates.

“There is a new economic reality: parts of the world are growing much faster ... and of course parts of the world that have been the driver of growth are now struggling,” said WEF senior director Lee Howell.

He says the aim is to push leaders away from protectionism and political rivalry – and presumably the champagne receptions will help matters on that score.

Meanwhile, the return of financial industry figureheads like JP Morgan head Jamie Dimon and a strong presence from its rival banks, with Citi’s Vikram Pandit and Morgan Stanley’s John Mack set to fly in, will give bankers a chance to mull one new “norm” they all have to share: the raft of Basel III regulations.