By John Sfakianakis, Ashmore Group
The Gulf economies are in a position of strength to weather the recent plunge in oil prices. Many are better cushioned than at previous times in their economic history despite growing domestic populations. Oil prices are a principal revenue source for most Gulf economies and they serve as an essential litmus test for business confidence in the region.
At US$60 per barrel, the region is still fiscally sound even if more than US$280bn in oil export losses will be incurred in 2015. The move in oil prices has been excessive on the way down but it seems to be bottoming out. Read more
Young Arabs are increasingly turning their backs on cushy public sector jobs in favour of working for private companies and starting their own businesses, a survey in 16 countries has found.
There has also been an erosion in optimism that the “Arab spring” uprisings in recent years against authoritarian governments across the region will translate into better lives for ordinary people, the survey found. Read more
To paraphrase that famous quote from Mark Twain, the reports of the death of investor interest in emerging market bonds appear to have been greatly exaggerated.
For proof, look no further than the spate of issues so far this month. This week, Bahrain successfully sold $1.5bn of bonds, joining Indonesia, Nigeria and Mexico’s Pemex in tapping the market following June’s market rout. Read more
Political unrest has caused divergent company performance in the region, writes Camilla Hall. Bahraini company earnings dropped the most in the Gulf in the third quarter while companies in the United Arab Emirates outperformed their regional peers. Read more
By Michael Peel
Alcoa’s settlement of a landmark US lawsuit brought by Bahrain’s state-controlled aluminium company over alleged corruption is a deal that will reverberate around the Gulf – and far beyond the metals industry.
The agreement announced on Tuesday – under which Alcoa will pay Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) $85m – has thrown a fresh spotlight on the commission payments at the heart of a growing number of probes into western multinationals operating in the Middle East. It has also opened the way for other companies to come to The US courts with claims that they have been ripped off by western multinationals involved in bribery. Read more
“Don’t forget, revolutions are expensive”, says Dimitris Tsitsiragos. He should know: his responsibilities as a vice president at the International Finance Corporation include north Africa and the Middle East, not least the countries hit by the Arab Spring.
The IFC, the World Bank’s private sector arm, has, in the last five years, boosted its annual commitments to the region by nearly 50 per cent to over $2bn. But, Tsitsiragos says it’s not enough: without more private sector involvement, the region cannot generate the investments required to produce faster economic growth and more jobs. Read more
An air of normality has returned to Bahrain’s central business district and the government is keen to focus on positive matters. But violent protests continue and, as events this week have demonstrated, political reform and economic progress still face severe obstacles. Read more
Halwani Bros, a Saudi food producer, seems to think it has a recipe for labour market transformation – beyond the dense, sesame halawa dessert, for which it is famous. The 60-year-old, Riyadh-listed company has set a minimum wage of SAR3,000 ($800) per month for Saudi employees, according to a report in Arab News.
The move may only benefit 80 nationals employed at food production plants across the kingdom, as well as 50 more that the company plans to hire – but the decision could have far-reaching ramifications for other Saudis. Read more
This Ramadan, Gulf residents received text messages with fasting tips to caution against overeating. The problem of expanding waistlines, however, is far from seasonal.
Kuwait, Qatar, The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain all figure on the list of the world’s top ten most obese nations. Seventy-seven per cent of Kuwaitis are overweight and 34 per cent are obese, putting the tiny country just behind the US, according to the latest research based on UN and World Health Organization data.
But as the obesity epidemic spread across the Persian Gulf, so too has another American phenomenon – the rise of the weight loss cottage industry. Read more
Bahrain, the Arab spring’s forgotten revolt, had fallen off the radar of the fickle global media. But thanks to Formula 1, the world has been at least been reminded this weekend of Bahrain’s scorched social fabric.
Now, 14 months since the island was rocked by the worst unrest in its history, the future of Bahrain’s economy also remains unclear. Read more
A Gulf-based budget airline might sound like a contradiction in terms. But as Camilla Hall reports, Flydubai is one of several carriers rapidly making low-cost travel a reality in the region.
It may have only 22 planes, but Flydubai has weathered the global financial crisis and is now expanding. Even among some of the world’s richest fliers, there are those who don’t mind a spot of cut-price flying – though without the bargain basement feel of some of the industry’s stalwarts. Read more
Bahrian’s Arcapita bank has thrown creditors a bit of a curve ball. The bank has decided to file for bankruptcy protection in the US after talks over an upcoming bank maturity of $1.1bn on March 28 broke down.
It’s the first time a Gulf company has sought Chapter 11 refuge in US courts, and creates a new level of public scrutiny for the bank – as well as an uncertain outcome for those wanting their money back. Read more
The Arab spring has turned into a ka-ching [£££] for London’s new-build residential property market, according to real estate consultants Jones Lang LaSalle.
The value of Middle East investment in London’s new-build market almost doubled last year as unrest in the region prompted buyers to look for havens abroad, the property consultants say. Read more
Dubai or Bahrain: which is safer for bond investors? A year ago the answer was easy – Bahrain. Dubai’s reputation had been rattled by the manifest difficulties of its overborrowed companies.
But in the wake of the Arab Spring, things look different. The rulers of Dubai have avoided the turmoil that has struck the region. Bahrain, of course, has not, with anti-government protests early last year that provoked a violent reaction from the authorities. It’s clear where investors prefer to put their money. Read more
Bahrain’s national carrier is used to perennial business problems, but the state-owned airline wouldn’t have expected a public row with the foreign ministry.
Gulf Air, one of the Middle East’s oldest airlines, has seen its glory days eroded over the years with the rise of Gulf competitors, such as Dubai’s Emirates, Qatar Airways and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad. Read more
Sheikh Ali Salman, head of al-Wefaq, the main Shia opposition party in Bahrain, says that the Arab spring has created an expectation of democracy across the region. He tells Roula Khalaf, middle east editor, that western allies should back calls for change in his country.
After the tumult of February demonstrations through the crackdown of March and the dark days of effective martial law through June, Bahrain has something to chew on.
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s damning report into systematic abuses against pro-democracy protesters earlier this year is an historic moment – never before has an Arab state opened its doors to such rigorous scrutiny. Read more
Despite deep political tensions and a vulnerable economy, Bahrain has managed to issue a $750m sovereign bond, becoming the first strife-hit country of the ‘Arab spring’ to tap capital markets since unrest began in January.
The seven-year sukuk is paying out 6.3 per cent, twice as expensive as, say, oil-rich Abu Dhabi, one of the city-states to have escaped street protests this year. But, in the circumstances, the Bahrain government will be grateful for the terms it has secured. Read more
By Camilla Hall in Abu Dhabi
For years, petrodollars burnt holes in Gulf states’ pockets. What could not be spent at home, went straight into investments abroad. Buying US treasuries, London palaces or football clubs was a norm. But in the aftermath of the Arab spring, leaders in Middle Eastern countries have had to reconsider where to put their revenues. Instead of foreign assets and luxury, the surplus money is spent on creating jobs, building new homes and helping other states in the region. Read more