Trust is a rare asset for Iraqi banks

Trust is a rare asset for Iraqi banks
Iraq’s biggest cities have private and public banks offering investment and credit, but businesses barely use them and individuals do not trust them. (AFP)
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Updated 03 December 2020

Trust is a rare asset for Iraqi banks

Trust is a rare asset for Iraqi banks
  • Many financial institutions are short on deposits and have risky credits

DIWANIYAH: The bustling streets of Iraq’s biggest cities are lined with private and public banks that promise investment and credit. But businesses barely use them and individuals do not trust them.

“Iraqi banks today are still so far away from global standards,” said Abbas Anid Ghanem, an Iraqi economist and lawyer based in the southern city of Diwaniyah.

The problems date back decades, Ghanem said.

In the 1990s, Iraq was isolated from the outside world by crippling sanctions on then-dictator Saddam Hussein that blocked financial transactions with the country.

Following the US-led invasion in 2003, widespread looting saw bank vaults emptied of any cash, even as businesses from around the world were flying into Iraq to sniff out reconstruction deals.

More than 70 banks have popped up since, but the sector as a whole remains underdeveloped.The three largest — Al-Rafidain, Al-Rasheed and the Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) — are state-owned and hold about 90 percent of the entire sector’s assets, the World Bank said in 2018. The first two suffer from “capital deficiencies and asset quality problems,” the World Bank said, meaning they are short on deposits and have risky credits.

TBI was established in a 2003 decree issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority, which managed Iraq post-invasion.

“TBI was meant to help Iraq develop and rebuild, but it was affected by sectarian power-sharing and financial corruption,” said Ghanem.

Now, the bank is the Iraqi government’s main conduit for international transactions but provides few loan options or other services.

The top trio have been used mainly for paying salaries and pensions to eight million Iraqis.

But after collapsing oil prices this year drained state coffers, the government had to borrow from state-owned banks for those wages, increasing its domestic debt. Of the 60 private banks in Iraq, most are domestic and operate primarily as exchange houses.

Iraqi businessmen say that the banks’ unappealing profiles are hampering the development of the private sector.

“Iraq’s public banks don’t have the mechanisms for global transactions and don’t seek to draw in entrepreneurs,” real estate developer Adel Salhi said.

“TBI is the only one that allows investors to open lines of credit, but it does not offer professional services and it demands enormous guarantees — sometimes as high as 110 percent to deliver a letter of guarantee,” he said.

Salhi and his Al-Akhiar group have opted to use a foreign bank, like many other Iraqis who turn to Jordan, Turkey, Iran or Lebanon to facilitate their transactions.

Most companies in Iraq still operate in cash: only 26 percent use the formal banking system, the World Bank said. All but 2 percent pay their employees in hard currency and nearly half even pay their suppliers that way.

Less than five percent of Iraq’s small and medium-sized businesses have a domestic bank loan, with most borrowing from family and friends instead.

Ghanem said that is because business loans come with exorbitant interest rates up to 10 percent.

Despite being OPEC’s second-largest crude producer, Iraq is also ranked 172 out of 190 in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report — barely ahead of Afghanistan or war-ravaged Syria.

For individuals, too, banks are a bane. There is little public trust in financial institutions, with many Iraqis still smarting over the looting of public banks in 2003 that cost them their life savings.


Jeddah Economic City: 90% of road, landscaping work done

Jeddah Economic City: 90% of road, landscaping work done
Updated 24 June 2021

Jeddah Economic City: 90% of road, landscaping work done

Jeddah Economic City: 90% of road, landscaping work done
  • The project will consist of three sectors: A financial district, a residential district and Al-Balad

JEDDAH: Jeddah Economic City — one of Saudi Arabia’s flagship megaprojects, which will include the world’s tallest tower — is nearing completion on all road construction and landscaping work, according to a senior executive on the project.

