UK fintechs seek ‘cure for Brexit’ in Lithuania

UK fintechs seek ‘cure for Brexit’ in Lithuania
The Baltic eurozone state with a population about a third the size of London is now leading the EU in fintech with over 230 companies, according to the Invest Lithuania government agency. (AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2021

UK fintechs seek ‘cure for Brexit’ in Lithuania

UK fintechs seek ‘cure for Brexit’ in Lithuania
  • One of the first to come after the 2016 Brexit referendum was London-based Revolut bank
  • Invest Lithuania estimates that the sector employs more than 4,000 people in the country

VILNIUS: Thanks in part to Brexit, Lithuania is becoming a fintech hub as a growing number of UK-linked digital financial companies are getting licenses there so they can continue to operate in the European Union.
The Baltic eurozone state with a population about a third the size of London is now leading the EU in fintech with over 230 companies, according to the Invest Lithuania government agency.
Some two dozen have links to Britain.
One of the first to come after the 2016 Brexit referendum was London-based Revolut bank.
“Lithuania is currently a hub for our European operations after Brexit,” Virgilijus Mirkes, CEO of Revolut Bank in Lithuania, told AFP.
“We opened our Vilnius office in 2017 after considering the fintech-friendly business environment,” he said, pointing to a speedy licencing process and good local talent.
Invest Lithuania estimates that the sector employs more than 4,000 people in the country — an increase of more than 18 percent in the past year.
“During the Brexit transition period, fintech companies began to search for an alternative EU harbor and thus Lithuania has become one of their primary options,” said Jekaterina Govina, a senior official in charge of supervision at Lithuania’s central bank.

Lithuania says it can process license applications in as little as three months, more quickly than anyone else in the EU.
The central bank has granted a total of 118 fintech licenses allowing companies to operate anywhere in the EU — far higher than Germany with 77 licenses and France with 76, according to a report from Invest Lithuania.
Britain is still first by far with 610 licenses.
Lithuania’s central bank has also set up a “regulatory sandbox” — a framework to allow fintech companies to test out innovations.
“That was a lighthouse for companies searching for a cure for Brexit,” Govina said.
While the capital Vilnius does not offer the big city attractions of London and getting there is tricky at the moment because of coronavirus restrictions, Internet speeds in Lithuania are good and it has a tech-savvy workforce.
Revolut employs some 200 people in the country, including in product development and customer support, and Mirkes said the company would “continue to scale (up) our operations here.”
Revolut started its operations in Vilnius in a gleaming glass-fronted office hub called Rockit, which is funded by Swedbank and provides workspace and industry events for some 30 member companies.
“Our hub helps to create a fintech community where foreign companies can easily find local partners,” Rockit CEO Sarune Smalakyte told AFP during a recent visit to the space.
But the push into fintech also comes with risks.
Sergejus Muravjovas, CEO of Transparency International Lithuania, said “the ambition to become a fintech center comes with a responsibility to take money laundering prevention to a new level.
“There is a need for a firmer and more data-driven approach from monitoring the institutions involved,” he told AFP.
Govina said the authorities were “fully aware” of their responsibilities as a license in the Baltic state opens the gates to the entire EU market.
Another company that has recently set up in Lithuania is London-based DiPocket Group, which has developed an e-money wallet app.
“Brexit was definitely the trigger event,” said DiPocket CEO and co-founder Fedele Di Maggio.
He said he found the central bank “both strict and supportive” and described the local workforce as “generally English-speaking and with reasonable financial expectations.”


