CNBC's 'Money Honey' in growth hotspot



When Maria Bartiromo, arguably the world’s most famous financial journalist, flies half way around the world to interview leading business players in the Gulf it must mean that the region is topping the global news agenda. 

“Today globalisation is the story of the moment. The world really is smaller,” Bartiromo said while visiting the Dubai International Financial Centre. “We are in the Middle East right now and we are talking not about war but economic expansion. Globalisation of companies, economies and business is bringing people together.”

Nicknamed the “Money Honey” and the “Econo Babe” during the boom years of the stock market in the late 1990s and early noughties due to her striking looks, Bartiromo has been in Dubai, Doha and Qatar this past week interviewing the likes of DIFC Governor Dr Omar bin Sulaiman and Etihad airline’s CEO James Hogan.

Bartiromo normally mixes in such elite company, flying on private jets with CEOs and sharing sensitive information with central bankers, reporting from the New York stock exchange floor and hosting panels at the World Economic Forum in Davos – she is the face of CNBC, which broadcasts to 390 million people worldwide.

But has the intense attention over her looks as well as her in-depth knowledge diminished her appetite to chase answers to the more difficult questions?

“Not at all. I’m flattered to be recognised. Viewers feel that they know you. We are in their homes, they feel familiar,” she said, laughing. “I get as many comments ‘Maria you look tired today’ and I’m cool with it. It’s really powerful to relate to them and what they’re looking for. They want you to ask the tough questions for them to think ‘she’s working for me, fighting for me’.”

Bartiromo has been at the forefront of financial reporting for more than a decade taking in the Asia crisis, dotcom boom and bust, Enron and now the sub-prime debacle.

“I feel so fortunate to have had a front seat to it all,” she said.

“To have learnt something new every day. Meeting and calling the players and getting the information – that’s what I do.”

But it is the unprecedented economic boom in the Gulf that is now vying to be at the top of the financial news agenda in the West. On her first trip to the region, Bartiromo said it has lived up to the hype she had been hearing in the United States – prompting her to “follow the money and find out what it was all really about”.
“There is a lot of growth and expansion. The skyline is phenomenal. This is where the money is flowing to. It’s one of the growth hot spots in the world,” she said, adding that the talk among top corporate executives in the United States is about their need to have offices in
the Gulf.

This globalisation, according to Bartiromo, can also have a positive impact on international relations. She believes that the common values that all businessmen have can bridge any gap between the Middle East and the West.

“With business we are talking to an aspirational audience that just wants to do it, and these are values we all share.

“It’s important to recognise that business and finance people end up asking the same questions – what does this mean for me, for my family? Wherever you are – Dubai or Qatar – it’s the same. That’s very powerful. We are all similar souls regardless of nationalities,” she said. 

And while there is a vocal minority in the United States who are suspicious of the recent investments made by some Middle Eastern funds in high-profile institutions such as Citigroup, Bartiromo does not agree with calls for tighter scrutiny of sovereign wealth funds (SWFs)

“As a country the United States really needs to recognise that open borders create growth. It should be very careful not to appear too protectionist, especially as we’ve seen during some of the recent controversy over sovereign wealth funds,” she explained.

“I do believe that some regulators are coupling all SWFs under the same umbrella – China, Russia, Norway, the Middle East. Everybody in the same bucket.

“But each fund manager is different. And these fund managers are savvy, they are out for a good return.”

According to Bartiromo the recent sub-prime mortgage crisis in the United States and subsequent credit crunch is evidence that the regulators are not always right.

“We have a whole host of new regulations and an alphabet soup of regulators but look where we are today – the sub-prime mess,” said Bartiromo.

“We keep getting ourselves in pickles – dotcom crash, Enron and now, mortgages. The question is ‘Who is in Charge? Why does all this stuff keep getting missed?’ And you won’t know the answer if there are more regulators,” she said.

The economic situation in the United States is precarious and it is still not clear how deep or long-lasting the downturn is likely to be. And with an impending presidential election the stakes are even higher. While she was keen to underline that she did not have an opinion on who should be the next President, Bartiromo expressed concern over the economic policies put forward so far by the three candidates.

“Senator [Barack] Obama really does draw you in. And putting his economic policies aside as a speaker he is phenomenal.

“As for his economic policies – for example raising taxes – today they are being scrutinised. Whether you think we’re in recession or just in a slowdown, tax rises would just put extra pressure on people.

“Senator [Hillary] Clinton also wants to raise taxes so there is little to chose between them. If they were to introduce a capital gains tax of 25 per cent, as they’ve suggested, it would be a very big burden on people who are already under pressure.

“As for Senator [John] McCain, you have to ask exactly what is the financial plan? It is very hard to see.”

Top business channel

The CNBC channel and its international spinoffs including CNBC Asia, Europe, Turkey and Arabiya cover business news and provide live coverage of financial markets to 390 million viewers around the world.

The network is currently ranked as the 19th most valuable cable channel in the United States and it is reportedly worth around $4 billion (Dh14.6bn). Its US audience is also the wealthiest in terms of income.

The channel, launched in 1989, has spawned international superstars such as  former hedge fund manager Jim Cramer whose Mad Money show features his rapid-fire opinions on stocks suggested by callers, the throwing of chairs and his catch-phrase “Booyah”. And of course, Maria Bartiromo.