Global airline body calls for release of $720 million in held revenues by Pakistan, Bangladesh

In this file photo, taken on February 8, 2016, a Pakistani man looks on as a Pakistan International Airline (PIA) plane taxis on the runway in Islamabad. (AFP/File)
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Updated 24 April 2024
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Global airline body calls for release of $720 million in held revenues by Pakistan, Bangladesh

  • IATA asks Pakistan in a statement to simplify the ‘onerous’ repatriation process causing ‘unnecessary delays’
  • The international organization says airlines are unable to repatriate $399 million from the Pakistani market alone

KARACHI: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Wednesday asked Pakistan and Bangladesh to release airline revenues amounting to $720 million, saying the two countries were holding it in contravention of international agreements.

IATA, an international organization representing the global airline industry, asked Pakistan to simplify the “onerous” repatriation process involving audit and tax exemption certificates in a statement, pointing out such procedures caused “unnecessary delays.”

Bangladesh, it said, had a more standardized system, though aviation needed to be a higher central bank priority to facilitate access to foreign exchange.

“The situation has become severe with airlines unable to repatriate over $720 million ($399 million in Pakistan and $323 million in Bangladesh) of revenues earned in these markets,” the statement informed.

IATA’s regional vice president for Asia-Pacific Philip Goh emphasized that the timely repatriation of revenues to different countries was critical for payment of dollar denominated expenses such as lease agreements, spare parts, overflight fees and fuel.

“Delaying repatriation contravenes international obligations written into bilateral agreements and increases exchange rate risks for airlines,” he said. “Pakistan and Bangladesh must release the more than $720 million that they are blocking with immediate effect so that airlines can continue to efficiently provide the air connectivity on which both these economies rely.”

Goh maintained that his organization recognized the two governments were facing difficult challenges, making it necessary for them to determine how to utilize foreign currencies strategically.

“Airlines operate on razor-thin margins,” he continued. “They need to prioritize the markets they serve based on the confidence they have in being able to pay their expenses with revenues that are remitted in a timely and efficient fashion.”

He pointed out reduced air connectivity limited the potential for economic growth, foreign investment and exports, adding such large sums of money involved in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi markets necessitated urgent solutions.


Industries must halve emissions, make massive investments for net-zero by 2050: Oliver Wyman

Updated 8 sec ago
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Industries must halve emissions, make massive investments for net-zero by 2050: Oliver Wyman

RIYADH: Global industries must halve emissions by the end of this decade to reach 2050 net-zero targets, according to a new analysis urging for increased clean energy infrastructure spending. 

In its latest report, compiled in association with BAE Systems, US-based consultancy firm Oliver Wyman emphasized the urgency of preserving clean water, stopping deforestation, and protecting nearly 1 million threatened species to safeguard the planet. 

The UN has set ambitious climate targets, including reducing global emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

Governments, particularly major emitters, are called upon to significantly enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions and take immediate, decisive actions to curb emissions, as outlined by the UN. 

Underlining the importance of acting swiftly, the Oliver Wyman report said: “To avoid the worst impacts of climate change and ecosystem degradation, we must cut global emissions in half, halt and reverse nature loss, and achieve climate resilience by the end of this decade.”

It added: “The scale of this challenge is monumental. It requires the wholesale reallocation of capital from brown to green, the transformation of assets and supply chains from climate-vulnerable to climate-resilient, and the protection and restoration of ecosystems on a global scale.”  

The report disclosed that just 1 percent — equivalent to $27 billion — of today’s $2.7 trillion annual infrastructure investment is climate-resilient. 

“By 2030, that $27 billion needs to have grown to $6.9 trillion. In the same period, investment in nature-based solutions must triple to $400 billion a year,” said the consulting firm.  

Supply chain resilience and sustainability  

The report indicates that climate-related supply chain disruptions are increasing globally, yet most firms lack the tools to analyze and manage these rapidly evolving remote risks. 

Oliver Wyman also pointed out that many companies have inadequate visibility into their supply chains and struggle to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities. 

“As many as 85 percent of chief procurement officers are unable to evaluate risks beyond their first-tier suppliers, resulting in significant blind spots,” said the consulting firm.  

It added: “Companies typically attribute over 90 percent of their physical climate risk exposure to direct operations and less than 10 percent to their supply chains, where in reality most of their material disruption risks reside.”  

The study further highlighted that the implementation of AI and remote sensing will transform this landscape, enabling companies to monitor and identify the environmental impact of their material suppliers and dependent infrastructure. 

Moreover, these technologies will allow risk managers and chief procurement officers to analyze data comprehensively, pinpoint their companies’ key strategic exposures, and assess disruption risks, thereby enabling them to address critical vulnerabilities effectively. 

