Saudi cinema chain announces $218.6m expansion plan

Saudi cinema chain announces $218.6m expansion plan
MUVI Cinemas intends to grow to 307 screens nationwide over the next 12 months. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 April 2021

Saudi cinema chain announces $218.6m expansion plan

Saudi cinema chain announces $218.6m expansion plan
  • Despite COVID-19 restriction challenges, in January MUVI opened KSA’s first drive-in cinema

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s first home-grown cinema chain announced on Sunday a SR820 million ($218.6 million) expansion plan for 2021.

MUVI Cinemas intends to grow to 307 screens nationwide over the next 12 months, launching 23 new sites in eight key Saudi regions, adding 204 screens and 22,872 seats to its portfolio. The planned expansion will bring the brand’s total number of seats to over 35,000.

The expansion will initially see nine new sites in Riyadh, seven in Jeddah, and two each in Taif, Alkhobar, Khamis Mushait and Al-Kharj. The cities of Buraidah and Uniazah will soon welcome their first-ever MUVI locations.

CEO Sultan Alhokair said the company’s plan for 2021 “far exceeds” its original goals for the year.

“After seeing the potential opportunities across the Kingdom, and in light of the strong box office growth and market share obtained, we’re now confidently in a position to inaugurate 23 new locations — all of which will feature the world’s most cutting-edge cinema technologies,” he added.

The expansion comes after the brand reported a “successful” 2020, which saw the addition of eight new multiplexes.

The statement from MUVI also revealed plans for eight additional locations currently in their design phase, slated to open in 2023 and 2024. These future plans put the company on track to exceed 600 screens by the end of 2024.

“This is a total investment of SR2.3 billion which will generate more than 5,000 career opportunities for Saudi nationals,” it said.

MUVI’s 2021 expansion follows a strategic partnership announced in December with Telfaz11, a Riyadh-based digital-media studio that develops and produces Arabic-language content primarily for audiences in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Through the partnership, MUVI will provide its cinema platforms to Telfaz11’s local content creators. Telfaz11, in turn, will offer its creative services to MUVI as the company expands.

MUVI also forged a partnership last year with MENA film distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment, forming a new company called Front Row Arabia that will increase distribution of Western, Arabic-language and Japanese anime content across the Kingdom.

Despite challenges from the coronavirus pandemic, MUVI has continued to expand. In January it opened a pop-up movie theater in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s first drive-in since the nationwide ban on cinemas was lifted in 2018.

With cinemas closed for much of the first half of 2020 due to COVID-19 lockdowns, the drive-in offered customers a way to enjoy movies from the comfort and safety of their own cars, with all the necessary protective measures applied.

However, the chain will have to compete with the Kingdom’s other major players in the cinema industry, which have also launched ambitious expansion plans.

In December 2020, AMC Entertainment Holdings, the world’s largest movie exhibition company, opened a sixth movie theater in Saudi Arabia as part of its plans to expand to 50 locations by 2024.

AMC is particularly important for establishing the Saudi Cinema Co., a joint venture with Saudi Entertainment Ventures, an entity set up by the Public Investment Fund to be the investment and development arm for the entertainment sector.

UAE-based chain VOX Cinemas has also added several locations to its roster, with the first-ever cinemas opening in the cities of Tabuk and Hail, in line with a plan to build 600 screens across Saudi Arabia by 2023 as part of a SR2 billion investment.


