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Energy Analyst Mehdi Varzi Takes Iranian Threat Seriously, Predicts More Tensions In Region, Oil Prices Will Remain High in 2012

Aired December 27, 2011 - 14:00:00   ET


RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Grit, fortitude and metal, U.S. consumer confidence hits an eight-month high.

Dire straits, Iran warns it could close a key oil route.

And power and money and a lot of videotape. It is the end of an era, we say tonight, goodbye to "The Boss."

I'm Richard Quest. I mean business.

Good evening to you.

Christmas may be over, U.S. consumers still have a lot of spring in their step. Consumer confidence has now risen to its highest level since April. That is the second straight month of gains. U.S. consumer confidence has shoppers head into the post Christmas sales, they haven't felt this good about business conditions since earlier this year in the spring. That is the scenario. Strong sentiments, good conditions, unemployment coming down. One has to say this is all very tenuous, at best.

Alison Kosik is in New York. Joins me now.

Alison, I think that -- I suspect you may be feeling a little lonely on Wall Street today. There can't be too many people about. But these consumer confidence numbers are impressive.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: They are impressive. You know it shows that, you know, when you have consumers feeling better about the economy, especially at a time when holiday shopping is a big deal. That could mean something. It could mean that those holiday shopping numbers could wind up being as good as everybody thinks they are going to be.

But you make a good point, you know, this could be just sort of tenuous. This could be temporary, because you know if you don't see improvement in the jobs market. You could see things sort of do a 180.

Now some of this consumer confidence snapping back could be that the unemployment rate has edged down a bit, and those unemployment numbers that we get on a weekly basis. Actually, those weekly jobless claims numbers that we get on a weekly basis, those are improving as well. It shows that there could be some -- that people could be finding work in that way. But you know, it is -- it really is just sort of a month by month picture, or even a week by week picture, when it comes to taking that snapshot of the confidence of Americans, Richard.

QUEST: Now, so we know that the shoppers are out, in force. But we don't really know yet whether -- All right, they are spending initially, we don't know whether that spending will continue through the January sales completely. We also know that Sears is closing some stores. So I'm going to suggest to you that the jury is far from out on this retailing post- Christmas.

KOSIK: Oh, exactly. And I'll get to Sears. I just want to make a point on what you said. It is true, you know, once those bills starting rolling in let's see if the consumer continues to spend. And as you see the holiday shopping season pretty strong so far, considering, then you can see how bad it can be; when you look at Sears. The parent company of Sears, Richard, is saying that their holiday sales actually fell sharply from last year. That they are going to be closing up to 120 of the 4,000 stores that operates here in the U.S. and in Canada.

The company also owns discounter, K-Mart, which will be part of the closings. Shares are getting hit hard. Shares of the Sears Holding Company, down almost 25 percent. Do you know that they have lost half their value this year, Richard?

QUEST: There will be those viewers who will be saying a buying opportunity, but you and I mustn't go there.


QUEST: We mustn't give advice on whether or not, that is up to you. Where you put your money is a matter for you.

KOSIK: Not at all.

QUEST: Not for Alison Kosik and myself; 25 percent, though, it is worth having a look at and a look at the P&E ratios. Alison, good to see you. Doing sterling work in New York on the holidays.

Now in London there was a very strong Boxing Day boost. Things are looking more sticky. The United Kingdom had a Boxing Day boost. Retail numbers were up very sharply. Selfridge's, which is the store you see there, reported excellent, record breaking Boxing Day trade. So all in all --

I must mention, of course, there was the very unpleasant murder that also took place on Oxford Street, not far from where Selfridge's is, just to put that into perspective.

On the retailing front there was, in Greece, Greek retailing sales over the Christmas period, it is the worst for years, down 30 percent. A survey out says nine out of 10 gave people less gifts, not out of choice, but out of necessity. Now, if you bear in mind that Greece has probably had a recession this year of more than 5 percent, it is not surprising that you are seeing this sort of numbers.

