Gaza factories back to work making protective wear

Gaza factories back to work making protective wear
Palestinians make protective overalls to shield people from the coronavirus. Factories in Gaza City are working at full capacity to meet the growing demand for safety equipment. (AP)
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Updated 25 April 2020

Gaza factories back to work making protective wear

Gaza factories back to work making protective wear
  • Garment firms gain rare economic lifeline as coronavirus boosts demand for safety clothing

GAZA CITY: For the first time in years, sewing factories in the Gaza Strip are back to working at full capacity — producing masks, gloves and protective gowns, some of which are bound for Israel.

It is a rare economic lifeline in the coastal territory, which has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt since the Hamas militant group seized power from rival Palestinian forces in the strip in 2007. The blockade, and three wars between Hamas and Israel, have devastated the local economy, with unemployment hovering around 50 percent.
But the sudden opportunity also shows how Gaza’s economy is at the mercy of those enforcing the blockade — and how depressed wages have become. Workers earn as little as $8 a day.
So far, Gaza appears to have been largely spared from the coronavirus pandemic, with only 17 cases detected, all within quarantine facilities set up for those returning from abroad. Many still fear an outbreak in the impoverished territory, which is home to 2 million people and where the health care system has been battered by years of conflict. But for now, authorities are cautiously allowing most businesses to stay open.
Rizq Al-Madhoun, owner of the Bahaa garment company, said he has produced more than 1 million masks in the past three weeks, “all for the Israeli market.”
Gaza may not have the advanced machinery seen in other places, but he said residents’ sewing skills are unmatched. “Gaza workers are distinguished in handiwork and they are better than workers in China or Turkey,” he said.
Another factory, Unipal 2000, is able to employ 800 workers across two shifts to produce protective equipment around the clock.
Both factories import fabric and other materials from customers in Israel and then produce items like masks, gloves and surgical gowns. Unipal makes about 150,000 pieces a day, and demand is high as countries around the world grapple with shortages.
Asked about doing business with Israeli customers, both factory owners said they did not want to discuss politics and framed their work in terms of business and humanitarian needs.
“Despite the siege in Gaza, we export these masks and protective clothes to the whole world without exception,” Bashir Bawab, the owner of Unipal 2000, said. “We feel we are doing a humanitarian duty.”

FASTFACT

260 The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the occupied West Bank, has reported around 260 COVID-19 cases and two deaths.

In recent years, Tamer Emad, a skilled textile worker, was able to work one week per month at best. But over the past month, he has been on the Unipal factory floor every day, earning around $8 per shift.
“This has provided us with a good opportunity ahead of Ramadan,” he said.
Such wages are typical in the depressed Gazan economy, but would barely keep a family afloat. It costs around $250 a month to rent a two-bedroom apartment.
Omar Shaban, an economist who heads a local think tank, said the conditions created by the blockade allow for “exploitation,” but that low-wage jobs still provide income for many people.
Unipal 2000 first opened in an industrial zone along the frontier in 1998, when the peace process was in full swing. But like many other Gaza businesses, it was forced to shut down after the Hamas takeover and the blockade.
Israel began easing some restrictions after the 2014 Gaza war, and the factory reopened two years later. But by then most of its clients had found suppliers elsewhere, so it only operated intermittently.
Its fortunes could change again — especially if there is an outbreak.
Gisha, an Israeli group that advocates for easing the blockade on Gaza, appealed to Israeli leaders to do more to promote economic activity in the territory.
“The pandemic has created demand for these products,” it said. “But Israel must lift restrictions on trade entirely so that Gaza residents can work and so that Gaza’s faltering economy can brace itself as much as possible against the wider global crisis caused by the pandemic.”


Saudi Aramco investors expect profit surge after strong first half

Saudi Aramco investors expect profit surge after strong first half
Updated 51 min 10 sec ago

Saudi Aramco investors expect profit surge after strong first half

Saudi Aramco investors expect profit surge after strong first half
  • Investors looking for news on size of dividend
  • JP Morgan predicts $23.7bn of net income

DUBAI: The oil reporting season will reach a climax next week with the announcement of first half results from the biggest company in the sector, Saudi Aramco.

With strong crude prices for most of the six months to June 30, and rising output as OPEC+ constraints were steadily lifted during the period, analysts are expecting a big increase in profits from the Saudi oil giant.

