Senate Dems strike jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight

The compromise, announced by the West Virginia lawmaker and a Democratic aide late Friday, seemed to clear the way for the Senate to begin a climactic, marathon series of votes and, eventually, approval of the sweeping legislation. (File/AFP)
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Updated 06 March 2021
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Senate Dems strike jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight

  • The overall bill, President Joe Biden’s foremost legislative priority, is aimed at battling the killer pandemic and nursing the staggered economy back to health

WASHINGTON: Senate leaders and moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin struck a deal over emergency jobless benefits, breaking a logjam that had stalled the party’s showpiece $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
The compromise, announced by the West Virginia lawmaker and a Democratic aide late Friday, seemed to clear the way for the Senate to begin a climactic, marathon series of votes and, eventually, approval of the sweeping legislation.
The overall bill, President Joe Biden’s foremost legislative priority, is aimed at battling the killer pandemic and nursing the staggered economy back to health. It would provide direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans and money for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry and subsidies for health insurance.
Shortly before midnight, the Senate began to take up a variety of amendments in rapid-fire fashion. The votes were mostly on Republican proposals virtually certain to fail but designed to force Democrats to cast politically awkward votes. It was unclear how long into the weekend the “vote-a-rama” would last.
More significantly, the jobless benefits agreement suggested it was just a matter of time until the Senate passes the bill. That would ship it back to the House, which was expected to give it final congressional approval and whisk it to Biden for his signature.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden supports the compromise on jobless payments.
Friday’s lengthy standoff underscored the headaches confronting party leaders over the next two years — and the tensions between progressives and centrists — as they try moving their agenda through the Congress with their slender majorities.
Manchin is probably the chamber’s most conservative Democrat, and a kingmaker in the 50-50 Senate. But the party can’t tilt too far center to win Manchin’s vote without endangering progressive support in the House, where they have a mere 10-vote edge.
Aiding unemployed Americans is a top Democratic priority. But it’s also an issue that drives a wedge between progressives seeking to help jobless constituents cope with the bleak economy and Manchin and other moderates who have wanted to trim some of the bill’s costs.
Biden noted Friday’s jobs report showing that employers added 379,000 workers — an unexpectedly strong showing. That’s still small compared to the 10 million fewer jobs since the pandemic struck a year ago.
“Without a rescue plan, these gains are going to slow,” Biden said. “We can’t afford one step forward and two steps backwards. We need to beat the virus, provide essential relief, and build an inclusive recovery.”
The overall bill faces a solid wall of GOP opposition, and Republicans used the unemployment impasse to accuse Biden of refusing to seek compromise with them.
“You could pick up the phone and end this right now,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of Biden.
But in an encouraging sign for Biden, a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 70% of Americans support his handling of the pandemic, including a noteworthy 44% of Republicans.
The House approved a relief bill last weekend that included $400 weekly jobless benefits — on top of regular state payments — through August. Manchin was hoping to reduce those costs, asserting that level of payment would discourage people from returning to work, a rationale most Democrats and many economists reject.
As the day began, Democrats asserted they’d reached a compromise between party moderates and progressives extending emergency jobless benefits at $300 weekly into early October.
That plan, sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, also included tax reductions on some unemployment benefits. Without that, many Americans abruptly tossed out of jobs would face unexpected tax bills.
But by midday, lawmakers said Manchin was ready to support a less generous Republican version. That led to hours of talks involving White House aides, top Senate Democrats and Manchin as the party tried finding a way to salvage its unemployment aid package.
The compromise announced Friday night would provide $300 weekly, with the final check paid on Sept. 6, and includes the tax break on benefits.
During the “vote-a-rama,” the Senate narrowly passed an amendment from Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, that would have extended the $300 unemployment insurance benefit to July 18. But Portman’s victory was short-lived and the proposal was canceled out when the chamber subsequently passed the unemployment insurance proposal worked out by the Democrats.
Before the unemployment benefits drama began, senators voted 58-42 to kill a top progressive priority, a gradual increase in the current $7.25 hourly minimum wage to $15 over five years.
Eight Democrats voted against that proposal, suggesting that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and other progressives vowing to continue the effort in coming months will face a difficult fight.
That vote began shortly after 11 a.m. EST and was not formally gaveled to a close until nearly 12 hours later as Senate work ground to a halt amid the unemployment benefit negotiations.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell chided Democrats, calling their daylong effort to work out the unemployment amendment a “spectacle.”
“What this proves is there are benefits to bipartisanship when you’re dealing with an issue of this magnitude,” McConnell said.
Republicans criticized the overall relief bill as a liberal spend-fest that ignores that growing numbers of vaccinations and signs of a stirring economy suggest that the twin crises are easing.
“Democrats inherited a tide that was already turning.” McConnell said.
Democrats reject that, citing the job losses and numerous people still struggling to buy food and pay rent.
“If you just look at a big number you say, ‘Oh, everything’s getting a little better,’” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “It’s not for the lower half of America. It’s not.”
Friday’s gridlock over unemployment benefits gridlock wasn’t the first delay on the relief package. On Thursday Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, forced the chamber’s clerks to read aloud the entire 628-page relief bill, an exhausting task that took staffers 10 hours and 44 minutes and ended shortly after 2 a.m. EST.
Democrats made a host of other late changes to the bill, designed to nail down support. They ranged from extra money for food programs and federal subsidies for health care for workers who lose jobs to funds for rural health care and language assuring minimum amounts of money for smaller states.
In another late bargain that satisfied moderates, Biden and Senate Democrats agreed Wednesday to make some higher earners ineligible for the direct checks to individuals.


