Wamda chief sees Aramco dividend for Saudi economy

Fadi Ghandour, who runs the startup investment firm Wamda Capital, said the venture capital scene in the Middle East was improving. (Reuters)
Updated 22 November 2019

Wamda chief sees Aramco dividend for Saudi economy

  • Fadi Ghandour: The initial public offering of Saudi Aramco was a good thing for the Kingdom’s economy and its stock market
  • Ghandour: The decision not to market the IPO directly in some foreign financial centers would make little difference to the outcome of the IPO

BEIJING: Fadi Ghandour, one of the best known entrepreneurs in the Middle East, told Arab News that the initial public offering of Saudi Aramco was a good thing for the Kingdom’s economy and its stock market.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Beijing, Ghandour said: “It will be good for the country and for the Tadawul. It will deepen markets and give citizens a sense of participation.”

He added that the decision not to market the IPO directly in some foreign financial centers would make little difference to the outcome of the IPO. “It’s a statement by the Kingdom that it has its own resources, and does not have to rely on others. But I can see how some people would view it negatively. Once Aramco is listed on the market, it will all be much more transparent,” he said.

Ghandour, who runs the startup investment firm Wamda Capital, said the venture capital scene in the Middle East was improving. “Our business is different from the slow down in bricks and mortar. The sovereign wealth funds are finally starting to look at investment in startups and small-to-medium enterprises,” he said, citing recent activity by Saudi Arabia’s Pubic Investment Fund and Mubadala of the UAE.

“There are increasing opportunities in fintech and and e-commerce,” he said.

He said the investment strategy of other big players, like the Saudi and UAE-backed Vision Fund, was flawed. “Throwing a lot of money at companies with high valuations blunts their need to show a serious path to profits. Management loses its edge. The path to profitability is not through having a big brother with lots of money. Startup companies survive because they have a path to profitability,” he said.

Ghandour said he was in Beijing because he wanted a “Chinese perspective” on business. “The Middle East is looking increasingly eastwards, and that’s a good thing. China is always looking for new markets and resources, and they are increasingly innovators these days rather than copiers. They want to be leaders in business,” he added.


Indonesia hails ‘historic’ $22.9bn mega-investment deal with UAE

Updated 17 January 2020

Indonesia hails ‘historic’ $22.9bn mega-investment deal with UAE

  • Leaders agree initial $6.8bn projects plan, including initiative to build a replica of Abu Dhabi grand mosque in Java

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s business community on Thursday welcomed the UAE’s pledge to pump tens of billions of dollars into a wide range of key sector projects.

President Joko Widodo and his entourage secured an overall $22.9 billion deal during an official two-day visit to Abu Dhabi earlier this week covering the fields of energy, logistics, port construction, mining, and agriculture.

It was also revealed that the delegation brokered a UAE commitment to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund.

At a bilateral meeting, the Indonesian leader and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan witnessed the signing of 11 business accords between the two countries. Indonesia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said the UAE had committed to investing $6.8 billion out of the total agreed spending package into the initiatives.

Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s chief minister for maritime affairs and investment, described the UAE’s pledges as possibly being “the biggest deals in Indonesia’s history, secured with the UAE within only six months,” referring to the crown prince’s visit to Indonesia last July.

While most lauded the deal, some Indonesian business leaders remained cautious over the long-term prospects for the projects.

Fachry Thaib, head of the Middle East Committee and OIC at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, said the schemes could trigger a wide-ranging domino effect through job creation and other business ventures.

“The government needs to have a strong lobbying team that can follow up these deals and push them into investment realizations. We have had such commitments from other Gulf countries, but there was no further lobbying and the pledges were hardly realized,” he told Arab News.

Zaini Alawi, a businessman who exports and imports between Indonesia and the Middle East, said: “It would set a good precedent to attract other Gulf countries to invest here if Indonesia shows it could aptly manage these investment deals.”

Director for Middle East affairs at Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, Achmad Rizal Purnama, told Arab News that the $6.8 billion commitment from the UAE was only the first phase of a long-term program.

Widodo and the crown prince also witnessed the signing of five government cooperation agreements in health, agriculture, Islamic affairs, and counterterrorism.

Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Fachrul Razi said one of the main aspects of the cooperation agreement would be the promotion of religious moderation and raising awareness of the dangers of extremism.

FASTFACT

The UAE has pledged to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund.

Noting that the UAE had pledged to fund the construction of a replica of the Abu Dhabi grand mosque in Solo, the president’s hometown in Java, the minister pointed out that the grant was part of a commitment by the two countries to establish a mosque that welcomed all people and served a pivotal role in promoting the middle path of Islam.

Riza Widyarsa, a Middle East expert at the University of Indonesia, told Arab News that the cooperation deal could help more Indonesians to understand that not all countries in the Middle East observed conservative Islam. “They are also very active in countering religious extremism and radicalism,” he said.

In addition to the multi-billion-dollar projects, Purnama said Indonesia had also secured the UAE’s commitment to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund into which the UAE, the US International Development Finance Corporation, and Japan’s SoftBank would inject funding.

And according to Pandjaitan, the UAE had pledged to be “the biggest contributor” to the fund.

The fund would be used to finance Indonesia’s ambitious infrastructure development projects and the construction of its proposed new capital in East Kalimantan, a relocation that has been estimated to cost $33 billion and of which Indonesia could only afford 19 percent.

He said all parties involved would meet in Tokyo soon to set up the structure of the fund and to finalize the plan, which the government expected to launch by mid-2020, a year after the crown prince proposed the idea to Widodo.

“This could be the first time that big capitalists work together in a single project,” Pandjaitan added.