Saudi Arabia may build new airport in Riyadh amid tourism drive

PIF has said it is studying establishing a new company to “support the aviation sector aspiration locally and regionally.” (file/SPA)
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Updated 24 June 2021

Saudi Arabia may build new airport in Riyadh amid tourism drive

  • Riyadh airport would be hub for new tourism-focused airline
  • The size and timeline of any new airport have not been decided

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is considering building an airport in Riyadh, to serve as a base for a new airline the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund is looking to launch as it targets a vast increase in tourist arrivals, Bloomberg reported citing people familiar with the matter.

The $430 billion fund said earlier this year it plans to invest in aviation to help capture the tourist boom envisioned by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

The new airline, reported locally earlier this year, would serve tourists and business travelers, while Saudi national carrier would focus on religious tourism from its base in Jeddah, said the people, asking not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The Public Investment Fund (PIF) is exploring the idea of investing billions in a new international airport in Riyadh, the people said. The size of the facility and timeline for its construction haven’t been set and the PIF could decide not to move ahead with those plans, they said.

Declining to comment on the plans for a new airport in Riyadh, a spokesman for the fund referred to earlier commitments to invest in the sector and to study establishing a new company to “support the aviation sector aspirations locally and regionally.”

The project would further Saudi Arabia’s goal to attract 100 million tourists a year by 2030, a sixfold increase from 2019. The project is still in early stages of development.

This project is in line with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s strategy to diversify the economy away from a reliance on oil sales, by opening up the country to visitors.


Stronger, faster recovery forecast for global insurance sector

Updated 1 min 44 sec ago

Stronger, faster recovery forecast for global insurance sector

  • Global commercial insurance prices rose 18 percent in the first quarter of 2021 from a year earlier

NEW YORK: The global insurance industry is poised to recover more quickly and forcefully from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic than it did after the 2008 financial crisis, despite such obstacles as low interest rates and inflation risk, insurer Swiss Re AG’s chief Americas economist said on Friday.

Unlike the prior crisis, the pandemic did not weaken insurers' overall capitalization or financial strength, which allows companies to write new coverage and increase revenue, economist Thomas Holzheu told Reuters.

Writing new policies was more difficult in 2009 and 2010 when insurers were reeling from capital losses, slow economic growth and depleted incomes of companies and individuals.

In contrast, businesses and individuals now have more money from government stimulus and support programs, and are more conscious of the need to buy protection against risks, he added.

“We see a much stronger, more resilient demand for insurance — last year, this year, and we expect for the next few years — compared with the financial crisis, when the industry was a part of the financial markets issues,” he said.

Swiss Re’s view aligns with other bullish signs. Global commercial insurance prices, for example, rose 18 percent in the first quarter of 2021 from a year earlier, on average, insurance broker Marsh McLennan Cos Inc. said in May. Rates have risen since late 2017.

Swiss Re said it expects annual growth for all premiums, not just commercial, to reach 3.3 percent this year and 3.9 percent in 2022, after falling just 1.3 percent last year. That compares with a 3.7 percent decline in 2008, during the financial crisis, and a slower rebound of 0.5 percent and 2.1 percent in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Sector bellwether Travelers Companies Inc. on Tuesday beat second-quarter Wall Street estimates by more than $1 a share.

Other large US insurers are due to report results over the next two weeks.


G20 split on climate goals as China, India push back on coal phaseout

Updated 24 July 2021

G20 split on climate goals as China, India push back on coal phaseout

  • Coal phaseout 2025 deadline too soon for some nations
  • Some wanted more aggressive global warming target than Paris 2015

NAPLES: Energy and environment ministers from the Group of 20 rich nations have failed to agree on the wording of key climate change commitments in their final communique after China and India refused to give way on two key points.

One of these was phasing out coal power, which most countries wanted to achieve by 2025 but some said would be impossible for them.

The other concerned the wording surrounding a 1.5-2 degree Celsius limit on global temperature increases that was set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Average global temperatures have already risen by more than 1 degree compared to the pre-industrial baseline used by scientists and are on track to exceed the 1.5-2 degree ceiling.

“Some countries wanted to go faster than what was agreed in Paris and to aim to cap temperatures at 1.5 degrees within a decade, but others, with more carbon-based economies, said let’s just stick to what was agreed in Paris,” said Italy’s Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani.