And we're also hearing from Italy that retail sales have been amongst the worst with an austerity Christmas, the worst for 10 years. People are spending $62 less than they have in previous years. In both Greece and in Italy, it was shoes, it was clothes. It was what had always been thought of as Christmas staples that felt the effect.

So, don't get too excited by Britain's record breaking reports. It is very early on in the January sales process. Let's wait until we get to January, as Alison Kosik was saying, those bills start arriving. And people start factoring in where they stand, and maybe some more job losses. Spain's new economy minister says his country is headed for a recession next year.

Luis de Gruindos was only sworn in last Thursday. He is already admitting that the Spanish economy is contracting. GDP was supposed to be flat in the final three months of the year. Now it could fall slightly, both in this and in the first quarter of next year. That would make, of course, the technical recession of two quarters of negative GDP.

De Gruindos my have the toughest job in Mariano Rajoy's new government, except for the prime minister himself. Spain wants to cut $21.5 billion from its deficit next year. And with 21.5 percent unemployment, which ever way you cut this cake in Spain, it is going to be a painful exercise for someone.

Our correspondent in Madrid, is Al Goodman, who now considers life in Spain, in 2012.


AL GOODMAN, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is not what we expected to find when we went out to do a story on Spain's economic crisis. But for Juan Jose Carasa, out of work for two years as a waiter, these chickens in his backyard are a means of survival for his family. They make every egg count.

JUAN JOSE CARASA, UNEMPLOYED WAITER (through translator): Even if you look for a job, it is very hard to find one. Because so many people are out of work, the truth is, you don't know where to turn.

GOODMAN: Spain's unemployment rate stands at 21.5 percent, but a staggering 45 percent for youth. The country's nearly 5 million jobless crowd the unemployment offices. Businesses large and small struggle to survive. This food distributor on the Eastern Mediterranean Coast, has laid off 10 percent of staff.

JOSE CARRILLO, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER (through translator): I have never seen anything like this crisis. There is a lack of movement. It is absolutely vital to invent solutions, day by day.

GOODMAN: Economic protests started last May 15th, fueled by social media. The so-called Indignant Ones, criticizing an economic and political system they say favors only the privileged.

(On camera): Now the so-called May 15th Movement has come to this, a bustling encampment at Madrid's Puerto del Sol, and at emblematic plazas in Barcelona and other Spanish cities.

(voice over): Protests by day and by night. The encampments were eventually lifted. But the protests, largely peaceful, continued. The Socialist prime minister, squeezed by the financial crisis and his unpopular austerity measures, reluctantly called early elections in November. And he didn't even run. The Conservatives, promising to fix the economy, won in a landslide. But they say there is still more austerity to come. A country in crisis throughout 2011, faces a new year of uncertainty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (through translator): I think there is a pent up rage. The workers and young people of this country are fed up. It has been years of frustration over cutbacks and lower salaries.

GOODMAN: Al Goodman, CNN, Madrid.


QUEST: Spanish stocks finished fairly flat today and it was more or less the trend for the rest of Europe's markets. Have a look at the numbers.


London was closed it is the national bank holiday, the Boxing Day in lieu. The rest of Europe saw thin trade. Decent early gains pared back by banking stocks, particularly in Italy where the Mid Tel fell of by 1 percent. And this is why. Italian bond yields are a whisker away, once again, from hitting 7 percent. The 10-year debt went up about a 0.24 of 1 percent. Italy will be auctioning more paper itself on Thursday.

And if you look at the numbers for 2012, and the sheer amount of debt that Italy has to launch, you get an understanding of why it is such a concern.

A simple ultimatum with a giant risk for the West. Iran now says, stop increasing sanctions or we'll stop oil getting through. The next moves, after the break.


QUEST: No oil will pass through the Straits of Hormuz, if the West imposes sanctions on Iranian crude exports. The serious message that Iran sends out on a day of escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf. The Straits of Hormuz, look at the graph, you'll see what I'm talking about. The Straits of Hormuz, this bit of area here, is a key strategic oil route, and more than a third of the world's tanker borne oil passes through it. It is extraordinarily significant. It is relatively easy, relatively easy to block. It has been the scene over many years of disagreements, of Argie Bargie (ph).

