DAVOS WATCH: Anxiety over Greece, currency wars, QE support

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — The World Economic Forum held in the Swiss ski resort of Davos has the official goal of "improving the state of the world." In practice, it's a massive networking event that brings together 2,500 heads of state, business leaders, philanthropists and artists.

Here are some glimpses of what's happening and being discussed Thursday at Davos:


It's not often that German Chancellor Angela Merkel gets upstaged — but upstaged she was as she arrived to speak before the World Economic Forum

As Merkel returned to Swiss ski resort following her absence last year due to a broken leg, all eyes were on Frankfurt as Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, delivered the news that the ECB was ready to buy government bonds on a massive scale to oil the wheels of the eurozone's ailing economy.

During Merkel's speech, many in the audience were scrolling social media to get the details about Draghi.

Merkel said little on the European economy that would take the spotlight away from Draghi. The ECB, she insisted, was "totally independent," free from the wiles of politicians. Few things in life, she added, "were black and white" — even on the ECB's governing council, where the German representatives are thought to have been against the stimulus.

Whatever the ECB did, it wouldn't be enough, according to Merkel. EU governments have to continue to reform their economies to get more competitive. Some have been forced to do so in return for bailout money, such as Portugal and Ireland. Others, such as Italy and France, are now doing so too, she said.

On non-economic matters, Merkel said the terror attacks in Paris had "woken us up thoroughly." She also said there was no military solution to the conflict in Ukraine and that any solution rested on the Ukraine's territorial integrity being "restored," first in eastern Ukraine around Donetsk. Crimea, which Russia has annexed, is "not forgotten," she added.

— By Pan Pylas, Twitter:


The Greek elections due Sunday are making EU leaders uneasy.

Greece's left-wing Syriza party, which is leading in the polls, has been calling for easier terms on bailout loans the country owes to fellow EU countries. Some fear that if it does come to power, a big disagreement on this point could push Greece to leave the euro, the common currency used by 19 European nations.

European leaders don't want to forgive Greece's debt outright. But they also recognize that, if Syriza wins, they will have to negotiate with a democratically elected government.

"It will be very difficult for us to forgive any loans or restructure debt at this particular moment," said Alexander Stubb, the prime minister of Finland. "We can look at different kinds of extensions, at different kind of programs," he added, referring to longer repayment periods or lower interest rates.

— By Carlo Piovano, Twitter:



The world's central banks are competing to weaken their currencies, says Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn.

Central banks provide stimulus to help their economies, but a convenient side effect is that such stimulus weighs on the currency, helping the country's exporters compete in the global market.

Increasingly, major central banks are providing stimulus - those of Japan, Canada, Switzerland, India and the eurozone to name but a few. The question is whether it's meant mainly to weaken their currencies.

Cohn has no doubts: "We're in currency wars," he told a debate in Davos.

— By Carlo Piovano, Twitter:



All eyes today are on the eurozone, where there are expectations — and hopes — that the European Central Bank will deliver another stimulus.

Many leaders gathered here support the ECB's move, a program technically called QE that is facing some resistance from Germany amid worries it could expose its national finances to risks.

"We're all for QE in Europe," Larry Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary, said during a panel including International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.

The question is whether the stimulus will be enough.

Lagarde noted that expectations of the stimulus had already boosted markets. "To a point, you can say it has already worked."

Summers replied that if that's the extent of the stimulus' impact, it's worrying, as economic forecasts remain dismal. "We should not make the mistake that the situation in Europe is in hand," he said, adding that rich governments like Germany, need to accept to spend more to help growth.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will have her chance to reply in a speech later in the day in Davos.


-By Carlo Piovano, Twitter: