The eighth Cayman Business Outlook conference is seeking to provide guidance to the Cayman business community on how to adapt to a changing financial and economic reality, according to Sunwer Sunderji, chairman of Fidelity Group, the event organiser.
Together with co-sponsors of the conference, which will take place on Thursday, 20 January, 2011, at the Ritz-Carlton, Mr. Sunderji announced the agenda and speaker line-up at a press conference last week.
Explaining the theme of the one-day conference – Uncharted Waters: The New Economic, Political and Financial Reality in an Age of Austerity – he said that the global financial landscape is changing as the world comes to grips with the aftershocks of the global financial crisis in 2008.
Changing economic reality
To illustrate this point he mentioned the stubbornly high unemployment in the US of about 9.8 per cent, which in his view “is unlikely to get any better over the next two or three years”.
Predicting that “it is likely going to take five, six or seven years before the US recovers fully”, Mr. Sunderji also referred to the troubles with the euro in Ireland, Spain and Portugal. “Typically these countries that have economic difficulties devalue their currencies, but in this case they simply can’t because they are tied to the Euro,” he said.
“So instead they are devaluing the living standards of their citizens and create a great deal of instability.”
This will not be without consequences for the Cayman Islands.
“We know what happens in Ireland does not stay in Ireland. It has a ripple effect on the rest of the world and it is not going to be different here,” he said. “The Cayman Islands is the fifth largest financial jurisdiction in the world. So what happens elsewhere I am sure we will feel it here.”
Economic growth will be uneven as most industrialised countries are grappling with the effects of the financial crisis and are outperformed by emerging markets. By 2020, China’s economy will be as large as the US’, he said, which will “reshape the geo-political landscape and may diminish the role the US plays on the world stage”.
Superpower in decline?
A second topic of the conference is, therefore, going to explore is the role of the United States as the global superpower. Mr. Sunderji questioned whether the US can continue to act “as the global policeman, the global bank and the bastion of global democracy, when it can ill afford the cost of doing it”.
In turn “who in fact is going to fill up this space?” he asked.
While China and India are growing rapidly and experiencing a transitional boom, it is not clear whether they are willing and able to assume this role.
The Cayman Business Outlook is known for highlighting both the local implications of global macro-economic and political trends and purely local issues.
The local issues will be addressed in an opening speech by Premier McKeeva Bush and discussed in what Mr. Sunderji hopes to be a “lively and provocative” panel debate titled: ‘Times are tough. So don’t cut my pay, tax me less and give me more free services. And do something about crime, education and jobs. And what about those expats?’
Scott Elphinstone, managing director with Five Continents, which has supported the Cayman Business Outlook for the past eight years, said that the event had brought a series of speakers who, many times, have been ahead of their time. Expecting the same this year, he said, “the speaker roster looks excellent” and the issues, such as austerity, are worth debating.
Rick McTaggart, CEO of Consolidated Water, a co-sponsor, said the speakers are relevant to his business that, operating in five countries of the Caribbean, has been touched by the global economic downturn.
Mr. McTaggart added he was particularly interested to hear from [Bahamian Minister for Tourism] Mr. Vanderpool-Wallace about tourism in the region this year and also Professor Edward Kolodziej discussing the US economy. “Those two things have a great impact on our business.”
“I am definitely looking forward to hearing Clive Crook and Michael Pettis speak,” said Noel Reilly, managing partner with PWC, “Clive Crook has spent quite a lot of time with the Economist and is now with the Financial Times and is a very well respected commentator on political and economic matters. And Michael Pettis is an expert on Asian and Chinese markets.”
Noting that PWC has been involved with the Cayman Business Outlook from day one, Mr. Reilly noted, that the success of the conference is reflected in the fact that it has been running for this long.
Representing co-sponsor Dart Group, Lynn Smith-Moore emphasised the quality and relevance of the speakers and that the event sees people from all types of businesses. “One of the things that strikes us is that it is such a great forum to bring business people together to discuss these things,” she said.
Bill Messer, managing director of Five Continents, concurred, adding that attendees of the event, which “is one of the top conferences in this region”, represent a cross-section of Cayman’s community, including private individuals. “It is very important that people understand that we want the young people, the private individuals and small business people too, to come and join us,” he said.
Mr. Sunderji added that Fidelity Group has spent “somewhere around $1 million” in sponsoring the conference. “We do it to discharge our duty as corporate citizens and we hope that in the process we inform the public. So we hope that people will take advantage of this conference that we have.”
It is possible to register online and obtain more detailed information at www.CaymanBusinessOutlook.com or through any of the ten sponsors. The cost for attending the conference is CI$250.