There is a heavy U.S. Naval presence in the Gulf to make sure the Straits remains free. Iranian war games have been taking place in the region, and that suggests the country's threat should not be taken lightly. And the Brent crude price, which interestingly considering Iran's threat not to let any oil through, Brent has held its nerve, just up at -- just up nearly 0.2 of 1 percent, or give or take, 2 cents a barrel. But that is the highest level for about two weeks. So we need to put some perspective on this, and to discuss the implications of Iran's threat to the West.

Joining me is Mehdi Varzi, director of Varzi Energy.

Nice to see you. Good of you to come in.


QUEST: So, when you heard Iran's threat to close the Straits, if the sanctions were escalated, what did you think?

VARZI: Well, this threat has been off -- it has been issued before. But it really is, remember that Iran's policy is reactive. It is not pro- active. It is, in other words, we are threatened we will close the straits. Whether they can close it and keep it closed, of course, is another problem.

QUEST: But you say it is reactive. But they are saying it is proactive, in the sense that they are saying, if you go ahead with your higher sanctions, we will do this. So they are very much throwing the gauntlet down.

VARZI: Well it is, as I said, if somebody in the outside world imposes sanctions on Iran, then Iran will react. But I would say it is something Iran will do very, very reluctantly. Remember, oil is Iran's life line. So if sanctions are imposed it will be seen as an act of war quite frankly.

QUEST: If they did -- and, you know, I can hear you saying, oh, he wants me go into the realms of speculation. But if they did close off or attempted, made a good fist attempt at closing it off, how damaging would that be for the oil price?

VARZI: Well, I think the oil price would zoom. But again, whether it would stay up at the head levels of $150, $200 a barrels for any moment of time, for a sustained period, would be questionable.

QUEST: So who has the whip hand in all of this? Who has the stronger set of cards, Iran, with its threat; or the West, basically, saying do what you like, you'll cut your own throat in the process.

VARZI: You can't balance them exactly, because the West has the technical capabilities and Iran is fighting what I would call asymmetrical warfare. It is trying to create a level playing field. And that is why they are threatening that they would close the straits, but again, whether they can close the straits, and keep them closed, is another problem.

QUEST: We look at Brent at $110, $115, or whatever, bobbing around. There is an element of stability in the price at the moment, albeit it, at elevated levels. And the one thing that airlines, and everybody else, tells me is what we want is stability. We want to be able to plan. Do you see stability in the price next year?

VARZI: I'm afraid I don't. The Middle East is getting very, very tense. Not just Iran, it is the whole question if Iraq, even of the situation in Egypt, which could get out of hand. There is going to be a lot of tension in the Middle East next year, I can see a bit of volatility really come into the price.

QUEST: Now, we don't know where that volatility comes from or which will be the fire, but if I was to ask you your price range for next year, or am inviting you to be a hostage to fortune?

VARZI: Not really I would say roughly at the current price.

QUEST: Absent?

VARZI: Absent an active war.

QUEST: And then, all bets are off?

VARZI: Absolutely.

QUEST: Are you worried?

VARZI: I am concerned. There are too many threats being issued, too frequently. You know the Persian Gulf is a very crowded area militarily. And we could just get an accident, as happened with the shooting down of Iranian airliner some years back.

QUEST: Absolutely. Many thanks indeed for coming in and talking to us. Much appreciate it.

VARZI: Thank you.

QUEST: Thank you very much.

From London, to New York, to Hong Kong, tough at the top, especially when we've had the cameras watching their every move. It is time for our bosses to face my questions. It is the final edition of "The Boss."


QUEST: Three continents, six personalities, and one thing they all had in common. They were all "The Boss." For more than a year we have followed these business leaders. We have tried to understand what really goes on and what goes into running your own company.

We have seen some bow out like Michael Wu and Richard Braddock. And now the process is coming to an end. So, for our final edition I have some questions for the bosses themselves. It is time for our final appointment with "The Boss."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For more than a year we've followed the fates of a series of executives. Week after week we have watched Sarah Curran, Steve Hindy, Francis Liu, and Sean Cornwall tackle the ups and downs of running a company.

