CME Group’s GLFC Brought the Heavy Hitters11.21.2018 By Rob Daly Editor-at-Large
The CME Group’s Global Financial Leadership Conference (GFLC) is one of the premier conferences in the world, bringing together top leaders from the global derivatives industry and highlighting thought leadership from top names in politics, technology, finance, and beyond. Held over two days at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Florida, the GFLC is an important sounding board for some of the most pressing issues facing the world.
Day One: Market Perspectives
The first afternoon of GFLC focused exclusively on the world from the perspectives of financial markets with appearances by former Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen, former Trump economic adviser and President / COO of Goldman Sachs, Gary Cohn, and current CFTC Chairman, Chris Giancarlo. As expected, Cohn was the most freewheeling and insightful of the three but his remarks were strictly off the record and can’t be relayed here. Suffice it to say that Cohn is probably enjoying his time away from the pressure cookers that were his previous two assignments.
To her credit, Janet Yellen is more interesting than most economists but, the fact remains that she is still an economist. President Harry Truman famously quipped that he would like to have a one-handed economist so that he didn’t have to hear “on the other hand…..” and Yellen displayed the same balanced and thoughtful approach to economic matters that can be so maddening to those that want answers rather than options. She did voice some concerns that the current fiscal stimulus will turn negative by 2020 and discussed the intricacies of finding the “natural rate of interest” as the Fed unwinds its balance sheet but her most direct comments were directed at President Trump’s recent criticism of the Fed raising interest rates. While she doesn’t believe that the Fed’s independent and diverse thinking will be altered in any way by Trump’s words, she feels that the criticism may undermine public confidence in a well-functioning institution.
CFTC Chairman Chris Giancarlo capped the day’s activities with a speech that focused primarily as a full-throated defense of free market capitalism. While these comments could be seen as an oblique reference to the current efforts in the EU to extend their regulatory reach and, at the same time, weaken cross-border regulatory equivalence protocols, they were more broadly targeted at a rising interest in socialism. In that light, can be seen as a canary in the coal mine that the discussion of markets and regulation is likely to tilt toward more intervention and restrictions going forward. As usual, Giancarlo was clear and forceful in his remarks and he also exhibited perfect awareness that he was the last speaker before the cocktail party and kept his comments short.
Day Two: Everything From Technology to Politics
While day one focused on markets and the economy, the second day of GFLC added international politics, the media, technology in general and cryptocurrencies in particular, and comments from two past Presidents to the mix. As before, many of the speakers were strictly off the record so the comments of Ken Griffin, David Cameron, George Bush, and Bill Clinton will be excluded here.
Griffin and Cameron were the first speakers of the day and their well-reasoned and forcefully delivered perspectives were refreshing and reassuring. It’s reassuring to know that qualified and committed leaders are engaged on the world’s biggest stages.
The third event of the morning session featured Bob Woodward of the Washington Post and Margaret Brennan of CBS in discussion around “Restoring Trust in the News”. Both Woodward and Brennan have front row seats to the current debates about the press and their perspectives were both insightful and constructive.
From there, the CME turned back toward technology as they presented Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak with the 2018 Melamed-Arditti Innovation Award. Wozniak has much in common with 2016 winner Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, in that both men have an almost childlike fascination with technology that is much more focused on what can work than on what can make money. In Wozniak’s case, he had Steve Jobs as a partner and the resulting combination of technology and marketing changed the world. (For a deeper dive on Wozniak and other pressing issues in technology, check out this article from Blu Putnam in the CME’s Open Markets magazine.)
It’s 2018: Where’s the Cryptocurrency Panel?
The bloom may be off the rose as far as cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin go but there is still a fascination with all things “crypto-asset” in the financial markets. At GFLC, Laura Shin of the Unchained podcast series interviewed Arthur Hayes from Bitmex, Dan O’Prey of Digital Asset, and Alexis Ohanian from Reddit / Initialized Capital. In the simplest sense, Hayes represented the bitcoin pioneers, O’Prey the establishment enterprise types and Ohanian the visionary inventor and investor. As a co-founder of Reddit, Ohanian is in a prime spot to witness the interest in and development of all things crypto. In his opinion, it makes sense to have 10% of one’s portfolio invested in crypto: it’s risky but there’s a real possibility of significant material gain.
From there, the panels were all “no comment” as Gillian Tett of The Financial Times interviewed former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and the CME’s Terry Duffy playfully and masterfully navigated the hot seat for a chat between former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. While it’s not possible to comment on what they said, it’s worthwhile pointing out how quick and powerful each of these speakers was and how comforting it is to know that there are more like them in government and positions of power. Like Gary Cohn, H.R. McMasterKen Griffin before them, these men are inspiring leaders.