KSA’s Alhokair eyes 57 new F&B outlets, 50 more retail stores

Saudi retail conglomerate Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Co. (Alhokair) is moving forward with an ambitious expansion plan. (Supplied)
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Saudi retail conglomerate Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Co. (Alhokair) is moving forward with an ambitious expansion plan. (Supplied)
Saudi retail conglomerate Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Co. (Alhokair) is moving forward with an ambitious expansion plan. (Supplied)
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Saudi retail conglomerate Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Co. (Alhokair) is moving forward with an ambitious expansion plan. (Supplied)
Saudi retail conglomerate Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Co. (Alhokair) is moving forward with an ambitious expansion plan. (Supplied)
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Saudi retail conglomerate Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Co. (Alhokair) is moving forward with an ambitious expansion plan. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 March 2021

KSA’s Alhokair eyes 57 new F&B outlets, 50 more retail stores

Saudi retail conglomerate Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Co. (Alhokair) is moving forward with an ambitious expansion plan. (Supplied)
  • Group aiming to open around 57 food and beverage outlets in next 12 to 16 months, at least another 50 retail stores

DUBAI: Saudi retail conglomerate Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Co. (Alhokair) is moving forward with an ambitious expansion plan, aiming to open around 57 food and beverage outlets in the next 12 to 16 months, and at least another 50 retail stores in the fashion, cosmetics, beauty and sports sectors, the company’s CEO told Arab News.

“We are always exploring every interesting brand that has a future potential, ‘omni-chanellable,’ ‘Instagramable,’ and has a potential in the Saudi market,” Marwan Moukarzel, CEO of Alhokair, told Arab News, adding that he aims to add another two or three international brands in the coming weeks.

During the last 12 months, Alhokair added brands like Kiko in the cosmetics space and Decathlon in sports and leisure space. The first Decathlon store in Saudi Arabia will be a 3500 square meter store at the Mall of Arabia in Jeddah.

With their financial year starting in April, Moukarzel said it will be a year focused on getting back to normal, “slowly but surely” after the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Marwan Moukarzel, CEO of Alhokair, confidently told Arab News that in-store shopping is not going anywhere and remains a healthy business sector for the company, despite the events of the last year. Click here for more.

“With Ramadan around the corner and restrictions lifted recently, we can only be optimistic about the future,” he added. “It would be interesting to see how fast the market goes back to normal,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia was set for “an amazing growth story.”

Alhokair acquired the Saudi rights for ten international F&B brands from Food and Entertainment Company Ltd. for SR340 million ($90.67 million) over a year ago. “This gives us a new angle to the business and diversifies our focus…. We are also looking at adding more F&B exciting concepts into our portfolio,” he added.

Alhokair is also moving into the digital sector and announced earlier this month it had partnered with shopping center operator Arabian Centers Company (ACC) to acquire a majority stake in UK-based e-commerce platform Vogacloset, in a deal worth SR68.85 million.

Its online business has seen strong growth and in its full year report for 2020, it reported a 311 percent surge in online activity in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the fourth quarter of 2020.

Formed in 1990, Alhokair operates 1,580 stores across around 100 shopping malls in 13 countries, employing more than 10,000 people and representing 81 brands, spanning womenswear, menswear, kids and baby, department stores, shoes and accessories, cosmetics and coffee shops.


Musk tweets, doge leaps and bitcoin retreats

Musk tweets, doge leaps and bitcoin retreats
Updated 12 min 51 sec ago

Musk tweets, doge leaps and bitcoin retreats

Musk tweets, doge leaps and bitcoin retreats
  • Markets have gyrated to Musk tweets for months since his interest in dogecoin sparked a hundred-fold rally