FRANCIS LIU, GALAXY ENTERTAINMENT: I sense there are some issues at the hotel side that we need to sort out, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The long hours, the hefty responsibilities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you think it is going to be hard, multiply that by three or five X.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the joys that come with success.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the winner is, My-Wardrobe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight Richard Quest looks back at their time at the top. They're live as "The Boss."

SARAH CURRAN, FOUNDER & CEO, MY-WARDROBE.COM: I mean I wouldn't ask for the service, I'd just do it.


QUEST: Let us start with Sean, in London. Did you have some trepidation about joining us and what we would discover about you and your business?

SEAN CORNWALL, VICE PRESIDENT, INT'L., EHARMONY: I don't think I had any trepidation, Richard. Quite the contrary, really, it was a -- I feel like we have a fantastic story to tell, you know, the eHarmony story about how we've gone international to Australia, Brazil, the U.K., Japan, from our North American base and in Continental Europe.

It might be helpful also, I think, to go through on a market-by- market basis, just the kind of high-level snapshot of how each country is doing.

QUEST: Sarah, you have been our longest "Boss" on the run.


QUEST: I feel I know you very well indeed from all of this.


But I'm wondering, how was your year?

CURRAN: Oh, my goodness. It has just been a phenomenal and incredible year in many ways in terms of trading, in terms of personal experience, in terms of the business. You know, how we have ended the year now, with the search for the new global CEO. It is really -- it's been really exciting. And it has just been so also exciting to work with you on the show.

QUEST: Have you treated yourself to any little luxury that is a talisman for you, of your own success?


QUEST: You haven't got the Porsche? You haven't got the diamond bling?

CURRAN: I have got a Porsche!


QUEST: Steve Hindy, we've watched you during the course of the year. Brooklyn Brewery goes from strength to strength. Has the year progressed as you hoped it would?

STEVE HINDY, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, BROOKLYN BREWERY: Well, it is actually well beyond our hopes. We are going to finish the year up about 32 percent in sales. There are some storm clouds on the horizon. The cost increases we are incurring.

The increases go into effect January 1. We'll know by spring, whether it is really hit our sales momentum.

HINDY: We took a little hit on our bottom line at the end of the year, but all in all it was a fantastic year.

QUEST: What, Francis, did you learn this year about your management style.

FRANCIS LIU, VICE CHAIRMAN, GALAXY ENTERTAINMENT GROUP: I'm happy that actually I'm a person that attends to details. Because it is really - - the devil is in the details.

I think in the practicality wise, a couple of more hooks would need to be in place.

If you want to make a mega resort work, then you have to pay attention to details. This is something I learned, something I practiced. Something that has proved to be very successful in the opening of our Galaxy Macao this year.

QUEST: Sarah, the micromanager?


CURRAN: Yes, well -- I, well, pretty much the same in a way. I mean, attention to detail for me is so important and for the brand.

I left team, the festive and enviable task of doing the tasting for the canapes and the cocktails and drinks, etc cetera, for the event. And I -- I'm a bit of a control freak. But I left quite clear instructions, even down to the size of the canapes.


QUEST: Sean, how would you describe yourself as a boss? Are you a throw the coffee cup across the room, or are you the quiet seething type?

CORNWALL: I don't think I'm the quiet seething type.

We are not the typical online dating site.

I like to get into the detail and understand it all, but at the end of the day it is about people executing as best as they can. And I see my job as letting them get on with it, and steer the ship and course correct it, when it needs to be.

QUEST: Steve Hindy, in New York, we always said with you, that one of your issues was were you able to let the baby go away, let other people play with the toys that you had created?

HINDY: Well, I can, but I like to get down in the playpen myself and make sure they are playing nice, every now and then.


And I think that is important. And I think our people appreciate that, when I do get out there and show them how to sell, how I sell.

When I go into a place like this and our isn't here, I get very upset.

QUEST: Finally, to each of you, what next? I know some of you are leaving your current jobs, others have got other plans.