Analyst Christian Malek at JP Morgan is forecasting around $23.7bn of net income, a huge jump on the $6.6bn Aramco reported last year after the oil price collapsed as the COVID-19 pandemic severely hit demand.

“Against a positively trending demand/price backdrop, we expect a robust quarterly net income print from Aramco,” Malek said in a recent report to investors.

Higher oil prices, seasonally higher gas volumes, strong conditions in the petrochemical business and higher throughput from the start up of the Jazan facility will contribute to a strong first half performance, he added.

But analysts will also be looking for news on the dividend. At the time of its flotation in late 2019, Aramco promised at least $75bn per year in payouts to shareholders, but there is increasing speculation that the company might pay a higher special dividend for the first half, buoyed by strong financials. Other big oil companies like Shell, BP and Total all announced measures to boost shareholder returns in results this week.

“There is a logic to the argument for a special dividend this time round,” Malek told Arab News. “Aramco has done fantastically well consolidating fiscally. The majors in the oil sector have all been looking at ways of returning cash to shareholders, and there is no reason Aramco should be an exception.”

Other analysts agreed that there was scope for Aramco to boost its dividend.

“Aramco has had a fantastic year so far, and the results will be good,” said Ranjith Raja, head of MENA oil and shipping research at data group Refinitiv. “Other oil companies announced dividend increases or share buy-backs, so why not Aramco? They would not only be meeting the $75bn promise, but going beyond that, which would be very good for investor sentiment.”

In a program of investor and media calls after the results are announced on Sunday, analysts will ask CEO Amin Nasser about plans for further asset sales after the disposal of a stake in its pipeline business earlier this year, and for an update on the renewed talks about a link-up with Indian refining and petrochemicals group Reliance Industries.

They will also seek guidance on the progress of plans to sell another tranche of shares in Aramco, believed to be under consideration at the company.

Aramco’s finances are regarded as especially strong in a global oil sector that is just beginning to recover from the pandemic recession.

Last week, ratings agency Fitch upgraded Aramco’s status from negative to stable, explaining “Saudi Aramco’s financial profile is conservative compared with that of international integrated oil producers.”

Aramco’s Tadawul-traded shares fell 1.9 percent on Aug. 3 to SR38.25 a piece.


Standard Chartered posts highest half-year MENA profit in 5 years

Standard Chartered posts highest half-year MENA profit in 5 years
Updated 03 August 2021

Standard Chartered posts highest half-year MENA profit in 5 years

Standard Chartered posts highest half-year MENA profit in 5 years
  • MENA operating profit reaches $476 million, up from $91 million a year earlier
  • MENA income was flat, rose 6 percent in Africa

JEDDAH: Standard Chartered Bank reported its biggest half-year operating profit in the Middle East and North Africa for five years as wealth management income increased and credit impairments fell.

The emerging market-focused lender posted an operating profit in MENA of $476 million in the six months to the end of June, up from $91 million a year earlier, it said in a statement. Globally, it reported a 57 percent increase in pretax profit to $2.55 billion, announced a $250 million share buyback and a $94 million dividend.

Income in the MENA region was flat year on year after being impacted by rate cuts and currency devaluation, which provided a drag of about 8 percent, the bank said. Income in Africa grew by 6 percent on a constant currency basis.

There was a significant improvement in the bank’s return on tangible equity in the region, and it reported a “great turnaround story in the UAE, with significantly improved returns.”

“This is the result of all the hard work the team has put in over the years and the execution of some tough decisions we made to drive efficiencies and reduce risk,” said Sunil Kaushal, regional CEO, Africa and Middle East. “This has happened during a period when the backdrop, while improving, remains uncertain and challenging and is a true testament to the resilience of our underlying business.”

“We are excited about the recent expansion of our network into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We will leverage our presence in the Kingdom to promote trade, investment and capital flows in support of the Saudi Vision 2030.”

Standard Chartered has launched digital banking platforms in nine key African Markets – Cote d’Ivoire, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Nigeria – the adoption of which has been accelerated by the pandemic, the bank said.


Saudi Arabia’s financial wealth exceeds $1tn as next generation takes over

Saudi Arabia’s financial wealth exceeds $1tn as next generation takes over
Updated 03 August 2021

Saudi Arabia’s financial wealth exceeds $1tn as next generation takes over

Saudi Arabia’s financial wealth exceeds $1tn as next generation takes over
  • Wealth to grow 4.1 percent annually through 2025
  • Saudi Arabia represents 45 percent of GCC financial wealth

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s financial wealth is expected to grow by 4.2 percent annually over the next five years, hitting $1.2 trillion in 2025 as the Kingdom sees more young people take over ventures, according to a study by Boston Consultancy Group (BCG).