Global AI Summit in Riyadh to host top-level discussions on AI impact 

Updated 21 July 2024
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Global AI Summit in Riyadh to host top-level discussions on AI impact 

  • The event, organized by the Saudi Data and AI Authority, will focus on one of today’s most pressing global issues — AI technology

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will welcome economic policymakers, major technology and artificial intelligence companies, international thought leaders, and heads of international organizations to Riyadh this September as the Global AI Summit returns for its third edition.

The event, organized by the Saudi Data and AI Authority, will focus on one of today’s most pressing global issues — AI technology — and will attempt to find solutions that “maximize the potential of these transformative technologies for the benefit of humanity,” a statement released Sunday said.

The third edition of the event will be held at the King Abdulaziz International Conference Center from Sept. 10 to 12 under the patronage of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in his capacity as chairman of the board of directors at SDAIA, the statement added.

The GAIN Summit will take place amid increasing concerns about the impact of AI technologies and will reaffirm the Kingdom’s commitment to supporting international efforts aimed at enhancing human welfare in the face of the challenges associated with developing technology.

GAIN 2024 will focus more on AI than its previous editions in 2020 and 2022, with topics including innovation in the sector, key developments shaping a better future for AI, and fostering a supportive environment for human resources in the field.

Other topics include AI at local and global levels, the complementary relationship between humans and AI, business leaders in AI, the relationship between data and applications, GenAI, AI ethics, AI processors and infrastructure, and AI and smart cities.


Saudi industry minister to visit Brazil, Chile to explore lithium production

Updated 21 July 2024
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Saudi industry minister to visit Brazil, Chile to explore lithium production

  • Alkhorayaf will land in Brazil on Monday and leave for Chile, the world’s second-largest producer of lithium, next Sunday

RIYADH: Bandar Alkhorayaf, Saudi Arabia’s mining and industry minister, will visit Brazil and Chile this week, the ministry said on Sunday.

In Brazil, he will hold meetings with officials to discuss expanding the Kingdom’s mining capacity, food processing, and aviation, while in Chile he will explore lithium production, needed for electric vehicle batteries.

“This aligns with the Kingdom’s direction towards expanding the production of EVs,” a Saudi government statement said. 

Alkhorayaf will land in Brazil on Monday and leave for Chile, the world’s second-largest producer of lithium, next Sunday.

On the first leg of the tour in Brazil, Alkhorayaf will meet agricultural and industrial groups, including Minerva Foods, JBS, and BRF SA, as well as the Brazilian Mining Association and mining company Vale.

Brazil’s Energy Minister Alexandre Silveira said last month that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund plans to invest $15 billion in Brazil in areas such as green hydrogen, infrastructure, and renewable energy.

In Chile, the minister will meet his counterpart Aurora Williams, as well as mining companies Antofagasta, and Codelco, a state-run company tasked with bringing the Chilean government into the lithium industry.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the PIF, and the Kingdom’s mining company, known as Ma’aden, which is 67 percent owned by the PIF, formed a joint venture called Manara Minerals to invest in mining assets abroad.


Closing Bell: Saudi main index closes in green at 12,195  

Updated 21 July 2024
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Closing Bell: Saudi main index closes in green at 12,195  

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index rose on Sunday, gaining 6.73 points, or 0.06 percent, to close at 12,195.05.   

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR6.12 billion ($1.63 billion), as 74 of the listed stocks advanced, while 154 retreated.   

The MSCI Tadawul Index also closed in green, gaining 2.46 points, or 0.16 percent, to close at 1,529.46.   

The Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu rose 67.8 points, or 0.26 percent, to close at 25,770.14. This comes as 27 of the listed stocks advanced while as many as 34 retreated.   

The best-performing stock of the day was Saudi Manpower Solutions Co., whose share price surged 9.88 percent to SR10.34. 

Other top performers include Maharah Human Resources Co. as well as Al-Baha Investment and Development Co., whose share prices soared by 8.35 percent and 8.33 percent, to stand at SR6.88 and SR0.13, respectively.   

The worst performer was Electrical Industries Co., whose share price dropped by 5.51 percent to SR6.00.    

Other notable declines included Alinma Hospitality REIT Fund and The Mediterranean and Gulf Insurance and Reinsurance Co., with share prices falling 3.38 percent to SR8.29 and 3.25 percent to SR29.80, respectively. 