So, let's start with you, Sean. As we bring "The Boss" to a close, what is next for you, in the next 12 months?

CORNWALL: I think the most exciting thing coming up in the next 12 months is Brazil for myself and for, you know, for our international business.

QUEST: Steve? For yourself, I know there are changes in the works. What do you want to do?

HINDY: Well, we're -- well, you know we expanded the brewery in Brooklyn, and we're going to be expanding the brewery Upstate, in the next couple of years. So that is something on my plate. Also, you know, I've got to finish this book I'm writing about my first early years in the Middle East, in my past life as a correspondent. That is a personal goal.

QUEST: Sarah, finally, you get the last word. You are bringing in a global chief exec. You are going be the founder, emeritus. I'm sure they will find a posh title for you.


So the question is --


QUEST: Are you going to -- would you ever consider becoming chief executive of another company?

CURRAN: Oh, man alive. I've leant to never say never, for one. And I know -- I've still got a lot of work ahead of me, working becoming, staying the face of the brand and working with the new CEO, to take the business global. So, uh, you know, there is always something else I want to do.


CURRAN: So, you never know. I might be another boss somewhere else.


RICHARD BRADDOCK, FRESH DIRECT: Good morning, how are you all.

LUI: Rock and roll, let's go.

MICHAEL WU, MAXIM GROUP HONG KONG: Oh, I'm excited. Ready to go.


QUEST: Our final edition of "The Boss" and our thanks to our producers in London, Hong Kong and New York. And later in this program I will give you a taste of what will be replacing "The Boss" in my "Profitable Moment." But we thank you for enjoying "The Boss" over the last 52 weeks.

There is a changing of the guard at the top. Starting today, this is what the world's sixth largest economy looks like. We'll tell you exactly where we mean, as if you need some help, in a moment.


QUEST: Hello, I'm Richard Quest. More QUEST MEANS BUSINESS in a moment. This is CNN and on this network, it is the news that always comes first.


QUEST: On the sidelines of the European Union, now move over Britain, Brazil is on the rise. So says the latest World Economic League table. Emerging markets are climbing the ranks at the expense of the old guard. And it is prompting a shift that has seen Brazil leapfrog Britain to become the world's sixth largest economy, the global trend.

If you join me at the super screen you'll see what I mean. OK, so this is how things stand at the moment. The Center for Economics and Business Research, the CEBR, reached new figures for 2011, as well as its forecast for 2020. Things -- I'm going to point out what's -- first of all, notice the top three. They pretty --

I've made a real mess of that, haven't I? You can't really tell anything. Let's try that again.

The top three, they stay the same in both scenarios, U.S., China, and Japan, remain the top three in 2020. The differences all happen down here, further down, where the big changes are and it is with Brazil, France, U.K., Italy, Russia, and India. If I swipe across you'll see to of the really substantial changes, countries that are going up in the world.

There were big gains predicted. They go up in the world for Russia and for India. Both rising, currently ninth and 11th they go to fourth and fifth by 2020. So they are emerging markets, rapidly moving up the table.

But who suffers? Well, if you move on here, you'll see that straight away. It is France, which goes from five to nine, and the U.K., which also -- so, they are the ones that are going down. And going down quite fast, too, predicted to be at the bottom three of the top 10 in 2020. Putting this together, the one country that really does seem to be much on the move is Brazil. As it advances at world's economic ranks, the finance minister, Guido Mantega says the wheels won't be coming off any time soon. He believes the country will remain one of the fastest growing nations for years to come.

Shasta Darlington is in San Paolo.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It comes as no surprise to most Brazilians. Their economy has surpassed that of the U.K., making it the world's sixth largest.

In fact, it has been booming for a decade thanks in large part to two factors. On the one hand, a huge demand for Brazilian commodities, everything from iron ore to coffee, soybeans, chicken, beef, they even make jet planes. And on the other hand, on the domestic front, millions of people have climbed out of poverty, into the lower and lower-middle classes. For the first time ever buying everything from microwave ovens to cars and that means that between 2003 and 2010, average economic growth was 4 percent a year.

