Super typhoon slams into China after pummelling Philippines

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A resident walks beside a toppled basketball court after Typhoon Mangkhut barreled across Tuguegarao city, northeastern Philippines, on Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
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An overturned tricycle is seen next to a destroyed house after Super Typhoon Mangkhut hit the town of Alcala, Cagayan province on September 15, 2018. (AFP / TED ALJIBE)
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Residents stand by a flooded road following the onslaught of Typhoon Mangkhut in Tuguegarao city in Cagayan province, northeastern Philippines, on Sept. 15, 2018.(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
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People buy water and food at a supermarket ahead of the arrival of the Super Typhoon Mangkhut in Zhanjiang in Guangdong province on September 15, 2018. (AFP / NICOLAS ASFOURI)
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A dog and a duck sit among the ruins of a house after Super Typhoon Mangkhut hit the town of Alcala, Cagayan province, in the northern Philippines on September 15, 2018. (AFP / TED ALJIBE)
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Fishermen take their boat of the water with a crane ahead of the arrival of the Super Typhoon Mangkhut in Sanhe village on the outskirts of Zhanjiang in Guangdong province, China, on September 15, 2018. ( AFP / NICOLAS ASFOURI)
Updated 16 September 2018
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Super typhoon slams into China after pummelling Philippines

  • More than 105,000 people fled their homes in the largely rural agricultural region, which is one of the Philippines' top producers of corn and rice
  • Cathay Pacific warned travelers that it expected more than 400 flight cancelations over the next three days

TUGUEGARAO, Philippines: Typhoon Mangkhut rocked Hong Kong before striking mainland China on Sunday, injuring scores and sending skyscrapers swaying, after killing at least 49 people in the Philippines and ripping a swathe of destruction through its agricultural heartland.

The world's biggest storm this year left large expanses in the north of the main Philippine island of Luzon underwater as fierce winds tore trees from the ground and rain unleashed dozens of landslides.

It made landfall on the coast of Jiangmen city, in southern China's Guangdong province, Sunday evening after battering Hong Kong.

Hong Kong weather authorities issued their maximum alert for the storm, which hit the city with gusts of more than 230 kilometres per hour (142 mph) and left over 100 injured, according to government figures.

As the storm passed south of Hong Kong, trees were snapped in half and roads blocked, while some windows in tower blocks were smashed and skyscrapers swayed, as they are designed to do in intense gales.

The Philippines was just beginning to count the cost of the typhoon which hit northern Luzon on Saturday, and the death toll jumped to 49 on Sunday evening as more landslide victims were discovered.

In the town of Baggao the typhoon demolished houses, tore off roofs and downed power lines. Some roads were cut off by landslides and many remained submerged.

Farms across northern Luzon, which produces much of the nation's rice and corn, were sitting under muddy floodwater, their crops ruined just a month before harvest.

"We're already poor and then this happened to us. We have lost hope," 40-year-old Mary Anne Baril, whose corn and rice crops were spoilt, told AFP.

"We have no other means to survive," she said tearfully.

An average of 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year, killing hundreds of people.

The latest victims were mostly people who died in landslides, including a family of four. In addition to those killed in the Philippines, a woman was swept out to sea in Taiwan.

The Philippines' deadliest storm on record is Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing across the central part of the country in November 2013.

In Hong Kong, waters surged in the famous Victoria Harbour and coastal fishing villages, from which hundreds of residents were evacuated to storm shelters.

Some roads were waist-deep in water with parts of the city cut off by floods and fallen trees.

In the fishing village of Tai O, where many people live in stilt houses built over the sea, some desperately tried to bail out their inundated homes.

"Floodwater is rushing into my home but I'm continuously shovelling the water out. It's a race against time," resident Lau King-cheung told AFP by phone.

The government warned people to stay indoors but some ventured out, heading to the coast to take photos.

A couple with a child were seen by an AFP reporter taking pictures on a pier known as a popular Instagram spot as waves surged and almost submerged it.

Others stayed at home but were terrified by smashing windows in their apartments.

"The entire floor and bed are covered in glass," one resident told local broadcaster TVB after her bedroom window shattered. "The wind is so strong."

Almost all flights in and out of Hong Kong were cancelled.

Schools in the city will be shut Monday.

In the neighbouring gambling enclave of Macau, all 42 casinos shut down for the first time in its history.

As the storm moved past Macau to the south, streets became submerged under water gushing in from the harbour.

Emergency workers navigated the roads on jetskis and dinghies, rescuing trapped residents.

The government and casinos are taking extra precautions after Macau was battered by Typhoon Hato last year, which left 12 dead.

On China's southern coast, more than two million people had been evacuated by authorities in Guangdong before the storm made landfall. 

 


How diamonds became an everyday trend

Updated 44 min 28 sec ago
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How diamonds became an everyday trend

“North Riyadh will be the place to be,” declares Selim Chidiac, chief executive officer of L’azurde, Saudi Arabia’s biggest jewelry company and a glitzy reminder that the Kingdom has brands of its own to rival the global icons of the luxury business.

Chidiac was talking of the sudden boom in the Saudi retail business that is seeing malls open at an unprecedented rate. “There are so many new malls going up, like Riyadh Park and others. The prospects for the next 18 months are very exciting and dramatic,” he said.

Most of L’azurde’s shops in the Kingdom are in malls, with only a small number on the street or in souks, so the retail and leisure boom — sparked by the decree to allow women to drive and the re-opening of the Kingdom’s cinemas after a 35-year hiatus — is a direct boost to the L’azurde business.

