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Surprisingly, our 7th European conference this week in Cologne (co-organised with ICIS), was one of our most successful. Delegate numbers were down, as companies cut travel budgets. But those attending said they had gained much more, than if they had stayed in the office.

For a start, there was the opportunity to share experiences, and put today’s problems in context. My colleague, John Keeley, focused on the scary nature of today’s demand slump when opening the conference. But he also reminded delegates that one must remain pro-active. His “yes, we can” approach became the key theme of the event:

• Pierre-Emmanuel Goffinet of GTIS showed how companies could use trade statistics to better understand what is happening in their markets
• Phil Allen of GEMS outlined new marketing tools to maximise profit by better understanding customer needs
Wood Mackenzie suggested that the coming gasoline glut created an opportunity for producers to obtain cheaper feedstocks

Delegates also came away with a real insight into current problems in financial markets. Nigel Davis of ICIS insight analysed the factors behind the current collapse in demand. Whilst Paul Satchell of ING, who had correctly warned last year that the crisis had hardly begun, focused this year on the problems caused by lack of visibility down the value chain.

Summing up the 2 days, I said that I hoped the New Year would see a welcome recovery in demand. Factories will reopen downstream, and customers will need to rebuild inventories. But I warned that this would provide only temporary relief, with housing and autos in recession.

My advice was therefore to use the next few weeks to develop, and implement, robust plans to survive an extended downturn.

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