Now, having said that I think is important to note that although Brazil's economy is now bigger than the U.K.'s is population is actually more than three times as big. And that means that per capita income is still fairly low. We're talking $12,500 a year. Even the finance minister says it will take Brazil 10 to 20 years for per capita income to be on a par with European countries. And this year didn't help much.

In fact the economy came to a grinding halt in the third quarter. The Brazilian government has implemented a series of measures, everything from tax cuts to an increase in minimum wage. But the real focus has been on interest rates. They want to use interest rates to help jump start the economy. And that is because the benchmark here is 11 percent, incredibly high.

Now with these measures in place the government expects the economy next year to grow again, between 4 and 5 percent. They also expect Brazil will continue to grow in the global ranking. Shasta Darlington, CNN, San Paolo.


QUEST: A bill to tackle corruption in India has cleared its first hurdle at the lower house of parliament, which approved the setting up of an independent watchdog. The rule now faces a tougher battle in the upper house. Many people are growing increasingly angry over the levels of corruption.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the first time, by legislative (INAUDIBLE), we ourselves are (INAUDIBLE).


QUEST: Sara Sidner reports from Delhi on why the issue is stirring up such strong feelings amongst Indians.


SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the debate is raging over this anti-corruption bill that basically sets up an ombudsman, a watchdog, if you will, to look at government corruption, particularly kick backs and bribes for politicians and bureaucrats. Now this bill is being fiercely debated in parliament.

There are people who are for it, against it, of course, but there is also another factor. There is the factor of the man who has really become the face of anti-corruption here in India. His name is Anna Hazare, and he is 74-years-old. He is so upset with corruption in this country that he has called several times for protests and he has lots of support.

He is now going on his third fast and is holding a protest in Mumbai, while the parliament discusses this bill. And he is saying that the current legislation that is being debated is absolutely useless because it doesn't have enough teeth to really clamp down on government corruption. However, some politicians are simply afraid that this legislation will create a body that has too much power and supersedes democracy.

Now how did this all come about? Well, two major corruption scandals in this country really got the population angry. One of them had to do with the Commonwealth Games, which saw the lead organizer of the games here in India arrested and fired for mismanagement of funds. And another scandal which the government says costs it more than $30 billion. We're talking about the telecommunications ministry, which is accused of, basically, selling licenses for telecommunications to companies for very, very cheap prices; prices that were from years ago, not the current market price.

At this point in time, though, this bill is being hotly debated. And there is a good sense that this will go on for days. Sara Sidner, CNN, New Delhi.


QUEST: When we return in just a moment, I have an interesting proposition for you. How can a relatively mundane fizzy soft drink, an appetizer, how can this lead you to one of the most wealthy, famous stores in the world? A swanky trip to Tiffany's all paid for by Coca-Cola competition. There is a snag.


The prize doesn't exist. How did it all go wrong? In a moment.


QUEST: The little bottle promised so much. It had the nice little cartoon dress, on the front, and it has the words, dinner at Tiffany's. And it was a prize that you could win, if you bought a bottle of Appletiser, and did a couple of other things. There is no breakfast and certainly no dinner at Tiffany's. That is the message the U.S. jeweler is sending out to lovers of this drink.

Appletiser is owned by Coca-Cola. Now they are using the Tiffany's brand to offer consumers the trip of a lifetime. They say dinner for two, and a $1,000 gift card from Tiffany's were up for grabs, however -- and this is where it all goes pear-shaped.

Ha, ha, get it pear-shaped? Never mind.

Tiffany's says the promotion doesn't exist. A legal battle is underway. Coca-Cola insists it has acted in good faith saying the on pact promotion is fully compliant with the law. And they told us, we believe we had an agreement from Tiffany & Co. to offer the prizes accordingly. We'll defend our legal position rigorously."

We also reached out to Tiffany's. We didn't get a response from them. And Tiffany's told the U.K. paper, "The Telegraph", the promise of dinner and shopping was never agreed, "saying Coca-Cola launched its promotion, using the Tiffany's trademark without our authorization.

