World’s biggest mobile fair opens in Spain with tight virus rules

The congress occupies just three halls of the center this year. Visitors with negative COVID-19 test results will only be allowed to enter. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 June 2021

World’s biggest mobile fair opens in Spain with tight virus rules

  • Huawei will be the top handset maker with a physical presence at the event

BARCELONA: A scaled-back version of the world’s biggest mobile fair got underway Monday in Spain under tight virus controls, with top firms avoiding an in-person presence after the pandemic derailed last year’s edition.

Spain’s King Felipe V and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez were on hand for the opening of the four-day Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, one of the first big technology conferences staged in Europe since the start of the pandemic.

“We are back to business, we are back to Barcelona, we are back together,” Mats Granryd, director general of the industry association that stages the congress, the GSMA, said in an opening address.

The event, which is usually held in February, is taking place this year both in-person at Barcelona’s main conference center as well as digitally, with an online appearance by tech billionaire Elon Musk among the highlights.

Participants will only be allowed into the congress if they have a negative COVID-19 test result which is less than 72 hours old and will have to sign a daily declaration that they are in good health.

Dozens of people lined up outside a testing site on Monday morning to determine if they could be allowed in.

Once inside they must wear medical-grade FFP2 face masks at all times and follow a one-way walking system, although arrows on the floor indicating which direction to follow were largely ignored.

Organizers have limited attendance to 50,000 as part of virus control measures, compared with a normal attendance of around 100,000. They expect 30,000-35,000 people to actually attend.

The congress occupies just three halls of the congress center this year, compared to eight in the past, with more space between booths than in previous years.

Many major firms like Samsung, the world’s top smartphone maker, Nokia, Google and Facebook have pulled out of the in-person event, citing virus concerns although some will take part virtually.

China’s beleaguered Huawei, whose smartphone business has been battered by US sanctions, will be the biggest handset maker with a physical presence at the show alongside telecoms operators such as Orange and Telefonica.

Unlike in other years, no major phonemaker is scheduled to present a new flagship device at the event, which comes as global smartphone sales are rebounding after slumping in 2020 due to the economic havoc caused by the pandemic.

Global tech show CES, held annually in January in Las Vegas, was held virtually this year because of the pandemic.


Russian oil shipments to central Europe expected to resume

Updated 10 August 2022

Russian oil shipments to central Europe expected to resume

  • “I expect the oil shipments to resume in hours,” Slovakia’s Economy Minister said
  • Transneft cited complications due to European Union sanctions for its action on Aug. 4

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia: Oil shipments from Russia through a critical pipeline to several European countries should resume soon after a problem over payments for transit was resolved, Slovakia’s Economy Minister Richard Sulik said on Wednesday.
“I expect the oil shipments to resume in hours,” Sulik said.
Russian state pipeline operator Transneft said Tuesday it halted shipments through the southern branch of the Druzhba, or Friendship, pipeline, which runs through Ukraine to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. The northern leg of the Druzhba pipeline, which runs through Belarus to Poland and Germany, was unaffected, Transneft said.
Transneft cited complications due to European Union sanctions for its action on Aug. 4, saying its payment to the company’s Ukrainian counterpart was refused.
Sulik said the payments would be made Wednesday by Slovak refiner Slovnaft after both the Russian and Ukrainian sides agreed to the solution.
Slovnaft is owned by Hungary’s MOL energy group.
MOL confirmed the money has been transferred.
Slovakia receives practically all its oil through the Druzhba pipeline. Sulik said the payment is worth some 9–10 million euros (up to $10.2 million).
He said his country would work on a long-term solution to the problem which he said was caused by the refusal of an unnamed bank in Western Europe to transfer the money due to the sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia for its war against Ukraine.
“I wouldn’t look for a political context behind it, there’s none,” Sulik said.
However, Simone Tagliapietra, an energy expert at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, said Russia has weaponized natural gas heading to Europe by claiming technical issues, and “this opens questions on whether it might now do the same with oil.”
Russia has blamed equipment repairs for its decision to slash flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany, whose government has called it a political move to sow uncertainty and push up prices amid the war in Ukraine.
EU leaders agreed in May to embargo most Russian oil imports by the end of the year as part of the bloc’s sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The embargo covers Russian oil brought in by sea, but allowed temporary Druzhba pipeline shipments to Hungary and certain other landlocked countries in central Europe, such as Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

