A week of tense bankers, recovery hopes, star gazers

Sun Jan 31, 2010 7:55am EST
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By Martin Howell

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - The top executive was on a roll -- Barack Obama didn't know what he was doing, he didn't understand business, he didn't realize knee-jerk pronouncements could destroy jobs.

It was a private, five-minute, expletive-filled tirade against the president for this reporter's benefit. Welcome to one aspect of the World Economic Forum's annual schmoozefest.

This unique event -- a gathering of several thousand of the members of the world's business and political elites for debate, dealmaking and a fair amount of partying in a ski resort in the Alps -- is in many ways an annual celebration for capitalists.

But this is a very dysfunctional family.

For the second successive year, the recriminations arising from the financial crisis were a dominant theme.

Sure, the global economy looks better - people are no longer talking about financial Armageddon, while some CEOs are talking about investing more, buying companies and even hiring.

But many times when executives talked about a recovery, they also used words like "fragile" and then mumbled about whether the battle between bankers and politicians could upset it all.

The tone for this year's WEF was partially set by Obama's proposal on January 21 to ban financial institutions with commercial banking operations from engaging in proprietary trading operations for their own profit. Coming against the backdrop of sky-high Wall Street compensation, only just over a year after huge government bailouts, it meant bankers' behavior was going to be a major focus.   Continued...