Davos Diary: Trapped without life support at 5,000 feet — a survivor’s tale

Exterior view of the of the snow covered Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvedere in Davos, Switzerland, onJan. 15, 2019. (Gian Ehrenzeller/Keystone via AP)
Updated 26 January 2019
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Davos Diary: Trapped without life support at 5,000 feet — a survivor’s tale

  • It was time to head to another event in the Belvedere, when I realized my backpack was missing
  • Despite what happened, I slept like a baby, waking at 7am to the news that my bag had been found in the Belvedere

Here is the nightmare scenario: You are 5,000 feet up a snowy Alpine mountain in sub-zero conditions. Your only contact with the outside world is via a variable mobile signal, and the precious life support system that you carry on your back.

Your World Economic Forum backpack contains everything a journalist needs to survive in these savage conditions — laptop, notebook, hotel key, charging leads and other essential connectables. Its reassuring weight on your shoulder has sustained you for several life-threatening days.

Suddenly, it is gone. Panic. Terror. Intimations of imminent mortality.

This was the situation I found myself in the other night at the Standard Aberdeen cafe next door to the Belvedere hotel in the beating heart of Davos. You cannot miss the Staberdeen, as it’s known, because it has a Scottish Highland piper playing at top decibels outside. 

It had been a very convivial hour or so in the cafe, where Aberdeen founder Martin Gilbert puts on one of the best bashes of the whole WEF extravaganza. His generosity is limitless, his guest list formidable.

I was standing at the bar in search of refreshment when I looked around at the two gentlemen engaged in conspiratorial conversation next to me, and recognized Liam Fox, the British minister for International trade, and David Davis, former minister for Brexit.

There are no prizes for guessing their subject of conversation. As a result of my eavesdropping, however, I can confirm that Theresa May, the UK prime minister, will definitely not be coming to Davos, contrary to rumors that she might put in an unscheduled appearance.

There were many old friends from my days on Fleet Street, including William Lewis, who was a humble hack when I knew him back then but who has risen to illustrious heights and is now CEO of Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal.

Will jokily reminded me of my old nickname on the Street of Shame, but which I don’t have space to explain here.

All that was fun, but it was time to head to another event — the CNBC/Financial Times “nightcap” — in the Belvedere, when I realized my backpack was missing. It was not in the place that I had left it on arriving at the cafe.

The very considerate Staberdeen people mounted an exhaustive hunt of the premises. A black backpack with “WEF” printed on it is not uncommon in Davos, and many lookalikes were found. But there was no trace of mine. Obviously somebody had taken it in error and would return it when they realized their mistake.

There was nothing for it but to quench my panic in the Staberdeen. For a pleasant interlude, I forgot my predicament, while lamenting I would not be able to mix with the glamorous people from CNBC.

I had a very interesting chat with Mike Corbat, CEO of the big American banking group Citigroup, who had a rather more benign take on the state of the global economy than most people at Davos — though he was concerned at the news from Venezuela.

Some American oil execs at the do were also worried about the news from Caracas, but offered the view that the US energy giant ExxonMobil stood ready to support the Venezuelan people by getting their oil industry back up and running quickly, if they got the call.

Two hours passed, and still no news of my life support. There was nothing for it but to head back to my Klosters hotel (arranged very kindly courtesy of an Uber on Staberdeen’s account), to wake Walter, the proprietor of the Cresta Hotel, and seek entry to my room.

Maybe it was the Staberdeen hospitality, maybe the unexpected freedom from work responsibilities conferred by the missing laptop, but I slept like a baby, waking at 7am to the news that my bag had been found in the Belvedere. High-altitude life could resume.