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Middle East investors eye London property on back of weak pound

Updated 10 August 2022

Middle East investors eye London property on back of weak pound

  • Thanks to the favorable exchange rate, a £1 million home in London that would have cost $1.7 million in 2014 currently costs only about $1.2 million
  • Exchange rate forecasts predict sterling will strengthen against the dollar between now and 2026, suggesting that now is the perfect time for overseas buyers to take the plunge

LONDON: The declining strength of Sterling has created a window of opportunity in London for investors from the Middle East, according to property consultancy JLL.

Sterling buyers are paying 35 percent more now for London properties than they were eight years ago but those purchasing in US dollars are paying 3.8 percent less.

In June 2014, a US buyer would have had to pay $1.7 million for a £1 million property in London. The weaker pound means at the end of June this year, a £1 million property in the city would have cost only $1.2 million.

Exchange rate forecasts from Oxford Economics predict the pound will strengthen against the dollar between now and 2026, suggesting that this is the perfect time for overseas buyers to take advantage of the currency-exchange benefits that are available.

Analysis of passenger arrivals at London’s Heathrow Airport show that the number of visitors from the Middle East has recovered to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, the number of passengers arriving from the region in May was 1 percent higher than the pre-pandemic average, and 2 percent higher in June.

“The weaker sterling, alongside the safe-haven status usually associated with UK real estate, is driving and will continue to drive investment here,” said JLL’s Alex Carr.

“This return of overseas demand at present is particularly apparent among purchasers from the Gulf states, who are traveling back here for the first time in two years.

“London has always, historically, been a safe haven for wealthy individuals from Gulf states who are looking to diversify their assets, being one of the most resilient and transparent property markets in the world.”

London’s upscale Kensington district reportedly has experienced a significant increase in inquiries and applications from buyers in the Middle East.

“It was evident in May that demand was building, with increased communications from prospective (Middle Eastern) buyers who were preparing for their return to the UK following two years of travel restrictions,” said JLL’s Thomas Middleditch.

“A lot of these individuals have kept in touch over the course of the pandemic to stay informed on the market, yet as most are tangible buyers they have waited until they are in a position to physically return to the UK before inquiring about specific properties.

“Kensington has always been popular among Middle Eastern buyers and considered a low-risk investment given its location and established address.”


Saudi commercial banks’ June consumer loans rise 13% to $118.9bn

Updated 09 August 2022

Saudi commercial banks’ June consumer loans rise 13% to $118.9bn

  • Share of consumer loans in total bank credit falls to 19.9 percent, data shows

CAIRO: Consumer loans of Saudi commercial banks increased 13 percent to SR445.8 billion ($118.9 billion) on June 30, 2022, compared to SR394.2 billion on the same day last year, the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA, revealed.

This growth, however, pales in comparison to the 17.4 percent growth between June 30, 2021, and June 30, 2020, the data pointed out.

Moreover, the share of consumer loans in total bank credit has fallen to 19.9 percent on June 30, 2022, the lowest share percentage on record, data compiled by Arab News revealed.

It is worth mentioning that consumer loans do not include real estate financing, finance leasing and margin lending, according to SAMA.

From June 2017-2022, consumer loans have had a positive trend. The value grew 0.5, 0.6, 5.3, 17.4, and 13.1 percent year on year, respectively. The consumer loans stood at SR315.1 billion on June 30, 2017.

According to SAMA, 90 percent of consumer loans fall under the “other” products category.

“The ‘other’ major loan component is related to general consumer bank overdraft short- and medium-term funding as credit card loans are captured separately,” said Mohamed Ramady, a London-based consultant and former professor.