Renewables set to grow far faster than oil sector

Renewables set to grow far faster than oil sector
Updated 3 min 21 sec ago

Renewables set to grow far faster than oil sector

Renewables set to grow far faster than oil sector
  • Models show renewables meeting 74% of total energy demand by 2050

OSLO: Renewable energy will account for a far larger share of global supply in 2050 than major oil companies or the International Energy Agency (IEA) expect, Oslo-based consultancy Rystad Energy said on Thursday.
Its updated models show renewables meeting 74 percent of total energy demand by 2050, compared to 43 percent, 45 percent and 69 percent in the most aggressive scenarios from energy firms Equinor, Shell and BP.
The IEA expects renewables to account for 35 percent of the market by 2040.
The renewed commitment to the Paris climate agreement by the US this year, the growing number of countries with net zero carbon emissions targets for 2050 and renewable technology development have changed the energy landscape, Rystad CEO Jarand Rystad told an online conference on Thursday.
“All previous assessments have to be scrapped and we need to look at it with completely new eyes,” he said.
Rystad Energy sees the sales of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) rising to 64 million by 2030, compared with oil company scenarios ranging from 22 million to 38 million and an IEA estimate of 30 million.
Rising renewable energy output amid falling costs and increasing efficiency of solar panels and wind turbines, as well as sales of electric vehicles have also hastened predictions for peak demand for oil and gas.
Rystad Energy said last month it expected global oil demand to peak at 101.6 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2026, versus a forecast made in November for a peak in 2028 at 102.2 million bpd.
With an increasing share of energy being produced by solar and wind power, the global energy trade, dominated by the fossil fuels today, is going to shrink significantly, it predicts.
“We are going to de-globalize the energy market with the new technologies,” Rystad said at Thursday’s conference.


Saudi public debt up 5.6% to $240.4bn in Q1 2021

Saudi public debt increased about 5.6 percent during the first quarter of this year nearly amounting to SR901.4 billion ($240.4 billion). (Shutterstock)
Saudi public debt increased about 5.6 percent during the first quarter of this year nearly amounting to SR901.4 billion ($240.4 billion). (Shutterstock)
Updated 06 May 2021

Saudi public debt up 5.6% to $240.4bn in Q1 2021

Saudi public debt increased about 5.6 percent during the first quarter of this year nearly amounting to SR901.4 billion ($240.4 billion). (Shutterstock)
  • he debt grew by 24.6 percent compared to the same period in 2020, which amounted to SR723.46 billion

RIYADH: Saudi public debt increased about 5.6 percent during the first quarter of this year nearly amounting to SR901.4 billion ($240.4 billion), compared to the end of the fourth quarter of last year.

This recorded the fastest growth rate since the second quarter of last year, which was caused by the pandemic repercussions, Al Eqtisadiah reported.

The debt grew by 24.6 percent compared to the same period in 2020, which amounted to SR723.46 billion.

About 57 percent of the debt comes from internal debt nearly amounting to SR513.74 billion, while the external debt amounted to about SR387.63 billion, Al Eqtisadiah reported citing data of the Ministry of Finance.

The volume of debt to GDP increased to 35.6 percent at the end of the first quarter of this year compared to the end of last year at 32.3 percent, based on the GDP at constant prices.  

The rise in the debt comes despite the budget recording its lowest deficit for the first quarter of this year since the third quarter of 2018 at SR7.44 billion, due to the 9 percent decline in oil revenues on an annual basis, despite the growth of non-oil revenues.

Saudi Arabia was able to raise funds to pay its deficit by about SR29.55 billion, which exceeds the actual deficit for the first quarter, as it intends to use the rest of the funding to pay the deficit for the remainder of the year. 

Saudi Arabia is trying to take advantage of the lower interest rates in the debt markets.

The Ministry of Finance previously estimated that this year's public debt reaches SR937 billion, as the Corona crisis increased the target level of public debt.