But Coke does say whoever does win it will still get a trip to New York. Just won't get dinner at Tiffany's because there isn't one to be had. You get the idea. OK.

The weather forecast. Guillermo is at the World Weather Center.


QUEST: Well, we've seen it all today. Bleak house prices numbers from the U.S., hard times from retailers in Greece and Italy, and great expectations from American consumers; if you can't spot the common thread there you weren't paying attention at school. Charles Dickens' novels are all of a sudden very relevant in today's tough times. 200 years on from his birth, Nina Dos Santos has been to make a modern connection with Dickensian times.


NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): From the workhouses of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield to the perennial mists and fogs (ph) surrounding Bleak House, no one quite captured Victorian life like Charles Dickens. Well, 2012 sees the bicentenary of the birth of this most prolific of British authors, and as such, here at the Museum of London they have organized an exhibition to mark the unique relationship that Charles Dickens had with the British capital.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some years ago a temporary inability to sleep caused me to walk about the streets all nigh for a series of several nights.


ALEX WERNER, CURATOR, MUSEUM OF LONDON: Dickens really has informed how we view Victoria London. He was such a great evoker of the cityscape of this period, and especially at night time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I finished my education in a fair amateur experience of houselessness.

WERNER: And he must have seen lots of children, homeless children, on the streets of London. And this must have really concerned him.

DOS SANTOS: Yes, he really highlighted the plight of children, didn't he? He often got lost in factories and sweatshops in Victorian London and he did a lot to further that cause?

WERNER: He was marked himself by working in the blacking factory as a young boy, and it was really that, that actually informed a lot of his work.

DOS SANTOS: Dickens' tales were not only harrowing, but they also had some stories of happiness. And we're off to examine that particular feature of Charles Dickens next.

Of course, Dickens is really famous for "A Christmas Carol", isn't it? It's changed the way we celebrate Christmas in so many countries. Here it is.

WERNER: Yes, we have first edition. This is a copy that Charles Dickens gave to his best friend, John Foster. "A Christmas Carol" was written in the autumn of 1843. We know that Dickens writing to a friend, describes how he was walking about 15 miles a night composing that book. And it has become really the most famous sort of urban fairytale.

There are lots of things in today's society that are very, very similar to the time when Dickens was writing his great works.

DOS SANTOS: There is still "A Tale of Two Cities", the West being the more affluent areas of London and the East being the less affluent areas of London. It is still like that today.

WERNER: Even more obvious, actually, the divide between the wealthy and the poverty. In the West the sort of very find table, and then in the East, a very poor family and, I'm afraid, sitting in that room, that is a coffin.

The themes that Dickens covers in his books are very relevant today. He talks about government bureaucracy, he invents the term "red tape", and we are still using that today. And he talked about financial irregularities in his novels. So, again, a very current theme. Poor housing, they're all there, in his work.

DOS SANTOS: And financial irregularities, was particularly important for him because his father was sent to the debtor's prison, wasn't he?

WERNER: He -- Dickens was always worried about money. So he was very, very concerned about a debt, not falling into debt, all his life he strove to earn enough money to keep him in a comfortable means.

DOS SANTOS: Books like "Great Expectations" have remained popular hundreds of years after they were originally written. The difference between then and now, is that you are more likely to read them on one of these. What the Dickens' children would have made of that? Well, we can only imagine.

Nina Dos Santos, CNN, London.


QUEST: Dickens of London.

After the break, pantomime is as much of part of the British Christmas as minced pies and turkeys and pulling a Christmas cracker. And when we come back, the life as a dame in the "World of Work."


QUEST: So, many of us are used to taking on a different persona when we go to work. Some of us even get used to having put on make up before we begin work. But undergo such a dramatic transformation few of us have to do it like Tony Whittle does. He leaves home looking like this. But as he goes through his "World At Work" he ends up looking like this, playing the ugly sister in a festive production of "Cinderella."

As our series, and part of our series, "The World At Work" Tony shared some of the backstage secrets proving there really is nothing like a dame.


