An IMF/World Bank debrief
The IMF/World Bank meetings in Tokyo produced nothing of note in terms of concerted action to counter the global financial and economic crisis.
However, it did deliver a number of shocks. The first was an earthquake measuring five on the Richter scale that most bankers, horribly jet-lagged if they had arrived from Europe or the US, passed off as a slight wobble in their own demeanour.
The second came at the Qatari banks’ reception in the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Last year, in Washington, rumours had spread like wildfire that delegates visiting the Qatari bash would receive iPads as a gift. People flocked to it and were only mildly miffed to receive a Kindle instead.
This year, hopes were high again. The room was packed. The gift? A business-card holder. As one banker commented: "They’ll have to up their game again next year if they want this kind of turn-out."
Bankers were generally pleased with the business they did during the meetings. That they managed to make their appointments at all was an achievement in itself.
Most delegations had their offices based in the tower of the Imperial Hotel.
To reach the offices required a walk through a vast lobby, up two flights to a lift interchange and then a queue from hell as a limited bank of elevators struggled to cope with the elite hordes of the global financial community. Average time to meeting was estimated at around 15 minutes after entering the hotel.
At the IMF, 15 minutes is plenty of time to pitch and catch that lucrative mandate.
Indeed, bankers that regularly attend have got speed-pitching down to a fine art.
Elsewhere, it was with delicious irony that the IMF delivered its report in Tokyo predicting Japan-style global economic stagnation in the years ahead, exacerbated by austerity in Europe and higher-than-expected fiscal multipliers.
However, while that judgement call was the talk of the sushi and saki bars, famed economist Nouriel Roubini could be overheard delivering another bearish sermon in a more modest location than he is used to: the conference centre’s coffee shop – to an audience of one.
As befits his reputation as a dramatist and brilliant forecaster, in equal measure, Roubini amused informed onlookers with a self-parodied performance: loudly warning of another Lehman-like crisis, in a breathless, robotic monotone, interspersed with sarcasm and alarmingly specific predictions.
Some things never change.