“Companies can begin to monitor their suppliers in real-time, anticipate disruptions, and make informed decisions about how to restructure supply chains to minimize risk,” the report highlighted.  

Earlier this month, another report from the International Energy Agency highlighted the crucial role advanced technologies will play in transitioning to more secure and sustainable energy systems. 

The IEA analysis also noted that the pace of deploying digital technologies in the energy sector will depend heavily on the ability to build a workforce with the right skills. 

Furthermore, the think tank revealed that advanced technologies have the potential to enhance energy efficiency, reliability, connectivity, and reduce emissions. 

Prioritizing sustainable financing 

The Oliver Wyman report emphasizes that companies should categorize their supply chain activities into sustainable and unsustainable operations. This approach provides a clearer understanding of the environmental impact in different areas. 

“With this disaggregated, near real-time view of a corporation’s environmental footprint and physical risk exposure, capital providers will be able to more confidently target sustainable finance toward climate-resilient green projects in brown sectors,” said the report.  

Furthermore, this practice will incentivize transition without starving high-carbon sectors of capital. 

In addition, insurers and banks will gain a comprehensive view of a company’s physical risk exposures across its operations, enabling them to develop customized risk management solutions for critical vulnerabilities. 

The report also underscores that transitioning to a net-zero, climate-resilient future is not only an existential necessity but also a significant opportunity to reshape the global economy. 

“Trillions of dollars a year of investment is needed — in low-carbon technologies and infrastructure, nature-based solutions, resilient supply chains, and new business models,” said the consulting firm.  

It added: “Companies and financial institutions better able to quantify environmental risks and reliably assess how investment opportunities align with transition objectives will have a distinct advantage.”  

Last year, consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie released a report stating that global annual investments of $2.7 trillion are necessary to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and prevent temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius this century. 

The report emphasized that renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power must become the world’s primary sources of electricity to support the electrification of transport and the production of green hydrogen. 

In April, the IEA highlighted the need to scale up battery production to meet climate and energy security objectives set during the UN COP28 summit held in the UAE last year. 

At the event, nearly 200 countries agreed to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030, accelerate energy efficiency improvements, and transition away from fossil fuels. 

The report also specified that achieving this goal would require deploying 1,500 gigawatts of battery storage by the end of this decade to support the expanded renewable energy capacity.


AI can help shipping industry cut down emissions, report says

Updated 35 min 7 sec ago
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AI can help shipping industry cut down emissions, report says

BENGALURU: The global commercial shipping industry could cut down its carbon emissions by 47 million tonnes per year by deploying artificial intelligence for sea navigation, a study by autonomous shipping startup Orca AI showed, according to Reuters.

The use of the technology could reduce the need for maneuvers and route deviation from close encounters with high-risk marine targets such as vessels, buoys and sea mammals by alerting the crew in real time, according to the report.

Shipping, responsible for moving about 90 percent of global trade, contributes nearly 3 percent to the world's carbon dioxide emissions. This share is anticipated to rise in the coming years unless stricter pollution control measures are implemented.

The International Maritime Organization aims to cut emissions by 20 percent by 2030, a target under threat from the ongoing Red Sea crisis.

"In the short term, it can lead to fewer crew members on the bridge, while those who are on the bridge will have a reduced workload and more attention to tackle complex navigational tasks, optimizing the voyage and reducing fuel and emissions," Orca AI CEO Yarden Gross told Reuters.

"In the long term, it will open the door to fully autonomous shipping."

Global carbon dioxide shipping emissions reached an estimated 858 million tonnes in 2022, a marginal rise from the previous year, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

An average of 2,976 marine incidents are reported per year, Orca AI's study showed.

The reduction in route deviations could help ships shave off 38.2 million nautical miles per year from their travel, saving an average of $100,000 in fuel costs per vessel, according to Orca AI's report.

AI could also lower close encounters by 33 percent in open waters, it said.


Saudi Arabia’s international reserves highest in 18 months at $467.5bn

Updated 51 min 11 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia’s international reserves highest in 18 months at $467.5bn

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s international reserve assets reached SR1.75 trillion ($467.5 billion) in May, the highest in 18 months and an annual 6 percent increase, according to new data. 

Figures released by the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA, reveal that these holdings encompass monetary gold, special drawing rights, the International Monetary Fund’s reserve position, and foreign reserves.

According to May’s figures, international currency holdings – including currency and deposits abroad and investments in foreign securities – constituted 95 percent of the total, amounting to SR1.66 trillion.

This category also registered a 6 percent increase during this period.

SDRs comprised 4 percent of the total, amounting to SR77.68 billion, and increased by 0.3 percent during this period. 

Created by the IMF to supplement member countries’ official reserves, SDRs derive their value from a basket of major currencies: the US dollar, euro and Chinese yuan as well as the Japanese yen, and British pound. They can be exchanged among governments for freely usable currencies when needed. 