SINGAPORE: Bitcoin was pinned near its lowest in more than two months on Friday and headed for its worst week since February, while dogecoin leapt by a fifth as tweets from Tesla boss Elon Musk sent the two cryptocurrencies on a wild ride.
Markets have gyrated to Musk tweets for months since his interest in dogecoin sparked a hundred-fold rally in the previously ignored token’s value this year, while Tesla’s $1.5 billion bitcoin purchase helped it break past $50,000 in February.
Yet in an equally surprising U-turn he dented the world’s biggest cryptocurrency this week after announcing Tesla stopped accepting bitcoin in payment owing to environmental concerns, making investors uneasy about Musk’s influence on crypto prices.
Bitcoin is down nearly 15 percent this week at $49,804.
Dogecoin is down about a third since last Friday, having tumbled after Musk referred to it as a “hustle” on Saturday Night Live. It then jumped 20 percent after his latest comments that he was involved in work to improve its efficiency.
“Working with Doge devs to improve system transaction efficiency. Potentially promising,” Musk said on Twitter, vaulting dogecoin from about $0.43 to $0.52 on the Binance exchange.
It was unclear if Musk was referring to efficiency in terms of energy use, ease of use or suitability as a currency, said Mark Humphery-Jenner, an associate professor of finance at the University of New South Wales business school in Sydney.
Dogecoin consumes 0.12 kilowatt hours of electricity per transaction compared with 707 for bitcoin, according to data center provider TRG, but it is near impossible to use it to buy anything.
Almost worthless in late 2020, dogecoin is the latest darling of a frenzy gripping crypto markets that began last year as institutional investors announced big bitcoin purchases.
It has surged to become the fourth-largest cryptocurrency by market cap, according to CoinMarketCap.com. Second-biggest cryptocurrency ether has also soared more than 400 percent this year. It last sat at $3,865, steady for the week so far.
The huge moves have begun to attract regulatory scrutiny, and a Bloomberg report on Thursday which said major exchange Binance was under Justice Department investigation in the US added to some of the price pressure on cryptos this week.
Musk’s tweets and the market’s response may also invite attention, said Edward Moya, an analyst at brokarage OANDA.
“Tesla is drawing tremendous scrutiny for Musk’s cheerleading of Bitcoin,” he said. “If Tesla unveils a bet on dogecoin, regulators may have their eyes on Musk.”
Others, however, say the market might be more comparable to an old fashioned bubble.
“Dogecoin remains a lesson in greater fool theory,” said David Kimberley, analyst at investing app Freetrade, which posits that buying overpriced assets can be profitable, so long as there is a “greater fool” to buy them at ever higher prices.
“It’s being pumped by people that want to get rich quick (and Elon Musk),” he said.


Egypt’s road building drive eases jams but leaves some unhappy

Egypt’s road building drive eases jams but leaves some unhappy
Updated 34 min 56 sec ago

Egypt’s road building drive eases jams but leaves some unhappy

Egypt’s road building drive eases jams but leaves some unhappy
  • Infrastructure push aims to galvanize economy
  • Experts say structural economic problems remain

