Threat of financial crisis has not gone away, WEF warns

Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz, Head of Economic Growth and Social Inclusion System Initiative, World Economic Forum speaks during a press conference for the launch of the World Economic Forum, WEF, flagship annual Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018, in Cologny near Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 11 November 2017
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Threat of financial crisis has not gone away, WEF warns

DUBAI: Global economies remain at risk of further financial shocks and are ill-prepared for the coming wave of innovation and automation, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The WEF’s global competitiveness report — its annual ranking of the strength of 137 economies around the world — warns that 10 years on from the global financial crisis, “the prospects for a sustained economic recovery remain at risk due to a widespread failure on the part of leaders and policy-makers to put in place reforms necessary to underpin competitiveness and bring about much-needed increases in productivity.
“Levels of ‘soundness’ have yet to recover from the shock of 2007 and in some parts of the world are declining further. This is especially of concern given the important role the financial system will need to play in facilitating investment in innovation,” the WEF added.
The economies of the Middle East and North Africa improved their average performance in the first half of 2017, despite challenges mainly from the decline in energy prices. The most improved country in the region was Egypt, up 14 slots to 101 in the world.
“Low oil and gas prices are forcing the region to implement reforms to boost diversification, and heavy investments in digital and technological infrastructure have allowed major improvements in technological readiness. However, these have not yet led to an equally large turnaround in the region’s level of innovation,” the WEF said.
The UAE was again ranked top of the regional rankings, at 17th, down one slot from last year. Saudi Arabia was ranked 30th, also down one position.
Qatar fell by seven positions to 25th, though the WEF noted that the report was compiled before the economic effects of the economic sanctions introduced by some of its Gulf neighbors because of allegations of terrorism funding.
“The country will have to ensure better access to digital technologies for individuals and businesses, and further strengthen educational institutions,” the WEF said.
On Saudi Arabia, the report said: “The macroeconomic environment has improved slightly after the 2015 oil price shock, but financial market efficiency has deteriorated as interest rates increased in 2016 and credit growth slowed.
“The country has stable institutions, good-quality infrastructure, and the largest market in the Arab world. Saudi executives see restrictive labor regulations as their most problematic factor for doing business: The labor market is segmented among different population groups, and women remain largely excluded,” the WEF added.
Another concern is the lack of adequately educated workers. Although tertiary enrolment is strong at 63 percent, more efforts are needed to advance the quality of education and align it with economic needs, the report said.
The UAE “continues to lead the Arab World in terms of competitiveness, but it loses one place as other countries post even larger gains,” the WEF said.
“This improvement shows the resilience of the UAE economy, in part due to increased diversification, which is reflected in its stable macroeconomic environment and its ability to weather the double shock of lower oil and gas prices and reduced global trade,” the report added.
Although the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts gross domestic product (GDP) growth to drop to 1.3 percent this year, non-oil growth is expected to pick up, suggesting that the country’s diversification strategy is bearing fruit. To further increase its competitiveness, the UAE will have to speed up progress in terms of spreading the latest digital technologies and upgrading education.
For the ninth consecutive year, Switzerland — home of the WEF — was judged the most competitive economy in the world, narrowly ahead of the US and Singapore, which switched positions in second and third.
Another key finding of the report is that competitiveness is enhanced, not weakened, by combining degrees of flexibility within the labor force with adequate protection of workers’ rights.
“With vast numbers of jobs set to be disrupted as a result of automation and robotization, creating conditions that can withstand economic shock and support workers through transition periods will be vital,” the WEF said.
The data also suggests that the reason innovation often fails to ignite productivity is due to an imbalance between investments in technology and efforts to promote its adoption throughout the wider economy.
Klaus Schwab, WEF founder and executive chairman, said: “Global competitiveness will be more and more defined by the innovative capacity of a country. Talents will become increasingly more important than capital and therefore the world is moving from the age of capitalism into the age of talentism.”


UK’s Quercus pulls plug on $570 mln Iran solar plant as sanctions bite

Updated 14 August 2018
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UK’s Quercus pulls plug on $570 mln Iran solar plant as sanctions bite

  • Quercus said it will halt the construction of a 500 million euro ($570 million) solar power plant in Iran
  • Iran has been trying to increase the share of renewable-produced electricity in its energy mix

OSLO: A British renewable energy investor Quercus said it will halt the construction of a 500 million euro ($570 million) solar power plant in Iran due to recently imposed US sanctions on Tehran.
The solar plant in Iran would have been the first renewable energy investment outside Europe by Quercus and the world’s sixth largest, with a 600 megawatt (MW) capacity.
Iran has been trying to increase the share of renewable-produced electricity in its energy mix, partly due to air pollution and to meet international commitments, hoping to have about 5 gigawatt in renewables installed by 2022.
In June, before the US-imposed sanctions, more than 250 companies had signed agreements to add and sell power from about 4 gigawatt of new renewables in the country, which has only 602 MW installed, Iranian energy ministry data showed.
Washington reimposed sanctions last week after pulling out of a 2015 international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions.
US president Donald Trump has also threatened to penalize companies that continue to operate in Iran, which led banks and many companies around the world to scale back their dealings with Tehran.
“Following the US sanctions on Iran, we have decided to cease all activities in the country, including our 600 MW project. We will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Quercus chief executive Diego Biasi said in an email on Tuesday.
The firm will continue to monitor the situation closely, said Biasi, who declined to comment further.
Last year Quercus said it would set up a project company and sell shares via a private placement after attracting interest from private and institutional investors, including sovereign wealth funds.
Construction was expected to take three years, with each 100 MW standalone lot becoming operational and connecting to the grid every six months.

SANCTIONS BITE
Independently-owned Quercus has a portfolio of around 28 renewable energy plants and 235 MW of installed capacity.
The firm, founded by Biasi and Simone Borla in 2010, controls five investment funds and has a network of “highly regarded external partners,” it says on its website.
The 600 MW plant it aimed to construct in Iran would be the firm’s largest investment. Quercus declined to comment on the details of its decision to cease the plan and on any financial losses that could result from it.
Fearing the consequences of the US embargo, a string of European companies have recently announced they would scale back their business in Iran.
On Tuesday, German engineering group Bilfinger, said it did not plan to sign any new business in the country, while automotive supplier Duerr on Aug. 11 said it had halted activities in Iran.
Another project, planned by Norway’s Saga Energy, which said last October it aimed to build 2 GW of new solar energy capacity in Iran and to start construction by the end of 2018, has also stalled.
Saga Energy’s chief of operations Rune Haaland told Reuters it was still working on getting the funding, which is more complicated since recent developments, and although it aimed to push on with its plans, construction could be delayed. ($1 = 0.8773 euros)