Every year, the world's most influential leaders meet at the World Economic Forum to talk about the biggest challenges facing the planet. But this year's gathering was notable for those who didn't make it to the Swiss Alps. US President Donald Trump, China's Xi Jinping, and the UK's Theresa May were among them, as pressing problems back home kept many of them away.

But for those who came, there was plenty to talk about. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) cut its global growth forecast, saying the global economy is expected to slow down in 2019. As for China, which has the world's second-biggest economy, its growth is also expected to slow down to its weakest pace since 1990.

According to Oxfam, the world's 26 richest people are worth as much as the poorest half of humanity. While some question the way it arrived at those numbers, more people fear that a widening wealth gap is ripping apart the social contract on which the world economy is built.

"The start to 2019, certainly in markets, has been particularly rocky," explains Jeremy Cook, chief economist at WorldFirst. "The data that we've been getting from the two largest economies in the world - the US and China, has been poor so certainly we haven't started out on a strong foot." 

The start to 2019, certainly in markets, has been particularly rocky.

Jeremy Cook, chief economist, WorldFirst

"The IMF is warning about scenarios and also the results of economic pressures that we've seen throughout the course of 2018, which will likely be brought to bear over the next 12 months or so. A lot of it is focussed on politics, the trade fall out between the United States and China and how that ripples around the global economy, as well as Brexit and the rise of protectionism."

Also on this episode of Counting the Cost:

Brexit Box: With all the uncertainty over Brexit, some people in the UK are beginning to stockpile basic necessities, including food and medicine. A company in Leeds has been selling a 'Brexit Box' billed as a 30-day survival kit, as Laurence Lee reports.

Qatar-Lebanon investments: Qatar is buying up $500m worth of Lebanese government bonds. Under a Saudi Arabian-led land, sea and air blockade, the country sees it as a good investment which will help stabilise the economy.

Huawei 5G foldable phone: The Chinese telecom giant Huawei said it's launching the first foldable 5G smartphone next month using its very own technology. Huawei is facing restriction in several Western countries over concerns its products could be used for spying. The company's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, continues to fight extradition to the US. She denies accusations the company illegally broke US sanctions against Iran.

Google: France slapped a $57m fine on Google this week. It's the first major penalty brought against a US technology company since new European Union privacy rules came into force. Regulators said the search engine giant failed to fully disclose to users how their personal information is used.

Kenya plastic: The United Nations estimates that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish unless the industry cleans up its act. Mohammed Adow reports from Lamu, Kenya on an unusual project aimed at raising awareness about plastic waste in the oceans.

Source: Al Jazeera