Davos Diary: An evening in the life of WEF, from Brexit to biodiversity

Al Gore, former US Vice President and Climate Reality Project Chairman, naturalist Sir David Attenborough and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the WEF, in Davos. (Reuters)
Updated 25 January 2019

Davos Diary: An evening in the life of WEF, from Brexit to biodiversity

  • An absent Theresa May was the star of the show at WEF last year, before the Brexit debacle took such a serious turn
  • Sir David Attenborough was present to spread the word about climate change, which is one of the hot topics of Davos 2019

DAVOS: The Belvedere hotel was buzzing with rumor on the eve of the formal opening day of Davos 2019, and most of it centered on British Prime Minister Theresa May. Will she? Won’t she?
The UK leader has apparently withdrawn from this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting. She is one of a number of big-hitters who have decided their services are needed at home, in the face of populist “crises” ravaging the US and Europe.
In the Belvedere, the reason for May’s absence was apparent from the first step in the door. There, in the main lobby amid all the corporate branding for the banks and consulting firms that make the hotel their home base for the duration of Davos, flew the Union flag of the UK along with the slogan “Free Trade is GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland.”
Very in-your-face, but it was hard to work out exactly who had hung it there. Was it a Brexiteer, anxious to promote the idea that after withdrawal from the EU, the UK would be free to trade with the rest of the world? Or was it a member of the Remain camp, pushing the line that Britain within the EU would be free to trade with the 27 other member of the customs union?
There were other conspiracy theories being spun around. It was a greeting flag, it was said, to welcome May on what would be a surprise visit after all. British business leaders — marginally more anti- than pro-Brexit — are due to hold their annual Davos lunch event on Thursday.
Some recalled that May was the star of the show there last year, before the Brexit debacle took such a serious turn. Maybe she would want to reprise that triumph? Such is the hectic pace at which rumor spreads in Davos that I heard the same notion being put around later in the day as hard fact. We shall see, but if it happens, you read it here first.
After the excitement of the Belvedere, the agenda moved to the Hilton hotel, back within the ring of steel that surrounds the main WEF congress hall. That was the venue for the welcome bash thrown by the WEF media team, which is always a “must attend” event. Even more so this year because the guest speaker was the distinguished British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough. The nonagenarian TV supremo — maker and voiceover to the “Planet” series of nature programs on the BBC — was in Davos to spread the word about climate change, which is one of the hot topics of Davos 2019.
Adrian Monck, the WEF’s head of public and social engagement and a former broadcaster himself, introduced Sir David with the words: “It’s not often you get to hear from a TV legend, but I don’t want to get into my TV career now,” drawing a few laughs around the room.
Sir David’s message on climate change and biodiversity destruction was rather more serious. “There are people here in Davos with enormous power, some who have more power than national states.
I want to tell them that we know what the matter is and we know what we can do to fix it,” he said.
He hopes his new documentary series “Our Planet,” which will air on Netflix, will help change perceptions, especially among climate change deniers. Sir David resisted the chance to criticize President Donald Trump, maybe the denier-in-chief, but he did say: “It is easy to say the problem does not exist, so we need bold action and bravery.”

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

Big week for Big Tech as earnings, hearings loom

Updated 25 October 2020

Big week for Big Tech as earnings, hearings loom

  • The four giants drawing the most scrutiny — Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google — have been wildly successful in recent years

SAN FRANCISCO: Big Tech is bracing for a tumultuous week marked by quarterly results likely to show resilience despite the pandemic, and fresh attacks from lawmakers ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

With backlash against Silicon Valley intensifying, the companies will seek to reassure investors while at the same time fend off regulators and activists who claim these firms have become too dominant and powerful.

Earnings reports are due this week from Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Google-parent Alphabet, whose combined value has grown to more than $7 trillion.

They have also woven themselves into the very fabric of modern life, from how people share views and get news to shopping, working, and playing.

Robust quarterly earnings results expected from Big Tech will “highlight the outsized strength these tech behemoths are seeing” but “ultimately add fuel to the fire in the Beltway around breakup momentum,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in a note to investors.

The results come amid heightened scrutiny in Washington of tech platforms and follow a landmark antitrust suit filed against Google, which could potentially lead to the breakup of the internet giant, illustrative of the “techlash” in political circles.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have voted to subpoena Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executives of Twitter and Facebook respectively, as part of a stepped-up assault on social media’s handling of online political content, notably the downranking of a New York Post article purported to show embarrassing information about Democrat Joe Biden.

CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google are already slated to testify at a separate Senate panel on Wednesday examining the so-called Section 230 law, which offers liability protection for content posted by others on their platforms.

The four giants drawing the most scrutiny — Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google — have been wildly successful in recent years and have weathered the economic impact of the pandemic by offering needed goods and services.

Google and Facebook dominate the lucrative online ad market, while Amazon is an e-commerce king.

Apple has come under fire for its tight grip on the App Store, just as it has made a priority of making money from selling digital content and services to the multitude of iPhone users.

The firms have stepped up lobbying, spending tens of millions this year, and made efforts to show their social contributions as part of their campaign to fend off regulation.

“For the most part, tech companies know how to do this dance,” said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group.

“They don’t spend a lot of time bragging about how well they have done any more.”

Ed Yardeni of Yardeni Research said the outlook for Big Tech may not be as rosy as it appears.

“For one, regulators at home and abroad are gunning to rein in some of the largest US technology names,” Yardeni said in a research note.

Of interest to the market short-term will likely be whether backlash about what kind of content is left up and what is taken down by online titans causes advertisers to cut spending on the platforms.

Economic and social disruption from the pandemic also looms over tech firms, which benefitted early in the pandemic as people turned to the internet to work, learn, shop and socialize from home.

“Performance will be best for those providing solutions for people working at home,” analyst Enderle said.

Amazon, Google and Microsoft each have cloud computing divisions that have been increasingly powering revenue as demand climbs for software, services and storage provided as services from massive datacenters.

Amazon has seen booming sales on its platform during the pandemic, and viewing surge at its Prime streaming television service.

Enderle expressed concern that with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases and a lack of new stimulus money in the US, tech companies could reveal in forecasts that they are bracing for poorer performance in the current quarter.