The G20 meeting was seen as a decisive step ahead of United Nations climate talks, known as COP 26, which take place in 100 days’ time in Glasgow in November.

Italy holds the rotating presidency of the G20, and Cingolani, as chairman of the two-day gathering, said negotiations with China, Russia and India had proved especially tough.

The G20 nations, which includes Saudi Arabia, collectively account for some 80 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and some 60 percent of the planet’s population.

At the Naples talks, the United States, the European Union, Japan and Canada made clear they “firmly intend to go faster than the Paris agreement by the (end of) the decade, and below 1.5 degrees,” Cingolani said.

Cingolani said the G20 had made no new financial commitments, but added that Italy would increase its own climate financing for underdeveloped countries.

The urgency of climate action has been brought home this month by deadly floods in Europe, fires in the United States and sweltering temperatures in Siberia, but countries remain at odds over how to pay for costly policies to reduce global warming.

Despite the two points of disagreement, Cingolani said the G20 had put together a 58-point communique and that all the countries agreed that decarbonization was a necessary goal.

All G20 members agreed to at least meet the Paris goals.

US President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, participated in the Naples talks. Earlier in the week, Kerry called on China to join the United States in urgently cutting greenhouse gases.

The majority of the countries at the conference also backed a goal of moving faster to reduce the use of coal, the Italian minister said, without naming all of the nations.

But during the talks, China, as well as Russia and India, were “more prudent” in embracing more ambitious goals, Cingolani said.

“For those countries, it means putting into question an economic model,” he said.

Exactly what commitment nations, including those which heavily pollute, are willing to make toward fighting climate change will be also on display at UN climate conference taking place in Scotland in November.

The national leaders of the G20 countries will have the opportunity to thrash out the sticking points that emerged in Naples when they meet in Rome at the end of October.


Food commodities in Egypt ‘will not be affected by increase in fuel prices’

Updated 24 July 2021

Food commodities in Egypt ‘will not be affected by increase in fuel prices’

  • Head of Consumer Protection Authority warns that its inspectors would deal with those who raised any prices

CAIRO: The president of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, Ibrahim Al-Arabi, said on Saturday that the increase in fuel prices will not affect the price of bread and other food commodities, nor the flow of goods.
Al-Arabi said the decision of the Fuel Automatic Pricing Committee, which is concerned with following up and implementing the mechanisms of applying automatic pricing for petroleum products every quarter, recommended adjusting the selling price of the three types of gasoline products, starting Friday morning, raising prices by 25 piasters ($0.016), with the price of a liter of 80 octane gasoline rising to 6.75 Egyptian pounds ($0.43). The price of 92 octane gasoline is now 8 pounds per liter and high-quality 95 octane gasoline is 9 pounds.
The committee’s decision was based on the extreme fluctuation in global prices, mainly because of the economic effects of the coronavirus disease pandemic and production cuts.
Ayman Hossam El-Din, head of the Consumer Protection Authority, warned that its inspectors would deal with those who raised any prices, whether for foodstuffs or transportation costs.


Lebanon signs deal to sell Iraqi fuel in move to ease crisis

Updated 24 July 2021

Lebanon signs deal to sell Iraqi fuel in move to ease crisis

  • The swap is valued at between $300-400 million
  • Lebanon to offer Iraq unspecified services in exchange