Occupancy rate of Makkah hotels sees over 30% rise in second half of Ramadan

Saudis and expatriates used to spend the last 10 days of the holy month in Makkah for worship, but many of them put the habit on hold since the pandemic started. (Shutterstock)
Saudis and expatriates used to spend the last 10 days of the holy month in Makkah for worship, but many of them put the habit on hold since the pandemic started. (Shutterstock)
Updated 06 May 2021

Occupancy rate of Makkah hotels sees over 30% rise in second half of Ramadan

Saudis and expatriates used to spend the last 10 days of the holy month in Makkah for worship, but many of them put the habit on hold since the pandemic started. (Shutterstock)
  • Makkah is the main artery of hotels in Saudi Arabia, alone accounting for more than 64 percent of the sector

JEDDAH/MAKKAH: The occupancy rate at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan varied between 10 and 20 percent, while in the second half it rose to 30-38 percent, Rayan bin Osama Filali, chairman of the Hotel Committee, an affiliate of the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry told Arab News.

Filali explained that for the first time, a relatively mild increase in the prices during the last days of Ramadan was witnessed — an unprecedented occurrence, as prices often increase by 300 percent during the last 10 days of Ramadan, compared with the rest days of the month.

“The size and impact of the pandemic caused the cancellation of offers promoted by hotels in the last 10 days of Ramadan,” Filali noted. The fact that only a small percentage of hotels was able to operate “showed the extent of the damage to the sector due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which disrupted the entire system, causing losses that are likely to cast a shadow for years to come.”

The chairman of the Hotel Committee said that the pandemic had directly disrupted much of the hotel sector’s dynamism, as it is one of the most productive, stimulating and job-creating market sectors.

He also said that only 26 hotels in Makkah’s central region are operating this Ramadan season with average prices dropping by 55 percent.

Makkah is the main artery of hotels in Saudi Arabia, alone accounting for more than 64 percent of the sector, which, according to Filali, needs at least four years to recover from the present crisis.

He also noted that the economic implications on the 1,200 hotels were extreme and that most hotels suspended their activities completely, closing their facilities and sending thousands of workers home.

“These workers are still waiting for hotels to open their doors after the end of the pandemic or the completion of the inoculation campaign of the entire community,” he added.

According to Filali, the hotel sector generates huge financial returns for all the countries of the world, and the holy capital depends mainly on the permanence of an industry that creates thousands of jobs annually.

Filali remarked that the sector was awaiting a major expansionary boom but that the virus threatened the industry despite the efforts of the Saudi leadership to maintain the salaries of its employees for several months with the unemployment insurance program “Saned.”

“The lack of demand on bookings and the high operating volume and cost of food have paralyzed the tourism sector, which has led many hotels to suspend their operations until the pandemic ends,” said Filali.

READ MORE

Hotels surrounding the courtyards of the Grand Mosque in Makkah were on Tuesday authorized to issue Umrah permits to guests during Ramadan as part of an initiative to help revive the holy city’s struggling hospitality sector. Click here for more.

Bassam Khanfar, general manager of the Shaza Makkah Hotel, told Arab News that over 17,000 rooms remained vacant due to the pandemic.

He said that a gradual resumption of operations and purchasing power must be taken into account so that the sector can recover with the least possible losses.

He noted out that the average price of a room in the first 20 days of Ramadan was SR 1,300, increasing to an average of SR 1,900 in the last 10 days of the holy month.

Khanfar’s hotel offered a discount of 50 percent to health practitioners in recognition of their great efforts in fighting the virus — efforts echoed in the performance of the Kingdom as a whole in addressing the pandemic.

Saudis and expatriates used to spend the last 10 days of the holy month in Makkah for worship, but many of them put the habit on hold since the pandemic started.

Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, a Jeddah cafe owner, told Arab News: “Before the pandemic, I was keen to perform Umrah in the last 10 days of every Ramadan, especially on the 27th night, which is when Laylat Al-Qadr (Night of Power) is believed to have occurred.”

He added that the Grand Mosque normally would see hundreds of thousands of worshippers during the last 10 days of Ramadan, in pre-COVID-19 times.

“Unluckily, I can’t perform Umrah this time because I have not yet received the first dose of the vaccine despite my attempts to get vaccinated. But it’s to be expected, as millions are trying to register for the vaccine,” he said.