 

• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai


‘Gulf will lead digital currency world’

Updated 3 min 12 sec ago
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‘Gulf will lead digital currency world’

  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE have agreed to pilot a shared digital currency for cross-border bank transactions
  • Bitcoin prices have plummeted by more than 50 percent in the last year

LONDON: The Gulf is overtaking Asia as the global leader in cryptocurrencies, as countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE embrace blockchain technology despite the crash in coin prices, according to the cofounders of a new digital-currency exchange.
Bitcoin prices have plummeted by more than 50 percent in the last year, from a high of $9,683.54 on May 4, 2018 to under $4,000 on Thursday afternoon. Ethereum, another prominent digital currency, lost 83 percent of its value over the same period.
That has not deterred the founders of the Abu Dhabi-based Hayvn, who believe digital currencies are still in their infancy and are yet to benefit from big bucks being pumped in by institutional investors. A move by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to pilot a shared digital currency for cross-border bank transactions also points to the longer-term potential of cryptocurrencies, said Hayvn cofounders Ahmed Ismail and Christopher Flinos.
“We see the Gulf leading digital currencies going forward, globally,” said Flinos. “It started in Asia, and we now see the GCC taking over from Asia as the global leader in digital currencies and their integration into the financial system.”
Flinos said there was an appetite for cryptocurrencies among big regional investors, but that they lack a safe and secure platform on which to trade. 
“Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest cryptocurrency markets, potentially, within the region,” he said. “Middle Eastern high-net-worth individuals generally have a higher risk tolerance … they like equities, they are used to volatility. They’re not afraid of new things, they’re not afraid of chasing yield.”
Flinos and business partner Ismail, who met while working at Merrill Lynch in the mid 2000s, plan to launch Hayvn soon and have had discussions with the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) authority about regulating the platform. The executives say that regulation, along with cryptographic security provided by a company called nCipher, will make Hayvn stand out from other global exchanges, some of which have been hit by high-profile cyberattacks. The Tokyo-based Mt. Gox exchange, notably, filed for bankruptcy in 2014 after losing some 850,000 bitcoins — then worth about $500 million — and $28 million in cash from its bank accounts.

 

The Hayvn exchange will be aimed at institutional investors with more than $500,000 of investable funds, such as hedge funds, private banks and high-net-worth individuals. Its founders have not yet disclosed which cryptocurrencies it will trade, but confirmed the majors will be there. They have also held initial discussions about being an exchange for “intra-GCC trading coins” of the sort being piloted by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Despite the roller-coaster ride in crypto prices, Hayvn cofounder Ismail said that there is a gap in the market for a well-regulated and secure exchange. 
“Cryptocurrency exchanges right now, globally, are effectively just casinos,” he said. “We saw that (in) a lot of the exchanges around the world, it was pretty much the Wild West … there was a lot of price manipulation, there was a lot of money laundering, institutional money was still not convinced.
“We saw what was going on in the digital currency market. And we saw this massive gaping hole.” 
Ismail described the ADGM’s regulatory framework as “rigorous” and said the planned security on the trading platform means it is “completely unhackable.”
“We’re not simply an exchange — retail exchanges are a dime a dozen, it’s very easy to set one up,” he said, pointing to the research the company plans to conduct with a London-based university.
Ismail acknowledged the crash in prices of bitcoin and ethereum, but said that it was still early days for cryptocurrencies, which until now have been traded mainly by small individual investors. 
“The reason there has been massive amounts of volatility in (bitcoin) or ethereum or any of the large coins is the fact that it’s been pretty much retail (investors),” he said. “Institutional money is still waiting on the sidelines to get into cryptocurrency. It’s moving. There are paradigm shifts that are happening right now in the whole cryptocurrency world. But it’s still not there yet. We’re still at the very very beginning of the digital currency revolution.” 
So will cryptocurrency prices recover in the short term?
“Who knows? It may be overvalued, it may be undervalued,” said Ismail. 
“We ultimately don’t care. We’re looking at this as a real asset class that has long-term probability. It might not be bitcoin, it might be another cryptocurrency that’s going to emerge in the short to medium term.”

FACTOID

Bitcoin prices have lost about half their value over the past year.