Trade tensions, dollar danger cloud economic optimism in Davos

Mon Jan 16, 2017 7:08am EST
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By Noah Barkin

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - A trade war between the United States and China and a strengthening dollar are among the biggest threats to a brightening global economic outlook, according to leading economists at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

As political leaders, businessmen and bankers converge on the resort in the Swiss Alps this week, they can draw hope from a more benign economic picture and a rally in global stock markets on expectations of major stimulus under a new U.S. administration led by Donald Trump.

The backdrop is brighter than it was a year ago, when concerns about a rapid economic slowdown in China led to what Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam described at the time as "the worst start to any year on record in financial markets ever".

"I am more optimistic than last year. If no major political or geopolitical uncertainties materialize and derail the world economy, it might even surprise to the upside in 2017," Axel Weber, the chairman of Swiss bank UBS (UBSG.S: Quote) and a former president of the German Bundesbank, told Reuters.

Still, there are big storm clouds on the horizon.

"It is too early to give the all clear," Weber continued. "This cyclical upswing hides but does not solve the world's underlying structural problems, which are excessive debt, over-reliance on monetary policy, and adverse demographic developments."

Among the biggest concerns for 2017 cited by the half dozen economists interviewed by Reuters was the threat of a U.S.-China trade war, and broader economic tensions, triggered by what they fear could be a more confrontational Trump administration.

Trump is threatening to brand China a currency manipulator and impose heavy tariffs on imports of Chinese goods. Last month he named leading China critic Peter Navarro, author of the book "Death by China", as a top trade adviser.   Continued...

FILE PHOTO: Axel A. Weber, Chairman of the Board of Directors of UBS attends the session "The Growth Illusion" during the Annual Meeting 2016 of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich/File Photo