Speaking at the Urban Landscape Saudi 2021 event this week, Fady Nassim, executive head of urban planning for Jeddah Economic City, said the main goal of the 5.3-million-square-meter project is to create a habitable, economically beneficial and environmentally friendly space. “Ninety percent of the work on road construction and landscaping in the city is done,” he told delegates.

The city will consist of 210 towers that will be over 30 floors high, the centerpiece being Jeddah Tower, which will be around 1 km tall and will take over from Dubai’s Burj Khalifa as the world’s tallest building.

The project will consist of three sectors: A financial district, a residential district and Al-Balad, which will be a contemporary recreation of the old quarter of Jeddah.

Nassim said the landscaping will be done in a way that ensures plenty of green space and room for pedestrians, with less emphasis on cars and traffic.

Also speaking at the event, which was organized by the Saudi Contractors Authority, was Abdurahman Medallah, general manager for urban studies and policies at the Sharqia Development Authority.

He highlighted the fact that the rapid expansion of urban areas in the Kingdom is impacting agricultural land.

Medallah also highlighted the recently announced Saudi Green initiative, which aims to enhance rural areas and expand green areas in the Kingdom.

“Some of these targets are to increase the share of renewables, to reduce carbon emissions, to plant around 50 million trees, and to raise the percentage of protected areas to around 30 percent,” he said.


Egypt-UK trade up 8% to $722m in Q1 2021

Egypt-UK trade up 8% to $722m in Q1 2021
Updated 24 June 2021

Egypt-UK trade up 8% to $722m in Q1 2021

Egypt-UK trade up 8% to $722m in Q1 2021

CAIRO: Trade between Egypt and Britain increased 8 percent year-on-year to £519 million ($722 million) in the first quarter of 2021, said Nasser Hamed, director of the EU Administration at the Egyptian Commercial Office.

Egypt’s exports to the UK during the first quarter of 2021 amounted to about £219 million, down 1.8 percent year-on-year, while its imports from Britain amounted to about £300 million, down about 14 percent, according to the Middle East News Agency.

Hamed said British investment in Egypt amounted to about $5.3 billion, accounting for 33 percent of total European investments.

He added that Britain is the third-largest investing country in Egypt after the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Hamed said despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on exports over the last year, Egyptian food exports to Britain surged by about 76 percent to £24 million, consisting mainly of molasses, vegetable oils and fats, chocolate, vegetables, fruits, nuts and spices.

He added that with gross domestic product of about £1.9 trillion and total imports in 2020 of £493 billion, the British economy offers great potential for Egyptian exporters.

Hamed said following Brexit, the terms of the Egyptian-British partnership agreement is the same as those of the European partnership agreement, except for minor differences on issues related to quotas or export seasons for some products such as grapes and strawberries.


Catalyst Partners ready to raise more funds: CEO

Catalyst Partners ready to raise more funds: CEO
Updated 24 June 2021

Catalyst Partners ready to raise more funds: CEO

Catalyst Partners ready to raise more funds: CEO

DUBAI: Mubadala-backed fund Abu Dhabi Catalyst Partners is ready to raise more capital after investing close to $1 billion over the last 18 months, its chief executive said.

The fund was set up by Abu Dhabi state fund Mubadala and US alternative asset manager Falcon Edge Capital in 2019 with $1 billion in capital.

CEO James Munce told Reuters Catalyst Partners had so far made 21 investments with an average ticket size of $50 million, with some deals investing up to $100 million.

“The plan is to go again. I think we have gone faster than expected,” Munce said in reference to adding more capital.

No decision had been made on when or how much more capital would be committed, he said.

“My view on it is this can grow to be another $1 billion and we have $2 billion deployed over the next 18 months from here. That will be a four year-track record of a $2 billion fund and we would start to get some relevance in the region,” he said.

Catalyst Partners was set up to support the development of Abu Dhabi’s ADGM financial center, which opened in 2015, while also achieving financial returns, according to its website.

Its investments have included an American financial technology startup developing blockchain tools for banks and an Abu Dhabi-based aircraft leasing firm. 