CAIRO: At weekends, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is often driven out to a road construction site in Cairo where he is pictured surveying stretches of recently poured asphalt and being briefed by workers.
The highways and bridges he inspects are the most visible part of a big infrastructure push meant to galvanize Egypt’s economy after decades of rapid population growth and unplanned building.
Led by the government and the military, it includes several new cities and one million low-cost homes and has helped pull Egypt through the economic shock of the pandemic and remain in growth last year.
But there is a cost. Some of those displaced by new roads are unhappy at losing their homes, others at seeing their neighborhoods suddenly transformed. Analysts question how much difference the infrastructure boom can make while structural economic problems persist.
One area of intense activity is eastern Cairo, where new roads and bridges scythe through the urban sprawl toward a futuristic capital under construction in the desert and due to open this year.
In the Ezbet el-Hagana neighborhood, drilling machines and diggers are laying out an intersection that cuts through cheap, informal housing, of which hundreds of units have been demolished to make way for the road.
When El-Sisi visited in February, he met ministers in front of unpainted brick housing blocks and discussed how half Egypt’s population of 100 million lived in similar conditions. Afterwards, El-Sisi announced it would be renamed “Hope City.”
But residents of Ezbet el-Hagana, many of whom moved from rural areas and built apartments and livelihoods, say they worry about the uncertainty.
Ali Abdelrehim, a 52-year-old father of four, said his house was not at immediate risk but others might suffer if authorities carry out the president’s suggestion to widen the area’s narrow streets.
“These changes worry people,” he said, adding that business at his carpentry shop has slowed to a trickle as people stop work on homes that risk demolition.
Hosni Ali, a 34-year-old selling tomatoes from a donkey cart, said a storage room he rented was demolished because of the new roadworks. “Everyone here is scared ... everything is on hold,” he said.
Across eastern Cairo and beyond, long-delayed road projects are racing ahead. As much as 1.1 trillion Egypt pounds ($70 billion) will be spent on transport in the decade to 2024, one third of that on roads and bridges, the transport minister has said.
Officials present the road building as part of efforts to develop informal areas across Egypt, connecting them to transport networks and basic services. They say those displaced will be compensated or resettled.
Some of those moved from Ezbet el-Hagana have been allocated furnished housing in Ahlina, a new district on Cairo’s outskirts with a youth center and playgrounds, and residents say conditions are good. But they have to pay rent and some have lost access to work.
“The problem is money, and life is expensive,” said 75-year-old pensioner Sabri Abdo, whose son is a motor rickshaw driver. “Before this I lived in my own property and didn’t pay rent. No one knows my son here, so things aren’t working for him like they were over there.”
The east Cairo governor’s office, which oversees the area, was not available for comment.
The road building surge – social media posts dub Egypt “the republic of roads and bridges” – has triggered disquiet for other reasons.
Bridge and road building near the pyramids, around Cairo’s “cities of the dead” where people live among old family tombs, and in the genteel neighborhood of Heliopolis, has alarmed conservationists.
Commuting in and out of Heliopolis has become quicker but the character of the neighborhood had changed for residents, said Choucri Asmar, head of volunteer group Heliopolis Heritage Foundation.
“They cannot walk in the street anymore, they can’t cross the street anymore, they cannot see trees from their balconies every afternoon with the birds,” he said.
Asked for a response to complaints about the road and bridge program on TV earlier this year, El-Sisi said no sector – including health, education, agriculture and manufacturing – was neglected.
“We need to do this so we can make people’s lives easier, so we can reduce the amount of lost time, people’s stress and the fuel being used causing more pollution,” he said.
A World Bank study in 2014 estimated the costs of congestion in greater Cairo at 3.6 percent of Egypt’s gross domestic product, far higher than some other big cities – though it warned that building more roads and bridges would not solve the problem.
While tens of billions of dollars are being spent on roads in eastern Cairo, the new capital in the desert and a summer capital on the north coast at El Alamein, roads elsewhere are often under-maintained, mass transit limited and public services patchy.
Like other motorists, Hesham Abu Aya, a 51-year-old taxi driver with three daughters, said new roads had eased the traffic crisis but he had to pay 7,500 Egyptian pounds ($480) to fix his car after hitting a pothole.
“If I want the state to spend on something other than bridges and roads, it would be health care,” he said.
Egypt suffers from lack of research and development and barriers to private sector expansion, said Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center. “Behind all the investment in real estate or in infrastructure, there’s very little investment in the rest of the productive economy.”
Those with a record in the sector tend to get contracts from military and other state agencies directing the infrastructure drive and can secure financing from banks, said Shams Eldin Yousef, Chairman of Al-Shams Contracting Company and a board member of Egypt’s construction federation.
His company has picked up business through the road projects but he wonders how long the boom will last.
“If a wheel that is moving at this speed and on this scale stops, it will be a problem,” he said.