BEIRUT: Lebanon signed a deal Saturday to broker Iraqi fuel sales in hopes of alleviating a crippling financial and energy crisis in the small Mediterranean country, Lebanese and Iraqi media reported.
The deal allows Beirut to resell 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil from Iraq — fuel that Lebanon cannot use in its own power plants — to companies who would then provide useable fuel to Lebanon over the next year.
Lebanon would offer Iraq services in exchange, Energy Minister Raymond GHajjar said, without offering details. Local media said Iraq would benefit from Lebanese health services and agriculture consultancy.
The swap, which GHajjar estimates is valued at between $300-400 million, could offer a brief respite to Lebanon’s worsening power cuts and bring funds to its cash-strapped government. But a structural power solution, in a sector steeped in corruption and political interference, is far from sight.
Blackouts have been a fixture in Lebanon since the end of its 15-year civil war in 1990, and the small country relies on imported fuel. But the problem has intensified as the government grapples with unprecedented financial problems, and considers lifting fuel subsidies.
“The Iraqi state agreed to open an account in Lebanon’s Central Bank in exchange for this fuel. This account is managed by the Iraqi Finance Ministry through which it buys services inside Lebanon... in Lebanese pounds,” GHajjar said. Then Lebanon resells the fuel in exchange for fuel it can use in its plants.
“We hope other Arab countries follow suit and give us this opportunity because it is really a golden opportunity for us,” GHajjar said at Beirut International Airport upon his return from Baghdad.
A statement from Iraq’s Prime Minister’s office said the 1 million barrels of fuel oil would be offered to Lebanon in exchange for services and products, although neither side immediately mentioned what these were.
Lebanon’s state electricity company has most recently been providing no more than four hours of power a day, leaving private generator operators as the main providers. Diesel supplies have dwindled, and long queues stretch outside gas stations each day.
Government officials have also complained of widespread smuggling to neighboring Syria, which is also facing an economic crisis following a decade of war.
Lebanon defaulted on its foreign debt last year and struggled to pay suppliers. The Central Bank has been limiting credit to purchases of basic supplies, including fuel and medicine.
The energy crisis has reached unprecedented levels in Lebanon. Generator operators warned Friday they would have to turn off their engines as diesel shortages have worsened and prices on the black market have reached exorbitant levels.
Hospitals are rationing their consumption, shutting off air conditioning in waiting areas, while bakeries in some parts of Lebanon have stopped their ovens altogether. Supermarkets have warned that the power shortages threaten their merchandise and endanger food safety.
The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, has warned that most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next four to six weeks, putting more than four million people, including one million refugees, in immediate risk of losing access to safe water.


Fintechs to drive M&A in Saudi banking sector — KPMG

Updated 24 July 2021

Fintechs to drive M&A in Saudi banking sector — KPMG

  • Fintechs appeal to Saudi Arabia's young, digital savvy population
  • Other M&A pressures on traditional banks include private equity and bad loans

RIYADH: The rise of financial technology companies in Saudi Arabia will stimulate merger and acquisition activity in the coming years, according to global management consultancy KPMG.

The fintech boom in the Kingdom has the potential to put pressure on traditional banks as the new companies appeal to its young, digital savvy population, the KPMG report said, according to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.

Fintech startups have increased the prevalence of flexible digital transactions, helped ease regulatory barriers, and led to greater cooperation between financial technology companies and traditional financial institutions, KPMG said.

Bank M&A will also be spurred by factors including the increasing scope of rescue and restructuring deals, private equity interests and the booming of the bad loans market, it said.

The coronavirus pandemic represents an additional incentive to conclude merger and acquisition deals, especially if doubtful loans continue to grow, according to the consultancy.

Fintech activity in the Kingdom has been ramping up rapidly recently.

Saudi Arabia has 30 fintech companies today under Saudi Central Bank supervision, 10 times more than the original target of three, director general of the Financial Sector Development Program, Faisal Al-Sharif, said earlier this month.

Geidea, the largest fintech in Saudi Arabia by market share, said last week industry heavyweight Nick Ogden had joined its board of directors.

Ogden has founded several major names within the financial services sector, including Europe’s largest global payment processing company Worldpay and ClearBank, the UK’s first clearing bank to launch in more than 250 years.

In June, the Saudi Cabinet gave its nod to the Kingdom’s finance minister to issue licenses for the country’s first digital banks, STC Bank and Saudi Digital Bank.

STC Pay will be converted into a local digital bank, STC Bank, with capital of SR2.5 billion. A second lender, Saudi Digital Bank, will be formed by investors led by Abdul Rahman bin Saad Al-Rashed and Sons Company with capital of SR1.5 billion.

Digital banks licensed in Saudi Arabia will help improve the quality and user experience for customers in the Kingdom, supporting innovation and reducing costs, Yazeed Alsheikh, director for general of banking control at Saudi Central Bank (SAMA), said in June.

This will directly contribute to stimulating competition with local banks and financial technology companies, he said.

Dubai’s Mashreqbank has applied for a banking license in Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Abdelaal, CEO of Mashreqbank, said earlier this month.

The Dubai-based lender no longer sees its main competitors as other bricks-and-mortar lenders and sees the future of retail banking as digital only, he said in an interview. Traditional bank branches will no longer exist “very soon,” Abdelaal said. The Dubai-based lender currently operates just 10 branches in the UAE, having closed 24 in the past two years, he said.