Turbulent future for loss-making Alitalia after rescue stalls

Alitalia has been losing money for years, its business squeezed by competition from low-cost carriers, fuel price rises and luxury airlines from the Middle East. (AFP)
Updated 01 December 2019

Turbulent future for loss-making Alitalia after rescue stalls

  • Struggling carrier now at a standstill after a consortium of potential buyers failed to make an offer
  • Alitalia has been losing money for years, its business squeezed by competition

ROME: Efforts to save loss-making Alitalia have reached an impasse after months of unsuccessful negotiations with potential buyers, leaving Italy’s government undecided on the next move.
The struggling carrier, which has been under special administration since 2017 and continues to burn through cash, is now at a standstill after a consortium of potential buyers failed to make an offer, and with little hope for one in sight.
“It’s evident that right now a business solution doesn’t exist,” Economy Minister Stefano Patuanelli said this week, addressing a Senate commission.
The company “has a dimension that the market has difficulty accepting,” he said.
The government has reportedly said it will provide a €400 million ($440 million) bridge loan to the struggling company — at the risk of running afoul of European Commission rules on state aid, after the 900 million provided already in 2017.
Patuanelli brushed off such concerns Friday, saying he was “not worried.” The government, he said, was exploring its options, which media reports said include replacing the commissioners running the airline, or outright nationalization.
The minister has said placing the beleaguered carrier in the state’s hands “would not necessarily be negative.”
Alitalia has been losing money for years, its business squeezed by competition from low-cost carriers, fuel price rises, and luxury airlines from the Middle East.
After months of negotiations and the expiration of the latest deadline for a binding bid, plans for a consortium of investors to save the airline fell through last week after Atlantia said the conditions had not yet been met to participate.
Atlantia, a major operator of toll expressways and airports controlled by the Benetton family, operates Rome’s airports and had already twice taken stakes in Alitalia.
Others making up the potential partnership were state railway Ferrovie dello Stato, US airline Delta and the Italian treasury.
Delta said earlier this month it was ready to invest up to €100 million in Alitalia in return for a 10 percent stake.
Lufthansa has its eye on the lucrative Italian market but has said it would only be interested in investing in a restructured Alitalia.
Patuanelli said Friday that Lufthansa at the moment was interested in “a commercial partnership, but with no equity investment.” The minister has said costs must be cut at the carrier, echoing Lufthansa’s demands for restructuring.
Unions have planned a December 13 strike, their worries mounting given the lack of a new plan in sight and uncertainty over how many jobs could be threatened under any restructuring.
“We are against any idea of cutting up Alitalia and losing our country’s heritage,” the secretary of the CGIL union said on Friday.
Alitalia was placed under special administration two years ago after workers rejected a restructuring plan that would have laid off 1,700 workers out of some 11,000.
Estimates are hard to come by on how much the state would have to spend to keep it afloat. The Sole 24 Ore daily put the sum at 8.7 billion euros, citing Italian investment bank Mediobanca.
The company’s best, or least bad, year in the past decade was 2011, when it lost some €69 million, a sum that swelled to €280 million the following year and to €580 million in 2014, according to Italian news agency AGI.
“The abnormality about Alitalia is that it loses money when it flies,” consumer’s rights association ADUC wrote on Thursday.
“With the money wasted on Alitalia, the government could have bought six airlines, namely Air France, KLM, Turkish Airlines, Norwegian, Finnair and SAS.”


Oil rebounds above $76 on speculation virus fear overrated

Updated 30 November 2021

Oil rebounds above $76 on speculation virus fear overrated

LONDON: Oil rebounded by more than 5 percent on Monday to above $76 a barrel as some investors viewed Friday’s slump in oil and financial markets as overdone while the world awaits more data on the omicron coronavirus variant.

Brent crude was up $3.66, or 5 percent, at $76.38 a barrel by 1444 GMT, having slid by $9.50 on Friday. US West Texas Intermediate crude was up $4.36, or 6.4%, at $72.51, having tumbled by $10.24 in the previous session.

“We saw some correction as Friday’s plunge in oil prices has been overdone,” said Tatsufumi Okoshi, a senior economist at Nomura Securities.

Friday’s slide, the biggest one-day drop since April 2020, reflected fears that travel bans would hammer demand. The plunge was exacerbated by low liquidity owing to a US holiday and the expected demand hit does not justify such a fall, analysts said.

“The fear factor had its grip on financial markets on Friday,” said Norbert Ruecker of Swiss bank Julius Baer. “Fundamentally, the announced and enacted international air travel constraints cannot explain such a sharp slump.”

A semblance of calm also returned to wider markets on Monday as investors awaited more information about the new variant. European and Wall Street shares rose while safe haven bonds lost ground.

“I can’t help but feel that Friday’s lows were probably the bargain of the year if you were an oil buyer, speculative or physical,” said Jeffrey Halley of brokerage OANDA.