Turkey’s Karpowership says it is shutting down power to Lebanon

Turkey’s Karpowership says it is shutting down power to Lebanon
Updated 4 min 53 sec ago

Turkey’s Karpowership says it is shutting down power to Lebanon

Turkey’s Karpowership says it is shutting down power to Lebanon
  • The company provides electricity to Lebanon from two barges
  • Move piles fresh pressure on the battered economy

BEIRUT/ISTANBUL: Turkey’s Karpowership, which provides electricity to Lebanon from two barges, said on Friday it was shutting down supplies over payment arrears and a legal threat to its vessels amid the country’s economic crisis.
The company, which supplies 370 megawatts (MW), or about a quarter of Lebanon’s supply, had told the government this week it would have to shut down in the absence of moves toward a settlement.
The shutdown threatens longer daily power cuts across the heavily indebted nation, which did not have enough capacity to meet demand even before Karpowership’s move on Friday.
Many people rely on private generators or struggle for several hours a day without power.
In a statement, the company, a unit of Kardeniz, said it was shutting down supplies on Friday. A source familiar with the situation said the step was taken at about 8 a.m. (0500 GMT), as the vessels’ fuel had been running down.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said arrears exceeded $100 million, and added that the government had not reached out for talks or to try and resolve a legal case, despite the firm’s repeated appeals meant to avert a shutdown.
Lebanon’s Finance Ministry said it had been notified by the Turkish firm and cited a lawmaker saying that the country could face “total darkness” in case of a shut-off. It has made no public statement about any talks.
A Lebanese prosecutor threatened this month to seize the barges and fine the firm after Lebanese TV channel Al-Jadeed reported corruption accusations over the power contract.
The firm denies the charges.
At the weekend, it said it had not been paid for 18 months, a period coinciding with the financial crunch, and added that it sought a “reasonable solution” to maintain generation.
Each of its barges has capacity of 202 MW, against a contract to supply a total of 370 MW.
An industry source said Lebanon’s total capacity was about 2,200 MW, including the barges, but was only generating a total of 1,300 MW, including the Turkish supplies of 370 MW. Lebanon’s peak demand in 2020 was 3,500 MW, the source said.

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Oil extends loss on India COVID-19 cases, US pipeline restart

Oil extends loss on India COVID-19 cases, US pipeline restart
Updated 14 May 2021

Oil extends loss on India COVID-19 cases, US pipeline restart

Oil extends loss on India COVID-19 cases, US pipeline restart
  • Raising rates typically boosts the US dollar, which in turn pressures oil prices because it makes crude more expensive for holders of other currencies

SINGAPORE: Oil prices fell on Friday after dropping about 3 percent a day earlier as coronavirus cases remained high in major oil consumer India and as a key fuel pipeline in the United States resumed operations after being shut due to a cyberattack.
Brent crude oil futures were down 10 cents, or 0.2 percent, at $66.95 a barrel by 0518 GMT, while West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was down three cents, or 0.1 percent, at $63.79 a barrel. Both prices are heading for their first weekly loss in three weeks.
“The commodity super cycle rally just hit a hard stop and the energy market doesn’t know what to make of Wall Street’s fixation over inflation and the slow flattening of the curve in India,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA. India is the world’s third biggest oil consumer.
“The crude demand story is still upbeat for the second half of the year and that should prevent any significant dips in oil prices,” he added.
Prices came under pressure as a broader surge in commodity prices and stronger-than-expected US consumer prices data this week stoked inflation concerns that could force the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates.
Raising rates typically boosts the US dollar, which in turn pressures oil prices because it makes crude more expensive for holders of other currencies.
India on Friday reported 343,144 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, taking its overall caseload past the 24 million mark, while deaths from COVID-19 rose by 4,000.
In the United States, President Joe Biden reassured motorists that fuel supplies should start returning to normal this weekend, even as more filling stations ran out of gasoline across the Southeast nearly a week after a cyberattack on the nation’s top fuel pipeline.
Colonial Pipeline said late on Thursday it had restarted its entire pipeline system and had begun deliveries in all of its markets.
Traders were also watching the situation in the Middle East after Israel fired artillery and mounted more air strikes on Friday against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip amid constant rocket fire deep into Israel’s commercial center.