The balance of consumer loans to finance “other” products increased 19 percent to SR402.3 billion on June 30 this year from SR338.2 billion the same day last year.

The remaining 10 percent is distributed among renovation and home improvement, vehicles and private transport, furniture and durable goods, education, healthcare, tourism and travel.

Renovation and home improvement, which makes up 3.4 percent of the 10 percent, saw a 31.4 percent decline to SR15.2 billion on June 30, 2022, from SR22.2 billion a year ago.

Moreover, car loans experienced a 20.6 percent year-on-year decrease from SR15.5 billion to SR12.3 billion during the period under study.

“Consumer loans have decreased in some items, especially in capital home goods and home improvements as well as vehicles as consumers await to take stock of increased input price hikes,” he added.

Furniture and durable goods underwent a 31.1 percent decrease from SR12.6 billion to SR8.7 billion over the same period. In contrast, education loans grew by 33 percent to SR5.9 billion.

Looking at consumer spending during the first half of 2022, the total value of point of sale transactions grew 12.9 percent year on year, reaching SR271.2 billion in June year-to-date compared to SR240.3 billion over the same period in 2021, SAMA data stated.

“POS transactions have gone up over H1 2022 in the items that were expected to increase with the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions such as food and beverages, restaurants and cafes and goods and services,” revealed Ramady while pointing out that this trend was also apparent in other countries coming out of the lockdown.

The most significant change in POS value between the first half of 2021 and 2022 was in “miscellaneous goods and services,” which grew 42.6 percent from SR19.7 billion to SR28.2 billion during this period.

The “others” category in POS, which makes up 21.2 percent of the total value of transactions in the first half of 2022, surged 33.6 percent from SR42.7 billion in the first half of 2021 to SR57.1 billion in the first half of 2022.

“The “others” in POS capture general personal services sales, including home delivery and uber services not captured in the broader items,” specified Ramady.

Food and beverages, another component that exhibits a prominent share of 14.7 percent in POS sales, showed an increase of 14.8 percent from SR35.8 in June year-to-date last year to SR41.0 billion in June this year.

On the other hand, restaurants and cafes increased 31.4 percent from SR28.3 billion in the first half of 2021 to SR37.2 billion in the first half of 2022.

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Flush with cash, Pfizer buys Global Blood Therapeutics in $5.4bn deal

Updated 09 August 2022

Flush with cash, Pfizer buys Global Blood Therapeutics in $5.4bn deal

  • Pfizer’s 2021 revenue of $81.3 billion was nearly double the mark from the previous year, due to COVID-19 vaccine sales.

LONDON: Pfizer Inc. on Monday agreed to pay $5.4 billion in cash for sickle cell disease drugmaker Global Blood Therapeutics, as it looks to capitalize on a surge in revenue from its COVID-19 vaccine and treatment.
Pfizer will pay $68.50 per GBT share, which represents a 7.3 percent premium to its Friday closing price. The deal is at a more than 40 percent premium where GBT was trading before the Wall Street Journal reported that Pfizer was in advanced talks to buy it on Thursday.
Pfizer’s 2021 revenue of $81.3 billion was nearly double the mark from the previous year, due to COVID-19 vaccine sales. With the addition of its COVID-19 antiviral pill Paxlovid, Pfizer is expected to generate around $100 billion in revenue this year, but sales from both products are expected to decline going forward.
Pfizer has been on the lookout for acquisitions that could bring in billions in annual sales by the end of the decade.
“We have very deliberately taken a strategy of diversification in our M&A deals,” Aamir Malik, Pfizer’s top dealmaker, said in an interview. He said the company was focused on improving growth for the second half of the decade, rather than large deals that generate value through cost cuts.
“We think that there are opportunities across all therapeutic areas that we’re active in,” Malik said, noting that the company was also agnostic about size for future deals.
In May, Pfizer struck an $11.6 billion deal for migraine drug maker Biohaven Pharmaceutical Holding and recently also completed a $6.7 billion deal to buy Arena Pharmaceuticals.
With the acquisition of Global Blood Therapeutics, Pfizer adds sickle cell disease treatment Oxbryta, which was approved in 2019 and is expected to top $260 million in sales this year. It will also pick up two pipeline assets — GBT601 and inclacumab — targeting the same disease.
Pfizer said if they are all approved, it believes GBT’s drugs could generate more than $3 billion in sales annually at their peak.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that affects an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people in the United States.
GBT Chief Executive Officer Ted Love said that Pfizer’s resources and multinational infrastructure will allow the company to launch Oxbryta in additional markets and boost its uptake.
“We really have no infrastructure outside of that (US and western Europe) and it takes time and money to build out those infrastructures and Pfizer already has all of it,” Love said.
Shares of Global Blood rose 4.5 percent following the deal announcement.


