A small number of people have an outsize influence on the balance of your bank account, the fortunes of your investment portfolio, how you communicate and what you buy. They're not necessarily masters of the universe, but their thoughts, actions, and even their whims impact your bottom line. They also make up the Power 30 -- our annual list of the folks shifting and shaping economic currents in the U.S. and around the world.
- Health-Care Honchos
Financial clout doesn't have a scorecard. No formula or algorithm determines what groups or individuals most have their fingers on the pulse of American pocketbooks or their thumbs on the scales. So our reporters and editors consulted with experts and analysts to assemble this year's list -- which ranges from the man trusted with steering the nation's economic recovery to the woman who just became the youngest Fortune 500 CEO. The roll call may not be scientific or comprehensive, but it highlights the thinkers and decision-makers worth paying close attention to in the coming year.
This group includes two European leaders squaring off over the future of the euro zone, and a former KGB agent who's steering his country's attention away from the Continent (and the U.S.) to focus on building stronger ties in Asia -- all of them major players whose decisions could lead to widespread changes for the world economy.
Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande
- Chancellor of Germany; President of France
Merkel and the newly-elected Hollande are at odds over the best way to rescue the euro zone -- and the face-off between the two is likely to have a far-reaching impact on the global economy. Hollande, 58, wants pro-growth stimulus measures, while Merkel, also 58, favors austerity. Some investors say the leaders must learn to work together as they move toward resolving the debt crisis. Still, they each face issues within their own borders: France is under close scrutiny from investors after its sovereign debt was downgraded by Standard & Poor's from Triple-A to double-A plus in January, and other ratings giants have hinted they may follow suit. The French president also recently unveiled a budget that would increase the overall tax rate to 75% for some of the country's wealthiest individuals. Merkel, who has higher approval ratings now than she did after her 2009 re-election, may still face a serious election challenge next year from former Finance Minister Peer Steinbruck, who has criticized Merkel for not doing enough to unite the euro-zone and aid struggling members like Greece.
- President of the European Central Bank
In his first year as the head of the central bank for the euro, Draghi, 65, managed to ease some investors' concerns over the debt crisis on the Continent, but skepticism remains. Draghi's pledge in late July to do "whatever it takes" to keep the euro zone intact reverberated through the financial markets and lifted stocks worldwide, says Sameer Samana, international strategist for Wells Fargo Advisors. That first hint, followed by the official announcement in September of an unlimited bond buying program from the ECB, also helped bring Spanish and Italian bond yields down from the euro-era highs of more than 7% this summer to about 3%. But bond yields have inched up again since then, as investors start to question whether Draghi will keep his promise to buy as many bonds as necessary to lower borrowing costs for countries that apply for aid. Many are waiting to see if the aid will reach the countries that need it most.
The Emerging-Market Consumer
On a trip to China a few years back, Thomas Melendez noticed how many men never cut off the cloth tags that came with their new suits, preferring to broadcast from the patch at their wrist they were wearing Armani or some other status brand. The manager of the $2.8 billion MFS International Diversification fund (MDIDX) has positioned his portfolio to tap into that rising consumer class in China, where spending on luxury goods has more than tripled over the last five years, according to Euromonitor International, a market research firm. What's happening in the world's second-largest economy is happening to some degree across much of the developing world. Indeed, the global economy would have suffered even more than it did during the financial crisis if Chinese women hadn't bought Coach bags and African women hadn't purchased laundry detergent. Average emerging-market growth from 2008 to 2011 was 5.6%, versus zero growth for many developed economies, according to Joyce Chang, J.P. Morgan's global head of emerging markets research. Chang says emerging economies will account for 71.6% of global growth this year. It comes as no surprise then, says Justin Leverenz, manager of the $27.4 billion Oppenheimer Developing Markets fund (ODMAX) that, "every multinational on the planet has an emerging consumer strategy."
- President of Russia
The former KGB officer has maintained power for a dozen years thanks to shrewd political maneuvering and years of economic growth fueled by Russia's oil and gas production. Putin, 60, has led the former Communist state as Prime Minister twice and is currently serving his third term as President. "The large reserve funds that Putin built up during the boom years helped tide the government over during the financial crisis of 2008," says Daniel Treisman, professor of political science at the UCLA. At a summit with Asia Pacific leaders in September, Putin also expressed his plans to shift the country's attention away from Europe to build stronger economic ties with China and Asia a move that could change global economic landscape. But he faces dual challenges at home and abroad before the next presidential election, expected in 2018. In Russia, he must answer complaints from the growing middle class that he runs an autocratic regime that fails to provide adequate healthcare and education for its people. Russia's dependence on oil and its ailing infrastructure also remain potential critical weaknesses of the economy, says Steven Fish, a professor of political science at UCLA. Internationally, Putin is under intense pressure from the West to withdraw Russia's support for the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and, Fish says, to better act as bridge between China and the West. "Putin increasingly appears afraid of anything that smacks of democracy," he says. "Relations with the West are deteriorating slowly and almost imperceptibly."