Bitcoin drops after report Binance under US probe, Tesla move

Bitcoin drops after report Binance under US probe, Tesla move
Updated 14 May 2021

Bitcoin drops after report Binance under US probe, Tesla move

Bitcoin drops after report Binance under US probe, Tesla move
  • Bitcoin dropped to $45,700, the lowest since March 1, then steadied at $49,312 in Asia morning trade on Friday
  • The world’s largest cryptocurrency fell 17 percent on Wednesday following Elon Musk’s remarks

NEW YORK/LONDON/TOKYO: Bitcoin slid to a 2-1/2-month low on Thursday after a regulatory probe into crypto exchange Binance added to pressure from Tesla Inc. chief Elon Musk’s reversing his stance on accepting the digital currency.
Bloomberg reported on Thursday that as part of the Binance inquiry, the US Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service have sought information from individuals with insight into its business.
Bitcoin dropped to $45,700, the lowest since March 1, then steadied at $49,312 in Asia morning trade on Friday.
The world’s largest cryptocurrency fell 17 percent on Wednesday following Musk’s remarks that Tesla would stop accepting the digital token as payment for its electric cars for environmental reasons.
“Environmental matters are an incredibly sensitive subject right now, and Tesla’s move might serve as a wake-up call to businesses and consumers using bitcoin, who hadn’t hitherto considered its carbon footprint,” Laith Khalaf, an analyst at AJ Bell, said.
Bitcoin remains about 70 percent higher for the year and is more than 1,000 percent higher than its 2020 low of $3,850.
Binance did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Binance spokeswoman told Bloomberg that the company doesn’t comment on specific inquiries but takes its legal obligations seriously and engages with regulators in a collaborative fashion.
Ethereum, the second-largest cryptocurrency, dropped to a session low of $3,543.62 and last changed hands at $3,656, down about 4 percent. On Wednesday, ethereum hit a record high of $4,380.64.
Tesla’s announcement on Feb. 8 that it had bought $1.5 billion of bitcoin and would accept it as payment for its electric vehicles has been one factor behind the digital currency’s surge this year.
Musk has faced pressure over bitcoin’s environmental impact. The cryptocurrency relies on computers competing to solve elaborate math problems, which use huge amounts of electricity.
“We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel,” Musk tweeted.
Musk’s comments roiled markets even though he said Tesla would not sell any bitcoin and would resume accepting it as soon as “mining” for it transitioned to more sustainable energy.
In a second tweet on Thursday, Musk denounced the “insane” amount of energy used to produce bitcoin, which pushed bitcoin lower.
Jeffrey Wang, Vancouver-based head of Americas at Amber Group, a cryptocurrency service provider, said broader selling of risk assets in traditional markets was another factor behind Wednesday’s bitcoin plunge.
“I don’t think everything is selling off just because of this news. This was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of adding to the risk sell-off,” Wang said.
Bitcoin has struggled since hitting a record $64,895.22 in mid-April, dropping to the cusp of $47,000 just 11 days later before hovering around $58,000 since the start of May.

Environmental concerns
At current rates, bitcoin mining devours about the same amount of energy annually as the Netherlands did in 2019, data from the University of Cambridge and the International Energy Agency showed.
Tesla shares were down 2.4 percent, while the biggest US cryptocurrency exchange, Coinbase, tumbled nearly 9 percent. Smaller cryptocurrencies were less affected by the news.
“The reason given in the tweet is fossil fuel use for the mining of BTC, but most cryptocurrencies have already found more efficient ways to do that and therefore outperformed.”
Cryptocurrency dogecoin lost more than a third of its price on Sunday after Musk, whose tweets had stoked demand for the token earlier this year, called it a “hustle” on the “Saturday Night Live” comedy show.
By Tuesday, however, he was asking his followers on Twitter if they wanted Tesla to accept dogecoin and it jumped on Friday in Asia after Musk tweeted about it again and said he was working on improvements to its transaction systems.
Dogecoin rose 20 percent to 52 cents on Friday according to Binance and last traded at $0.4825.