Al-Ghamdi’s friend, retired army officer Salem bin Saleh, said he was lucky to get the first doses and is planning to perform Umrah in the few coming days.

“Performing Umrah in the last 10 days of Ramadan has been one of my habits for over 30 years,” Saleh told Arab News.

He said that performing Umrah in Ramadan is equal in reward to performing Hajj, as Prophet Muhammad said.

“The feeling you get during and after performing Umrah in Ramadan is indescribable,” Saleh added.


Saudi AC distributor sees 30.5% increase in Q1 revenue

According to a report by research company Euromonitor, the Saudi AC market is set to grow by 2 percent in the next two years. (Shutterstock)
According to a report by research company Euromonitor, the Saudi AC market is set to grow by 2 percent in the next two years. (Shutterstock)
Updated 06 May 2021

Saudi AC distributor sees 30.5% increase in Q1 revenue

According to a report by research company Euromonitor, the Saudi AC market is set to grow by 2 percent in the next two years. (Shutterstock)
  • The quarterly rebound is in contrast to a net loss of SR3.3 million in the same period last year

RIYADH: Al Hassan Ghazi Ibrahim Shaker Co. (Shaker), a Saudi importer, manufacturer and distributor of air conditioners (ACs) and home appliances, has reported that revenue in the first three months of 2021 grew 30.5 percent year-on-year to SR288.3 million ($76.88 million), resulting in a net profit of SR4.5 million for the quarter.

The quarterly rebound is in contrast to a net loss of SR3.3 million in the same period last year.

Mohammed Ibrahim Abunayyan, CEO of Shaker, said in a press statement: “During the first quarter our team continued to demonstrate flexibility to operate in a challenging environment and deliver strong sales and earnings. At the beginning of the year, we rolled out our 2021-2023 strategy and we are pleased to already see the results of our growth plan.

“We continue to expand our footprint in our core segments – ACs and home appliances – by growing our portfolio and seeking new opportunities in the market. In the first quarter we welcomed Panasonic, a brand with which we have now entered the TV category. Meanwhile, we have pursued opportunities emerging from the government’s commitment to megaprojects across the Kingdom, and this is an area we will continue to place significant emphasis on.”

The company has also embraced new manufacturing techniques, such as robotics and artificial intelligence, at its LG-Shaker manufacturing facility in Riyadh, which has helped to increase production speed and accuracy and reduce sots, he added.

According to a report by research company Euromonitor, the Saudi AC market is set to grow by 2 percent in the next two years, while the home appliances market is expected to grow by 3 percent over the next three years

Growth will also be supported by government energy-efficiency programs including the Saudi Energy Efficiency Center’s high-efficiency AC initiative, and Tarsheed, the government’s National Energy Services Company.

Shaker also sees potential growth due to the launch of megaprojects such as NEOM and the Red Sea Project.


Bahrain’s Investcorp targets larger North American deals

Bahrain’s Investcorp targets larger North American deals
Updated 06 May 2021

Bahrain’s Investcorp targets larger North American deals

Bahrain’s Investcorp targets larger North American deals
  • Investcorp is the region's largest private equity and alternative asset manager
  • Investcorp plan to increase assets under management to $50 billion

RIYADH: Investcorp Holdings BSC is targeting larger private equity deals in North America as it seeks to boost assets under management to $50 billion, Bloomberg reported.

The biggest private equity and alternative asset manager in the Middle East sees buyouts in that region representing one of its best avenues to growth, David Tayeh, head of North America private equity, said in an interview.

The firm is also looking at more co-investments as a way of participating in bigger deals, he said.

“We want to grow our capacity to invest and broaden the top of the funnel of investments that we can look at from a size perspective,” said Tayeh. “At the moment there are deals that we really like that we don’t pursue because they’re outside our size range.”

Investcorp, which counts Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Development Co. as a major investor, outlined a plan to double its assets under management from about $25 billion in 2018 within seven years. It is targeting a combination of acquisitions and boosting its existing private equity, real estate and alternative investments units.