GCC needs to secure its investment landscape: Report

Updated 07 August 2022

GCC needs to secure its investment landscape: Report

  • Call to focus on frontier sectors based on emerging technologies to attract FDI

CAIRO: Real and perceived political risks, the lack of focus on non-oil sectors, laxity in regulatory policies and a restrictive business environment are some of the factors impeding the growth of foreign direct investment in the Gulf Cooperation Council region, said a recent study.

According to Oliver Wyman’s recent report titled “De-risking the Investment Landscape: High-impact FDI Policies for the GCC,” the region needs to prioritize regulations and policies to de-risk investment. 

This approach should help them attract additional FDIs, the report recommended.

“The best way to attract FDI may be to focus on frontier sectors, which are based on emerging technology, generate high growth, and have few incumbent players to disrupt,” the report stated.

The policies adopted earlier in the GCC were unfocused and aimed to attract all possible investments in all potential sectors, which proved unsuccessful, according to the report.

Although most Gulf countries have been proactive in developing initiatives to stimulate FDI, few have successfully attracted foreign investment in the region.

“Historically, FDI into GCC economies has fluctuated with the rise and fall of commodity prices,” explained Wyman’s report. “However, it has failed to materialize as a consistent driver of economic opportunity in non-oil economic sectors.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Oman and Bahrain are the only two GCC economies that saw FDI inflows over outflows in each of the years from 2016 to 2021.

• While Kuwait registered FDI outflows totaling $3.6 billion in 2021, it saw a sharp drop from $8 billion in the previous year.

“With such readily available domestic capital, many GCC states have historically not needed to prioritize FDI as a source of development finance,” it added.

The report further revealed that GCC states are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of FDI and its potential impact on their economies, which could enhance productivity.

Foreign investment provides a good source of finance, promotes interactions of local suppliers and consumer markets, and stimulates human capital by training local workers and employing foreign ones.

As stated by the report, an increased level of private competition, an enhancement in technological know-how and a surge in cross-border activity are additional favorable consequences that arise from increased FDI.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development recently released the “World Investment Report 2022,” which showed that Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two of the largest economies in the GCC, saw 2021 FDI outflows exceed FDI inflows by $4.6 billion and $1.9 billion, respectively. 

The difference for all GCC members stood at $6.4 billion, although a noticeable improvement from 2019 and 2020, where the differences were $11.1 billion and $8.3 billion, respectively.

Oman and Bahrain are the only two GCC economies that saw FDI inflows over outflows in each of the years from 2016 to 2021, according to the UNCTAD report.

In comparison, FDI inflows to Indonesia in 2021 surpassed the outflows by $16.5 billion. Similarly, FDI inflows to Vietnam and Malaysia trumped outflows by $15.4 billion and $6.9 billion, respectively, UNCTAD data show.    

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia witnessed the highest FDI outflows in the GCC in 2021. It recorded $23.9 billion in net outflows in 2021 compared to only $4.9 billion in 2020. It is worth mentioning the Kingdom’s FDI inflows stood at $5.4 billion in 2020.

 The UAE came in second with $22.5 billion worth of FDI outflows in 2021 compared to $18.9 billion the year before, the UNCTAD data showed.

While Kuwait registered FDI outflows totaling $3.6 billion in 2021, it saw a sharp drop from $8 billion in the previous year, the report stated.