Iran economy faces ‘layers of uncertainty’ after Trump statement

Iranian cross the road in Sadeqyeh Square in the capital Tehran on January 13, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2018

Iran economy faces ‘layers of uncertainty’ after Trump statement

TEHRAN: Even with President Donald Trump continuing to waive nuclear sanctions, Iran’s economy remains hobbled by US restrictions but some diplomats in Tehran remain quietly confident for the future.
The real problem in Iran right now, everyone in the international business community agrees, is uncertainty.
That was not helped by Trump’s announcement on Friday that he would waive nuclear-related sanctions, but only once more and that Europe must work with Washington to “fix the deal’s disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw.”
“No one has any idea what’s going on. Trump has introduced so many layers of uncertainty,” a Western trade official in Tehran told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“That’s not necessarily negative. Things could actually improve if Trump pulls out of the deal. The Europeans could stay and the EU could provide protections for its industries against US sanctions,” he said.
“Or things could get even worse. We just don’t know.”
On the surface, Trump’s vitriolic stance appears disastrous for the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which lifted many sanctions in exchange for curbs to the country’s nuclear program.
Even as he confirmed the waiver of nuclear sanctions on Friday, Trump added yet more sanctions related to human rights and Iran’s missile program, adding to a vast web of restrictions that have scared off many Western companies.
Major foreign banks have been particularly cautious of re-entering Iran, dreading a repeat of the record-breaking $8.9 billion penalty levelled on France’s BNP Paribas for breaching US sanctions on Iran and other countries.
There seems little hope of hitting the government target of $50 billion in foreign investment per year, with the government saying less than $3.4 billion was achieved in 2016.
But European diplomats say a lot is happening behind the scenes.
Deals for things like industrial equipment, solar parks and dairy farms have been quietly building over the past two years.
“I’m still cautiously optimistic,” said a European diplomat.
“Many firms have invested so much they can’t pull out. They will find a way to make it work whatever Trump does.”
The big difference under Trump is secrecy.
“Deals are going on in complete silence. There’s no advantage to discussing it. Many have interests in the US or an American investor. They don’t want to make themselves a target,” said the Western trade official.
Some bigger firms — particularly the French — have been less coy.
French energy giant Total signed a $5 billion gas deal in June, while carmakers Peugeot and Renault have already reopened production lines.
Italy pointedly announced a $6 billion credit line for development projects just days before Trump’s latest attack on the deal.
“The divide between Europe and the US is widening. It’s been more than a year that President Trump is trying to undermine this deal but he’s basically failing,” said Farid Dehdilani, international affairs adviser for the Iranian Privatization Organization.
Nonetheless, the initial excitement that accompanied the nuclear deal has evaporated.
“I was working in the stock market when the deal was signed, and we were so excited and hopeful, but when I check with friends in brokerages now, nothing is happening,” said Tehran-based economic analyst Navid Kalhor.
“The only sectors that get any interest are commodities: oil, mining, petrochemicals. But oil money cannot solve all our problems,” he said.
Iran’s return to international oil markets helped propel its economic growth rate to more than 12 percent last year, but unemployment remains huge and the energy sector can only create few jobs at a time.
“Look at the protests — ordinary people are not optimistic about the future,” said Kalhor, referring to the deadly unrest that rocked dozens of Iranian cities over the new year, sparked by anger over unemployment and poor governance.
“We need better and more reliable trade partners, and more access to international markets. We are mostly borrowing money rather than attracting investment. This can cause more problems in future when we have to service our debts. It’s a vicious circle,” he added.
The problem, many Iranians are quick to emphasise, does not lie just with Trump.
Years of mismanagement and corruption would make Iran a tricky investment destination even without US antagonism.
“We have to facilitate foreign investment by eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy: the three or four months needed to get permits, for instance,” said Dehdilani.
“In the end, the success of the nuclear deal relies on Iranians.”

Saudi stocks receive landmark emerging markets upgrade from MSCI

Updated 17 min 22 sec ago

Saudi stocks receive landmark emerging markets upgrade from MSCI

  • Market authorities in Saudi Arabia have introduced a series of reforms in the past 18 months
  • MSCI’s Emerging Market index is tracked by about $2 trillion in active and global funds

LONDON: Saudi Arabian equites are poised to attract up to $40 billion worth of foreign inflows, following a landmark decision by index provider MSCI to include the Kingdom’s stocks in its widely tracked Emerging Markets index.

"MSCI will include the MSCI Saudi Arabia Index in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, representing on a pro forma basis a weight of approximately 2.6% of the index with 32 securities, following a two-step inclusion process," the MSCI said in a statement late on Wednesday night Riyadh time.

“Saudi Arabia’s inclusion in MSCI’s EM Index is a milestone achievement and will likely bring with it significant levels of foreign investment,” Salah Shamma, head of investment for MENA at Franklin Templeton Emerging Markets Equity, told Arab News. 

“It is a recognition of the progress Saudi Arabia has made in implementing its ambitious capital markets transformation agenda. The halo effect of such a move will be felt across the stock exchanges of the entire Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).”

Market authorities in Saudi Arabia have introduced a series of reforms in the past 18 months to bring local capital markets more in line with international norms, including lower restrictions on international investors, and the introduction of short-selling and T+2 settlement cycles.

Such reforms prompted index provider FTSE Russell to upgrade the Kingdom to emerging market status in March, opening the country’s stocks up to billions worth of passive and active inflows from foreign investors.

MSCI’s Emerging Market index is tracked by about $2 trillion in active and global funds. The inclusion of Saudi stocks in the index, alongside FTSE Russell’s upgrade, is forecast to attract as much as $45 billion of foreign inflows from passive and active investors, according to estimates from Egyptian investment bank EFG Hermes. 

The upgrade announcement was widely expected by the region’s investment community, following a similar emerging markets upgrade announcement by fellow index provider FTSE Russell in March. 

“MSCI index inclusion will be a historic milestone for the Saudi market as it will allow for sticky institutional money to make an entry in 2019 which will help deepen the market,” said John Sfakianakis, director of economic research at the Gulf Research Center in Riyadh.