But that does not mean Chidiac can just sit back and watch the business come rolling in. Despite the retail boom, the underlying economy is still suffering from the aftermath of the period of austerity ushered in by the collapse in oil prices in 2014.

“The consumer background in Saudi Arabia is still challenging. There have been lots of changes in the Kingdom, such as the removal of subsidies and perhaps some geopolitical concerns. But ultimately, what has been happening is very positive for the economy. Raising salaries and empowering women are good developments, and they will pay off in the medium and long term,” Chidiac said.

The influence of the regional macro-economy was shown in L’azurde’s recent financial figures for the second quarter of 2018. A overall rise of 13 percent in revenues masked a decline in Saudi revenues, compensated by a leap in the company’s important Egyptian business.

“Most of the growth came from Egypt. Saudi Arabia was actually 10 percent down, but the comparison is not entirely indicative — the same period last year was very big, boosted by the resumption of government spending and the Ramadan period,” he explained.

Chidiac is full of praise for the strength of the Egyptian division of the business, which has three factories, 12 shops and 1,200 employees. “Egypt has been a great story. We’ve been there for 20 years and it has seldom looked so strong before. Consumer spending is high and the stock market is strong,” he said.

“The government reforms of a couple of years ago and the IMF deal benefited the economy and stabilized the currency, which has made our exports easier. Better security enabled tourism again, and also helped attract foreign direct investment. There is now a growing middle class in the country with greater spending power,” he added.

The situation in Saudi Arabia is more complicated, but in the long term Chidiac thinks the country is in for a period of expansion.

“Saudi consumers are getting behind the reform program of Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince. The economic situation is improving. For a while people have been going into shops to look around and ask about products, but slowly they are beginning to spend too.

“The empowerment of women is beginning to be felt. They are more mobile, and actively seeking jobs now. It is too early to judge the impact of allowing women to drive. It is only a few months now since the ban was lifted. But long term it has to be a good thing for the consumer economy,” he said.

The jewelry tastes of Saudi women — overwhelmingly L’azurde’s target customer — are changing subtly. The move is towards more affordable everyday pieces, such as the “Dream collection” — designed by Al-Anoud Badr, the founder of the fashion brand Lady Fozaza — which aimed to have a trendy edge.

“The Dream collection is our most popular line at the moment. They are the fastest-selling items for daily wear, ranging in price from 1,500 ($400) to 5,000 riyals,” Chidiac said.

More traditional lines are still a big feature, however. “Still our bestselling and most profitable pieces are wedding sets — complete ranges of necklaces, pendants, earrings rings. We had a very good Ramadan for these items. These can range from 15,000 to 100,000 riyals, but we’ve sold customized sets for as much as 1 million riyals,” he said.

The global trend toward more affordable everyday jewelry was the spur for the purchase of the Tous chain of jewelry stores, the most significant corporate development at L’azurde since the 2016 initial public offering (IPO).

“With Tous, we are entering the segment of affordable jewelry for the first time — the market for purchases of less than 2,000 riyals. This is the fastest-growing sector in the world at the moment. Women want smaller pieces for daily wear, and they want to change them more frequently. Tous is the leading affordable jewelry brand in Saudi Arabia, with 22 shops and 90 employees in the Kingdom, and we have bought a 10-year Saudi franchise,” Chidiac said.

Illustration by Luis Grañena

There was a second motivation for the Tous purchase. Since the IPO, L’azurde shares are about 50 per cent down from the listing price, and Chidiac has been looking for a long time for a deal that might add some momentum to the share price performance.

“The acquisition of Tous was a major event for us. We’ve been working on it for 18 months, ever since the IPO. The analysis and due diligence took more than a year. The logic of going public was to fund organic growth, and then we began to look at ways to grow non-organically.

“That’s why we did the acquisition of Tous — to give some value back to the shareholders. That has been a major concern. We are not considering share buy-backs. I believe the prospects for the Tadawul are pretty good, as long as there are no major external shocks,” he said.

The logic of the Tous deal should be immediately apparent to shareholders, Chidiac explained. “We paid 188 million riyals for a company that has revenues of 18.8 million riyals, so it is immediately earnings enhancing. We paid in part cash and part debt funded. Now we must consolidate it and grow it, while looking for other opportunities,” he said.

“Tous helps move L’azurde towards being a multi-brand company. We will add more brands, soon, but we should walk before we can run,” he added.

Those other opportunities include opening new stores in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and perhaps more acquisitions. But there are always challenges in a business as fast moving as jewelry, where taste and fashion can quickly affect demand for the latest goods.

“Customers are becoming very savvy with their spending, looking for discounts and promotions. They are becoming very aware of their choice options. The most common thing we hear from a customer walking into a shop is “what’s new?”. It means we have to manage our stocks effectively.

“There are also challenges with employees — hiring, training and employment conditions. But that has always been the case,” Chidiac said. Most of the 700 employees at the Riyadh factory are Asian, he said, because “Asians have better technical skills in jewelry.”

And, as ever, the geopolitics of the region weighs over business decisions. L’azurde had an operation in Doha that was closed as soon as the confrontation began last summer over allegations of terrorism. Another possible acquisition deal in the UAE was stymied because of Qatari links, he said, without wanting to identify the target company.

Global economic factors also affect L’azurde’s business decisions. The gold price is not a major factor, because the company does not hold stocks of gold beyond its immediate need for manufacturing in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but it can affect demand.

“It does affect customer sentiment when they see the gold price falling and they see the opportunity for a bargain. The dollar level and interest rates are bigger concerns for the economy and for our business,” he said.