Qatar Airways says gets $3bn state aid after huge loss

Updated 5 sec ago

Qatar Airways says gets $3bn state aid after huge loss

Qatar Airways says gets $3bn state aid after huge loss
DOHA: Qatar Airways said Monday it received $3 billion in state aid to weather the coronavirus travel downturn and to offset losses it blamed on the cost of grounding aircraft.
The airline reported an overall loss of $4.1 billion for the year to March 31, double the figure for the same period the year before.
Without the cost of grounding its Airbus A380 and A330 aircraft, Qatar Airways reported an underlying operating loss for the year of $228.3 million compared with $310 million the previous year.
The Gulf carrier did report a slight uptick in overall earnings and a 4.6 percent increase in the amount of cargo carried in the last 12=month period.
Qatar is among several governments that have stepped in to support their national carriers through the coronavirus shutdown, which has pummelled global travel and the aviation industry.
In September 2020 the airline reported it had received $2 billion in state aid after its annual losses exceeded 50 percent of share capital.
“We adapted our entire commercial operation to respond to ever-evolving travel restrictions and never stopped flying,” Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al-Baker said in a statement, calling the last 12-month period “difficult.”
“While our organization did not receive any subsidies in the form of salary support or grants, (the Qatari government) did provide an equity injection of 11 billion riyals ($3 billion) to support the business’s continuity.”
Monday’s results are the first full year numbers since the United Arab Emirates, a key market for the Gulf carrier, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, ended a boycott of Qatar in place since June 2017.
They had accused Doha of links to extremist groups and being too close to Iran, Riyadh’s regional arch-rival — charges Qatar denied — closing their airspace, borders and markets to Doha until a deal was struck in January.
Qatar Airways is the second largest airline in the Middle East after Dubai-based Emirates, operating a fleet of 253 aircraft — although some remain grounded during the pandemic.

UAE food giant Agthia to pay $17.8m in its first interim cash dividends

UAE food giant Agthia to pay $17.8m in its first interim cash dividends
Updated 3 min 15 sec ago

UAE food giant Agthia to pay $17.8m in its first interim cash dividends

UAE food giant Agthia to pay $17.8m in its first interim cash dividends
  • The approved dividend distribution marks Agthia Group’s first interim dividend

DUBAI: Agthia Group, a leading food and beverages company in the UAE, approved yesterday to pay a cash dividend of 8.25 fils per share for the first half of 2021, or 65.31 million dirhams, it said in a statement.

The approved dividend distribution marks Agthia Group’s first interim dividend, it said.

"Recently, the Group adopted a semi-annual dividend policy, which aligns with its commitment to maximizing shareholders’ returns," it added.


Female Pakistani duo gets $3m for their fintech startup Ooran

Female Pakistani duo gets $3m for their fintech startup Ooran
Updated 28 September 2021

Female Pakistani duo gets $3m for their fintech startup Ooran

Female Pakistani duo gets $3m for their fintech startup Ooran
  • The startup was founded in 2018 by Halima Iqbal and Farwah Tapal, who wanted to provide financing solutions for unbanked women in Pakistan

DUBAI: Pakistani financial technology startup Oraan has raised $3 million in its latest funding round, in a boost to female-led entrepreneurs in the country. 

The startup was founded in 2018 by Halima Iqbal and Farwah Tapal, who wanted to provide financing solutions for unbanked women in Pakistan. 

The female duo set out to disrupt an informal financing model in Pakistan where families or a group of people in a community would contribute money to a pool distributed to a member each month. 

Oraan provides technology to decentralize and automate this informal system, providing unbanked communities, particularly women, a more sophisticated financing option.

Investors including Zayn Capital and Wavemaker Partners joined the round, as well as other international venture capitalists. 

“When a woman goes into a bank, the first question we get asked is ‘why do you even need a bank account?’ especially if you’re a freelancer or micro-entrepreneur or unemployed homemaker,” Iqbal said. 

The kinds of restrictions, she added, have stopped women from contributing to the economy because of the lack of financial mobility. 

“We take this culturally, religiously, socially acceptable tool, which is committees, digitize them and bring women into a more formal space where they can open bank accounts,” Iqbal explained.

The startup has big ambitions to become a “full-fledged neobank.”