SDRs provide additional liquidity, stabilize exchange rates, act as a unit of account, and facilitate international trade and financial stability. 

The IMF reserve position totaled SR12.72 billion, however decreased by 14 percent during this period. This category essentially represents the amount a country can draw from the IMF without conditions.

Fitch Ratings announced in March that it had affirmed Saudi Arabia’s long-term foreign-currency issuer default rating at “A+” with a stable outlook.

The agency highlighted that the Kingdom’s position reflects its robust fiscal and external balance sheets. It also noted improvements in governance driven by social and economic reforms, as well as efforts to enhance government institution effectiveness.

Saudi Arabia’s ratings are bolstered by its strong fiscal and external balance sheets, with government debt to gross domestic product and sovereign net foreign assets significantly stronger than the “A” and “AA” medians and substantial fiscal buffers in the form of deposits and other public-sector assets.

According to the agency, the Kingdom benefits from considerable fiscal buffers and boasts one of the highest reserve coverage ratios among rated sovereigns, at 16.5 months of current external payments. 

Fitch anticipates reserves to decrease to an average of $420 billion by 2024 to 2025 due to a narrowing current account surplus offset by investments from entities like the Public Investment Fund.

Sovereign net foreign assets are also projected to remain above 50 percent of GDP during this period, surpassing the “A” median of 6 percent.

The IMF praised Saudi Arabia’s “unprecedented economic transformation” in a June report, attributing its success to prudent government policies and effective diversification efforts.

It also highlighted strong domestic demand, ongoing financial reforms, and environmental policies as key strengths in the Kingdom’s evolving economic landscape. 

Following its official visit to the country, the IMF projected Saudi Arabia’s GDP growth to accelerate to approximately 4.5 percent by 2025, stabilizing at 3.5 percent annually over the medium term.

Non-oil growth is expected to reach 3.5 percent in 2024 before further increasing from 2025 onwards. Despite a projected decline in oil output in 2024 due to production cuts, there is anticipation for a recovery in 2025.

The IMF emphasized that Saudi Arabia’s diversification efforts are yielding positive results, stressing the need to sustain non-oil growth momentum, ensure financial stability, and enhance business competitiveness.


UAE stock market cap surges by $5.79bn in 2024 with strong IPO activity

Updated 18 June 2024
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UAE stock market cap surges by $5.79bn in 2024 with strong IPO activity

RIYADH: The UAE’s stock market capitalization has surged by 21.3 billion dirhams ($5.79 billion) this year, thanks to three new initial public offerings launched since the beginning of 2024, according to a new analysis.

Alef Education Holding, Parkin, and Spinneys 1961 Holding, were the firms to float on the market, and the moves significantly boosted liquidity, increased investment attractiveness, and reinforced the UAE’s position as a premier financial and business hub globally, according to the Emirates News Agency.

Alef Education Holding’s IPO, the first on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange in 2024, led the way with a market capitalization of around 9.45 billion dirhams. The company raised 1.89 billion dirhams by selling 1.4 billion shares, representing 20 percent of its total shares, at 1.35 dirhams per share. 

The IPO saw strong demand, surpassing the target subscription value by 39 times, even after the individual investor allocation was increased from 8 percent to 10 percent.

As of the trading session on May 20, the total market capitalization of listed stocks reached 3.48 trillion dirhams, with 2.79 trillion dirhams on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange and 688.7 billion dirhams on the Dubai Financial Market. 

This comes as the market value of listed stocks in the UAE grew by over 444.5 billion dirhams throughout 2023, pushing the total market capitalization to 3.651 trillion dirhams by year-end. 

Additionally, this influx of capital aligns with the UAE market’s strategic plan to double its value to approximately 6 trillion dirhams in the coming years. 


MENA IT spending to reach $194bn in 2024 – up 5.2% on previous year: report

Updated 18 June 2024
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MENA IT spending to reach $194bn in 2024 – up 5.2% on previous year: report

RIYADH: Information technology spending in the Middle East and North Africa region is set to reach $193.7 billion in 2024, a 5.2 percent increase from the previous 12 months, according to a new report. 

In its latest MENA IT Spending forecast, US-based consulting firm Gartner stated that while the outlay in the sector is set to increase, it will be at a slower rate than the 6.6 percent annual rise recorded in 2023.

This comes as tech startups based in the region secured $429 million in funding in the first quarter of the year. Additionally, MENA saw around $1 billion in tech commitments by venture capitals during the first six months of 2024.

Earlier this year, global investment manager Investcorp dedicated $500 million for growth stage tech companies in the region, while venture capital firms Singaporean Golden Gate and UAE’s Polynome Group both dedicated $100 million each for MENA-based tech investments.