Yemeni riyal drops as Houthis renew ban on new banknotes

Yemeni riyal drops as Houthis renew ban on new banknotes
Updated 24 June 2021

Yemeni riyal drops as Houthis renew ban on new banknotes

Yemeni riyal drops as Houthis renew ban on new banknotes
  • Economists are now warning that the Houthis will use the latest measures to snoop into exchange firms and people’s lives

ALEXANDRIA: Yemen’s currency on Thursday reached a new low after the Iran-backed Houthi militia renewed its ban on banknotes printed by the Yemeni government and banned people from moving cash from government-controlled areas to their territories, Yemeni officials and economists said.

Local currency dealers said the Yemeni riyal traded at 940 against the US dollar in the black market on Thursday compared to 930 last week, shortly after the Houthi-controlled Central Bank in Sanaa circulated an order that warned people against using new money that looks like the old banknotes available in their territories.

To evade the Houthi ban and address the shortage of cash in the market, the Aden-based Central Bank of Yemen has recently pumped into the market billions of large 1,000-riyal banknotes similar to the banknotes used by the Houthis.

Local media reported that the Houthis stepped up security at their checkpoints, searching for the new banknotes.

On Thursday, Hamed Rezq, a journalist loyal to the Houthis, accused the US of launching an economic war on the Yemeni economy by allowing printing and circulating new banknotes.

“This is part of the US economic war on Yemen after Washington ran out of military options and (its) deception and political pressures have failed,” he tweeted. 
In December 2019, the Houthis banned the use of banknotes printed by the legitimate and internationally recognized government, giving residents a month to hand over their cash or face punishment.

The Houthi decision sparked outrage across Yemen, pushed up transfer charges from government-controlled areas to Houthi-ruled areas, and led to a halt in the payment of salaries to thousands of public servants.

Travelers from government-controlled areas to Sanaa told Arab News that they were forced into buying Saudi riyals or exchanging the new banknotes with old ones at inflated prices.

Economists are now warning that the Houthis will use the latest measures to snoop into exchange firms and people’s lives.

“This step will allow the Houthi group to interfere more in the work of banks, exchange companies and even ordinary citizens. Using its security grip, the group will find a justification for confiscating money and interfering in people's privacy in search of ‘fake currency’ as it describes it,” Mustafa Nasr, director of the Economic Media Center, said.

He added that the current economic war between the legitimate government and the Houthis would have implications on the country’s troubled economy and people’s lives.

Nasr also criticized the Yemeni government for printing money without coverage and its loose grip on the exchange market in the liberated provinces.

“The injection of the new cash by the Central Bank aggravates the problem in terms of inflation and it weakens the currency,” he said, advising the government to increase revenues and curb speculative activities by local money dealers in areas under its control.

“The fall of the riyal in areas under the control of the legitimate government is caused by currency speculation and corruption, not due to a real demand for currency,” Nasr said.


Saudi bourse’s 2020 net profit surged ahead of listing

Saudi bourse’s 2020 net profit surged ahead of listing
Updated 24 June 2021

Saudi bourse’s 2020 net profit surged ahead of listing

Saudi bourse’s 2020 net profit surged ahead of listing
  • Net profit rose 227 percent in 2020 from a year earlier

DUBAI: Saudi Tadawul Group, the owner and operator of the country’s stock market, said its net profit rose 227 percent in 2020 from a year earlier, while revenue more than doubled with a boost from trading commissions.
It posted a profit after zakat or Islamic tax of 500.5 million riyals ($133.5 million), it said in a statement.
Unlisted Tadawul gave a peak of its earnings ahead of a planned initial public offering later this year that will allow it to expand and strengthen its position globally.
Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange has converted itself into a holding company ahead of the listing.
Tadawul is the ninth largest exchange in the world in terms of market capitalization which stood at around $2.6 trillion, partly boosted by the listing oil giant Saudi Aramco in 2019.