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Oil hits top price in 3 years as global recovery gathers pace

Oil hits top price in 3 years as global recovery gathers pace
Updated 28 September 2021

Oil hits top price in 3 years as global recovery gathers pace

Oil hits top price in 3 years as global recovery gathers pace
  • Analysts forecast higher demand for oil as the global economy recovered from the pandemic downturn more quickly than expected

DUBAI: The price of oil surged on Monday to within a few cents of $80 a barrel, its highest level for nearly three years, as traders reassessed their outlook for global economic recovery amid tightening crude supply.
Brent crude, the global benchmark, ended the day at $79.60 a barrel — a 90 per cent rise in the last year — and analysts forecast higher demand for oil as the global economy recovered from the pandemic downturn more quickly than expected.
Damien Courvalin, commodities analyst at US bank Goldman Sachs, said: “While we have long held a bullish oil view, the current global oil supply-demand deficit is larger than we expected.” Global demand recovery from the impact of the coronavirus delta variant had been faster than previous estimates, he said, and Goldman raised its year-end forecast by $10 to $90 per barrel.
Christian Malek of JP Morgan restated his forecast of $100 per barrel as all commodities go through a “supercycle” in prices. “The oil supercycle is underway,” he said.
The recovery in oil prices from last spring has been in part driven by improving economic conditions around the world, but also to the action taken by OPEC+ — the alliance of producers led by Saudi Arabia and Russia — to curb supplies when demand was weak.
Although OPEC+ has begun to reverse the cuts, with an extra 400,000 barrels per month allowed until Dec. 2022, Goldman said the oil market would be in “structural deficit” again in 2023 as demand exceeded supply and investment remained low.
Despite the increased OPEC+ output quotas, some big producers have found it difficult to meet the new limits and give the global market all it needs. Saudi Arabia, with the biggest spare capacity in OPEC+, will probablybe a big winner from rising prices and output.
Gas shortages in Europe and elsewhere are also likely to give a boost to oil prices. “Winter demand risks are further now squarely skewed to the upside as to the global gas shortage will increase oil-fired power generation,” Goldman said.
The next OPEC+ meeting will decide whether to stick to the agreed 400,000 increase, but faces a conundrum if prices continue to rise. Some energy experts believe US shale oil could be on the cusp of a resurgence that could eat into OPEC+ market share.
West Texas Intermediate, the US standard, rose above $75 a barrel yesterday, a level many producers will regard as sufficient to justify resuming drilling.


Oil up on tight supply, Brent crude nears $80 a barrel: Market wrap

Oil up on tight supply, Brent crude nears $80 a barrel: Market wrap
Updated 27 September 2021

Oil up on tight supply, Brent crude nears $80 a barrel: Market wrap

Oil up on tight supply, Brent crude nears $80 a barrel: Market wrap

RIYADH: Oil prices rose on Monday for a fifth straight day, with Brent at its highest since October 2018 and heading for $80, as investors fretted about tighter supplies because of rising demand in parts of the world.

Brent crude was up $1.44, or 1.8 percent, to settle at $79.53 a barrel, having posted three straight weeks of gains. US crude futures rose $1.47, or 2 percent, to settle at $75.45 a barrel, its highest since July, after rising for a fifth straight week.

Goldman Sachs raised by $10 its year-end forecast for Brent crude to $90 per barrel. Global supplies have tightened due to the fast recovery of fuel demand from the outbreak of the delta variant of the coronavirus and Hurricane Ida's hit to US production.

“While we have long held a bullish oil view, the current global supply-demand deficit is larger than we expected, with the recovery in global demand from the Delta impact even faster than our above-consensus forecast and with global supply remaining short of our below consensus forecasts,” Goldman said.

Caught short by the demand rebound, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their allies, known as OPEC+, have had difficulty raising output as underinvestment or maintenance delays persist from the pandemic.

Global oil demand is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels by early next year as the economy recovers, although spare refining capacity could weigh on the outlook, producers and traders said at an industry conference.

Global demand is seen rising to 100 million barrels per day by the end of 2021 or in the first quarter of 2022, Hess Corp President Greg Hill said. The world consumed 99.7 million bpd of oil in 2019, according to the IEA, before the COVID-19 pandemic hammered economic activities and fuel demand.

In India, oil imports hit a three-month peak in August, rebounding from nearly one-year lows touched in July, as refiners in the second-biggest importer of crude stocked up in anticipation of higher demand.