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Startup of the Week: Wafeer — helping Saudis spend wisely and save money

Updated 28 November 2021

Startup of the Week: Wafeer — helping Saudis spend wisely and save money

JEDDAH: Personal finance app Wafeer is the only service in Saudi Arabia that automatically tracks user’s spending patterns in a bid to help them stick to budgets.
The fintech company was founded by Salah Al-Bassam, Ahmad Ramadan and Abdulaziz Al-Jasser in 2019.
Each founder brings their own skills to the firm — Al-Bassam is an investment professional, Ramadan specialized in tech, while Al-Jasser is an engineer.
“We believe this was the formula that made Wafeer what it is right now, the broad and diverse experience that each founder brings to the table and of course our value add investors,” Al-Bassam told Arab News.
In March, Wafeer raised an undisclosed amount in a pre-seed funding round led by Nama Ventures, with participation from RAI group, WomenSpark, and several angel investors.
At the time, Nama Venture’s general partner Mohammed Alzubi said: “We first met the Wafeer team in August of 2020. The first thing that stood out for us was how complementary was the skillsets of the team, with real role clarity from the get go.”
Al-Bassam explains that its software automatically updates expenses that are paid through the app, rather than needing manual entry.
“Beyond tracking user’s expenses, Wafeer offers personalized advice using artificial intelligence helping users get notified before overspending and gives them recommendations that help cut spending or create wiggle room,” Al-Bassam said.
He added the Saudi Vision 2030 growth initiative highlights the importance of creating more awareness of spending, savings and investment through its Financial Sector Development Program.
Al-Bassam said: “It is one of the Vision's realization programs. This program has several goals, the most important of which are achieving financial diversity, stability, and promoting the culture of saving.
“Our goal at Wafeer is to play a role in achieving these objectives with the aim of answering this ongoing question that arises at the end of each month: What did I spend my salary on?”
Wafeer has 82,000 active users in its platform, who have notched up almost 1 million transactions.
The startup has partnered up with big companies in the region, such as online marketplace Noon and Saudi fast food app Hungerstation to provide special offers to customers.
Al-Bassam said: “We are proud of our partnerships, we have signed a number of strategic partnerships, most recently with Noon and Hungerstation to provide Wafeer users with exclusive discounts and offers that match their spending behavior.”
Wafeer currently only operates in the Kingdom, but has plans to extend its services to other Middle Eastern and North African countries.


Anghami to complete US merger ‘soon,’ CEO says

Updated 26 November 2021

Anghami to complete US merger ‘soon,’ CEO says

  • Maroun said the company’s priority is growth not profitability as it seeks to increase its market share from 6 percent

RIYADH: Lebanon’s Anghami, known as the Spotify of the Arab world, will not postpone its merger with the blank-check company Vistas Media in a potential $90 million deal, according to the firm’s CEO.

Eddie Maroun said the agreement had suffered a delay due to the procedures of the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US, but the deal will still go ahead.

The process is currently in its final stages, and the implementation will be announced very soon, he told Al-Arabiya on Thursday.

Maroun said the company’s priority is growth not profitability as it seeks to increase its market share from 6 percent.

He expects Anghami to achieve profitability within three years, he added.

Subscriptions represent 80 percent of the company’s revenue with the rest coming from advertising, Maround said.

Founded in 2012 in Lebanon, Anghami is the first legal music streaming platform in the Middle East and North Africa region.


Dubai real estate sector deals back to pre-pandemic level: Land department

Updated 26 November 2021

Dubai real estate sector deals back to pre-pandemic level: Land department

  • The number of deals in October was at the highest level since June 2019

RIYADH: Dubai’s real estate market has seen the highest value of deals since March 2019, according to data from the Dubai Land Department.

Figures show that in October, 5,352 transactions worth 13.12 billion UAE dirhams ($3.57 billion) were recorded.

The number of deals was at the highest level since June 2019.

The value of real estate sales transactions in the first 10 months of 2021 are more than the whole of 2020 and the highest since 2015, according to the data.

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Oman’s Bank Nizwa welcomes merger proposal from Sohar International

Updated 26 November 2021

Oman’s Bank Nizwa welcomes merger proposal from Sohar International

RIYADH: Oman-based Sohar International Bank and Bank Nizwa are considering a merger, according to Al-Arabiya.

Bank Nizwa’s board welcomed the proposal from Sohar International on Nov. 25 to study the idea of merging the two banks, it was reported.

Bank Nizwa recorded profit growth of 14 percent in the third quarter to 3 million Omani riyals ($7.7 million).

Profit growth of Bank Nizwa increased by 6 percent in the first nine months of 2021 to 9 million riyals.

Bank Nizwa is Oman’s first dedicated Islamic bank, launching in January 2013, with fully Shariah-compliant products and services.