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Long Roads, Hubris, Oil and Beer

Wednesday, 28 Jan 2009 | 12:01 PM ET

It takes several turns around the Congress Center to get the pulse of the meeting, but you can get into the groove fairly quickly after that. You relearn how to look at name tags instead of faces and pick up the whit badges that discern delegates and VIPs from the ordinary working press.

The mood is more serious that last year, but not more somber. A few intense discussions were drawing in participants from around the center in between session, although the requisite numbers were propped up at the Plenary Bar—a notable meeting spot.

One thing looks clear and that's that whatever can be done to solve the current crisis is going to take time.

A few buzz phrases: "multi-year plan," "not anytime soon," "it will get worse," "a long road."

Here's a snapshot of this afternoon action in the corridors and lounges:

Who Has a Monopoly on Hubris?

Stephen Roach, chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, and New York Times financial columnist Floyd Norris (in the elite white-badge category, yet still a journalist) discussing another bad day to be a banker and whether it is the East or the West that feels more of a sense of entitlement to rule the economic world.

Doors Are Locked, Sorry

They're not kidding when they talk about demand for information at the seminars. Arcelor Mittal Chief Financial Officer Aditya Mittal was not allowed into a session after it had started, which ignited a flurry of headless-chicken like activity from personal assistants.

Mittal hurried out of the open area of the center, but don't worry, as a member of one of the world's wealthiest families he probably has somewhere nice to crash.

Brewing Reality

The big consolidation wave in the brewing industry is naturally going to slow down in the current climate, but it's the smaller companies looking for a buyer that have to face the sticker shock, SABMiller CEO Graham Mackay said.

Prices haven't adjusted to the reality that the buyers are facing, Mackay said. Demanding ten to 13 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization—based on trailing earnings—just aren't justifiable, he said, adding that it's not just cash deals facing problems.

"If you've got a stock price at seven and someone wants ten for their company, that's hard to justify to shareholders," he said.

Remember Oil?

In middle of all the conversations about banks and finance there was an oasis of academia discussing what the real price of oil is and where was the recent low points?

The group included two people from MIT, Daniel G. Nocera, The Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy and Professor of Chemistry and Ernest Moniz, Co-Director of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment.

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