The Kingdom’s wealth grew by 4.1 percent on annual basis from 2015 to hit $1 trillion in 2020, 84 percent of which is investable wealth, the report said, noting the Kingdom’s resilience in the face of the protracted COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, Saudi Arabia represented 45 percent of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) $2.2 trillion in 2020 of financial wealth, which is forecast to reach $2.7 trillion in 2025, BCG said.

The rise of the next-generation affluent and high-net-worth clients will have impact on the business landscape, BGC said in the report. These individuals, between 20 and 50 years of age, have longer investment horizons, a greater appetite for risk, and often a desire to use their wealth to create positive societal impact as well as earn solid returns, it said.

However, many wealth managers are not yet ready to serve the new young business leaders.

“Saudi Arabia’s growth of wealth has proven to be robust, springing back from challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mustafa Bosca, managing director and partner at BCG.

“The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 has been a driving force to increasing economic productivity, which also is allowing Saudis to participate in an ever-more-global economy which has enabled growth in wealth despite the many economic disruptions that have occurred in recent times,” he said.


Bahri profit falls 93 percent in H1 as oil transport revenue slumps

Bahri profit falls 93 percent in H1 as oil transport revenue slumps
Updated 03 August 2021

Bahri profit falls 93 percent in H1 as oil transport revenue slumps

Bahri profit falls 93 percent in H1 as oil transport revenue slumps
  • Profit decline attributed to 67 percent drop in oil-transport revenue

JEDDAH: Profits at Bahri, formerly The National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia, dropped 93 percent in the first half of the year as revenue from transporting oil slumped on lower volumes and prices.

Net profit after zakat and tax of SR82.5 million ($22 million) compared with SR1.18 billion in the same period a year earlier, Bahri said in a filing to the Saudi stock exchange, Tadawul. Total revenue of SR2.48 billion represented a decline of 56 percent on the first six months of 2020.

The drop in profit was attributed to a 67 percent slump in revenue from shipping oil due to the sharp drop in transportation rates and operations.

However, an increase in bunker subsidies and other income along with decrease in zakat and income tax, financing expenses and the provision on trade receivables and contract assets, helped offset the fall in oil-related revenue, the company said.

Bahri, established in 1978 as a joint venture between Saudi Aramco and the Public Investment Fund, owns and manages a fleet of 89 tankers and container ships dedicated to transporting oil, petrochemicals, dry bulk and other cargo.

The company's shares fell 1.9 percent to SR38.25 as of 3:12 p.m. in Riyadh. 


Oman adjusts electricity tariffs to ease burden on citizens

Oman adjusts electricity tariffs to ease burden on citizens
Updated 03 August 2021

Oman adjusts electricity tariffs to ease burden on citizens

Oman adjusts electricity tariffs to ease burden on citizens
  • Oman has been pushing through reforms to ease pressure on public finances

DUBAI: Oman has adjusted its electricity tariffs structure to offer consumers on lower rates more supply, a government official said on Monday, following consumer complaints about steep summer bills.
Household energy costs are sensitive in a country that recently saw protests over unemployment.
The government also wants to keep the public onside as the Gulf state’s ruling sultan, who assumed power last year, continues to push through reforms to ease pressure on public finances in the debt-burdened state. They include a value-added tax, introduced in April, and overhauling an expensive subsidies system.
A Public Services Regulation Authority official told a news briefing that after receiving over 5,000 complaints, authorities had decided to expand consumption categories for households in a move that would be applied retroactively to cover May and June.
Under the adjustment, consumers paying a tariff of 12 baisas ($0.03) per kilowatt/hour (kw/h) will now be able to get up to 4,000 kw/h of electricity, up from a previous cap of 2,000 kw/h.
Consumers paying a tariff of 16 baisas per kw/h will now be able to get up to 6,000 kw/h, against up to 4,000 kw/h previously.
“Most citizens fall under these two segments,” Authority head Mansoor Al-Hinai told reporters.
He said the body has instructed licensed firms to restore services cut off due to late bill payments during the summer.
Protests in May by hundreds of Omanis seeking employment had subsided after Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said, facing his biggest challenge yet, ordered acceleration of government plans to create thousands of jobs and amid a security crackdown.