TONY WHITTLE, ACTOR: I've been an actor now for about 28 years, professionally. But I started when I was about 10, doing dramatics. It is just something I've always enjoyed doing really.

I tend to give myself a routine. I quite like routines. So, I would come in, I'd have come in and make sure everyone is OK. See who is ill, see who is not ill, and make sure they are -- become a bit of a granddad to them, really. You make sure they are eating properly.

You need to keep them lubricated. So luckily we've got this boiler that is on all the time.

Then I would do a warm up on stage. Then we'll come back to the dressing room, maybe have a cup of tea. Then put make up.

Don't want to look like women. We want to look like men with silly make up on.

We have to go on stage and get into a hot air balloon basket. And then we are flown up into the (INAUDIBLE). We can fly there for 20 minutes.

What we intend to do is have a bit of a comedy chat, so we have a bit of a laugh before we start, which is great.

It is great to make people laugh. I like to make people laugh.

(ON STAGE): And I don't want to get caught by surprise.


Particularly children, they like all this sort of physical slap- stickness of it all. And then the older adults, the older people in the audience like the cheekiness of it. We can actually get across the footlights to them and have a chat with them.

(ON STAGE): Radar? Is that you, Sir! Put your stuff down.

For instance in this one we're doing, I go into the audience to pick a guy out. So, I actually go into the audience to talk to them. And I can say whatever I want to them, really.

(ON STAGE): And he's got his Christmas jumper on as well.

Oh, don't sit down yet.

The tricks of the trade on being a dame and listening really to the audience, and you sometimes get big laughers in. And you can play to them a little bit. And if you get them going on a bit of a laugh, then it makes the other parts of the audience laugh as well.

(ON STAGE): Your dad is not just under my Mommy's thumb, he's under her big toenail.

The moral of the team backstage is very, very important in pantomime, from the dressers to the stage management team, to the crew on stage. It is a big family and we've created a big family here.

KAT B., ACTOR: We come to have fun. If we don't have fun it doesn't make sense doing a job.

WHITTLE: We come to work to have fun.

KAT B.: And anyone who is in a job that enjoy it gets old, gets old.

WHITTLE: I love doing it. Of course, it is my first love and that is why I like doing it.

(ON STAGE): Nightie, nightie!


QUEST: Wonderful, the pantomime dame.

Finally, tonight's "Tweets From the Top" comes some of the most influential people in the world of business and economics, who have been obsessed with social media.

First up, the economist Nouriel Roubini has been Tweeting predictions. He says, "U.S. home prices still falling, expect more of the same in 2012, with millions more homeowners under water."

As we continue with more "Tweets At The Top", Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel prize winner, is also Tweeting about 2012. Saying, "2012 may mark the beginning of a new and more frightening phase of the world's worst economy calamity in three quarters of a century."

And an explosive Tweet, from Donald Trump, which is really quite extraordinary. He's been promoting his book on politics really.

He says, "I still can't believe we didn't take the oil from Iraq."

Many of you will want to voice your opinions on those Tweets and others. And you can follow me and respond to that Tweet. My Twitter address is @RichardQuest. So it is just @RichardQuest, is the Tweet name.

When we come back in a moment, a "Profitable Moment."


QUEST: Tonight's "Profitable Moment": For the past 12 months we have brought you "The Boss." The trials and tribulations of those running companies around the world, who faced problems, many problems, in some cases. One unceremoniously lost his job, another took leave for personal reasons. Whether they were selling beer, running casinos, owning restaurants, our bosses said the same thing. The single most important task was choosing the right staff, the men and women who gave force to their vision for their companies.

Our bosses were meticulous about detail. Balancing between being a perfectionist and meddling where it is not needed, striking a balance everyday; it is not about imposing your will, it is about leading from the front. Defining where the company is going and how you expect to get there. In the new year we will introduce you to "The Boss" successor, a new generation, in a new direction, in a new generation of "The Millennials." That is in the new year.

And that is QUEST MEANS BUSINESS for tonight. I'm Richard Quest in London. Whatever you are up to in the hours ahead, I hope it is profitable. The news is next.