On the announcement front, Saudi Tadawul Holding Co. reported a profit increase to SR146 million for the second quarter of 2024, reflecting a 55 percent rise from SR105.2 million in the same period last year.  

The company attributed this growth to a 50.3 percent increase in operating revenues, which reached SR741.1 million in the first half of 2024, up from SR493.0 million in the corresponding period of the previous year. 

According to a release on the bourse, Saudi Arabian Amiantit Co. reported a net profit of SR5.11 million for the second quarter of 2024, reversing a net loss of SR10.08 million from the same quarter last year, marking a 150.7 percent improvement.  

This positive shift was attributed to a 17.4 percent increase in revenue due to expanded sales and a higher volume of new orders. 

Kingdom Holding Co., Sumou Holding Co., and Jeddah Economic Co. have signed an agreement to establish a new SR6.8 billion fund to acquire the Alinma Jeddah Economic Fund, currently fully owned by Jeddah Economic Co. Kingdom Holding Co. will hold a 40 percent stake in the new fund. 


Saudi Arabia’s US treasury bond possession increases 22.46% year-on-year to $136.3bn

Updated 21 July 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s US treasury bond possession increases 22.46% year-on-year to $136.3bn

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s possession of US treasury bonds increased to $136.3 billion in May, compared to $111.3 billion for the same month in 2023.

The figures mark a 22.46 percent year-on-year increase.

Data released by the US Treasury Department placed Saudi Arabia in 17th spot among the largest investors in such financial instruments in May.

The report revealed that the Kingdom held bonds valued at $135.4 billion in April, compared to $135.9 billion and $131.1 billion in March and February, respectively.

The figures illustrate Saudi Arabia’s growing influence in international financial markets, highlighting a keen understanding of leveraging sovereign wealth to secure and strengthen the Kingdom’s global economic position.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia is the only Arab and Middle Eastern country among the top 20 major holders of US Treasury securities.

A report published in January by the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA, revealed that its investments in foreign securities stood at $1 trillion at the end of December 2023.

SAMA also has $361.75 billion as deposits with banks abroad, the report added.

The data analysis also revealed that Japan emerged as the largest investor in US bonds in May, with holdings totaling $1.128 trillion. China and the UK followed, with portfolios valued at $768.3 billion and $723.4 billion, respectively. 

Luxembourg claimed the fourth spot with assets valued at $385.4 billion, while Canada and the Cayman Islands secured the fifth and sixth positions with treasury portfolios worth $354.5 billion and $336.5 billion, respectively. 

Ireland attained seventh spot with treasury reserves worth $317.7 billion, followed by Belgium and Switzerland, with assets amounting to $313 billion and $290.4 billion, respectively.

France held the 10th position with treasury assets amounting to $283 billion, while Taiwan and India occupied 11th and 12th places with portfolios worth $263.3 billion and $237.8 billion, respectively.

The data collected is primarily from US-based custodians and broker-dealers. Since American securities held in overseas accounts may not be attributed to the actual owners, the department said, the data may not provide a precise accounting of individual country ownership of treasury securities.


Saudi capital market systems prove resilient during global tech outage

Updated 21 July 2024
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Saudi capital market systems prove resilient during global tech outage

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s capital market systems proved resilient during the global technical outage on July 19, which disrupted flights, broadcasting services, and essential services worldwide. 

The Saudi Capital Market Authority stated that it promptly coordinated with market stakeholders to mitigate the effects of the interruption, ensuring that operations remained unaffected.  

According to the CMA, its systems were fully operational and prepared to support investors during the trading sessions on July 21.

The outage, triggered by a software update from cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, caused widespread disruptions across various sectors. 

In response, the CMA directed listed companies on the Saudi capital market to disclose any significant developments related to the incident. The market regulator emphasized that its technical teams are monitoring systems around the clock to ensure ongoing stability and business continuity. 

The Saudi Exchange also reassured investors of its system’s reliability and readiness to provide continuous service. 

On July 20, Saudi Arabia’s National Cybersecurity Authority stated that the impact of the outage on the Kingdom was limited. The authority also noted that it has implemented exceptional measures to monitor threats and cyber risks and to respond to any incidents. 

The Saudi Central Bank confirmed that its payment and banking infrastructure remained unaffected by the outage, emphasizing its adherence to international cybersecurity and operational standards.  

The apex bank also highlighted its commitment to regularly updating precautionary measures to ensure effective business continuity and the resilience of its banking and payment systems. 

The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority also stated that its systems and those it hosts in the Kingdom were not impacted by the global technical failure. 

“SDAIA confirms that its systems and the national systems hosted by it in the Kingdom are not affected by the technical failure that struck most countries of the world today,” it stated in a statement posted on X. 

The incident has sparked renewed discussions about the importance of cybersecurity and resilience in critical infrastructure, with many organizations reassessing their strategies and safeguards to prevent future disruptions.

The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 underscores a robust commitment to advancing cybersecurity, with strategic investments aimed at enhancing digital infrastructure and safeguarding national assets against emerging cyber threats.