Miriam Burt, managing vice president analyst at Gartner, noted that the slowing growth of expenditure in the IT sector is being caused by factors beyond the sector itself.

“While inflation in the region has eased, organizations in the Middle East continue to face challenges due to ongoing uncertainty caused by oil production cuts, downside economic risks linked to regional geopolitical tensions, as well as supply chain disruptions in key shipping routes,” she said.

“As a result, local organizations are becoming more cautious with their IT expenditures,” Burt added. 

Data center spend to fall

Data centers have been the focus of spending in recent years. Shutterstock

The report stated that despite experiencing growth in 2023, spending on data center systems is projected to decline by 0.3 percent in 2024, reflecting a shift toward alternative capabilities. 

Data center system expenditures are set to drop from $4.82 billion in 2023 to $4.80 billion in 2024. 

The systems in data centers include servers, external controller-based storage, and enterprise network equipment. 

“This is due to the rise in demand of alternative options such as software-defined storage, hyper-converged infrastructure software, and the ‘storage as a service’ model,” said Burt. 

MENA IT services spending is expected to record an increase of 9.6 percent in 2024 to reach $19 billion, up from $17.3 billion last year. 

“IT leaders in the MENA region are, in the first instance, spending more on professional and consulting services to prepare their businesses for cloud migration, AI (artificial intelligence), generative AI, and IoT (internet of things) implementations, and secondly, taking advantage of the data monetization opportunities resulting from the convergence of these technologies,” Burt added. 

“Security remains a key area for IT services spending, as well as the increasing purchase of products, services, and tools through ‘XaaS’ (Anything-as-a-Service) consumption models – both contributing to the overall growth of this segment,” she added. 

Demand drop of new devices

Shutterstock

Device spending is expected to decline by 4.5 percent in 2024 due to uneven demand for newer devices, such as mobile phones, in different countries within the MENA region. 

The subsector is set to drop from $28.3 billion recorded in 2023 to $27 billion this year. 

Software is set to see the highest growth in 2024, with spending forecasted at $15.2 billion, up from $13.5 billion in the previous 12 months. 

Communications services are expected to account for the bulk of 2024’s IT spending, with $127.5 billion in expenditures, up from $120 billion in 2023. 

“CIOs (chief information officers) in the MENA region are expected to increase their spending on cloud services. While AI/GenAI has some influence on cloud services spending, it is not expected to have an immediate and significant impact on IT spending levels in MENA in 2024,” said Eyad Tachwali, senior director advisory at Gartner. 

“Regional CIOs’ focus today is primarily on everyday lower-cost use cases rather than on costly game-changing AI,” he added. 

Furthermore, the report stated that global hyperscalers, which have the ability to offer extensive infrastructure for storage and computing facilities for AI and GenAI, are accelerating investments in in-country data centers, particularly world-class green data centers. 

“Some have launched sovereign cloud services tailored to the unique needs of specific Gulf Cooperation Council markets,” Burt said. 

Gartner’s IT spending forecast methodology relies heavily on rigorous sales analysis by over a thousand vendors across the entire range of IT products and services. 

On a separate note, other analysts state that Saudi Arabia is the fastest-growing IT market in the Middle East, Turkiye, and Africa. 

Jyoti Lalchandani, regional managing director of research firm IDC, said wider information and communication technology market spending is expected to reach $37.5 billion by the end of 2024. 

The comments were made during the ICT Indicators Forum hosted by the Saudi Ministry of Communication and Information Technology alongside the Saudi Communications, Space, and Technology Commission in Riyadh on April 24.  

It was further noted that spending in this area across the Saudi government sector would exceed $752 million by the end of 2024 as innovative technologies become foundational to building an “experience economy.” 

“AI, big data analytics, IoT, and cybersecurity spending is poised for tremendous growth and will account for almost one-third of overall IT spending in Saudi Arabia in 2024. Spending on AI in Saudi Arabia will surpass $720 million in 2024, reaching $1.9 billion by 2027 at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 40 percent – half of that will be on interpretative AI,” Lalchandani said. 

“We have seen Saudi Arabia emerge as a hub for the cloud,” he added, with spending on public cloud forecasted to surpass $2.4 billion in 2024 and reach $4.7 billion by 2027.  

Software-as-a-Service will account for more than 50 percent of the 2024 spending. 

IDC further highlighted that spending on cybersecurity alone will surpass the $1 billion mark in 2024 and reach $1.6 billion in 2027. 

“I do remember a few years ago, the cybersecurity market was estimated at about $500 million. Today, we’re talking about literally double that. We’re talking about $1 billion in the cybersecurity industry, and to hear it be called the fastest growing market in the region is really a testament to our beloved nation,” Salman Faqeeh, CEO of Cisco Saudi Arabia, said while speaking on a panel during the forum.