Syrian government sacks central bank governor

Syrian government sacks central bank governor
Syrian President Bashar Assad on Tuesday sacked the governor of war-ravaged Syria’s central bank amid currency crash in recent months. (AP)
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Updated 13 April 2021

Syrian government sacks central bank governor

Syrian government sacks central bank governor
  • Analyst said governor didn’t live up to his role through implementing real interventions to salvage local currency
  • Syrian pound lost more than 98 percent of its value against the dollar over past decade

DAMASCUS: The Syrian government on Tuesday dismissed central bank governor Hazem Karfoul whose three-year tenure coincided with a severe economic crisis.
“President Bashar Assad issues a decree terminating the appointment of Hazem Karfoul,” the presidency said in a statement.
It did not give a reason or appoint a replacement.
Karfoul was named central bank governor in 2018, seven years into a conflict that has killed more than 388,000 people and displaced millions.
He oversaw an accelerating economic crisis sparked by civil war and compounded by sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic and a financial crunch in neighboring Lebanon.
An analyst in Damascus, asking not to be named over security concerns, said Karfoul “did not live up to his role through implementing real interventions” that could salvage the local currency.
Karfoul, he said, had been incapable of “quick and decisive decisions” at a time when the government was looking for “energetic new faces” to oversee a rescue phase.
The Syrian pound has lost more than 98 percent of its value against the dollar over the past decade.
Officially valued at 1,256 to the greenback, it sold for more than 3,000 on the black market on Tuesday, money exchangers told AFP.
Last month, it sold for 4,000 to the greenback, hitting an all-time low.
The government last month started enforcing a series of measures to stem a further drop in the pound’s value, according to pro-government newspaper Al-Watan.
They include new import bans and a state crackdown on unofficial money exchangers, it said.
Karfoul held several posts at the central bank, including deputy chief, before he was named governor.
The US treasury department sanctioned him in 2020 along with several other senior officials.
In its announcement, the treasury cited reports that Karfoul in September 2019 met with some of Syria’s wealthiest businessmen to press them to donate to state coffers.
He allegedly “identified the properties and other assets of the businessmen during the meeting and had suggested... their fortunes could be seized if they did not give a significant contribution.”


Emirates to operate 70% of pre-pandemic capacity by year-end

Emirates to operate 70% of pre-pandemic capacity by year-end
Updated 24 min 3 sec ago

Emirates to operate 70% of pre-pandemic capacity by year-end

Emirates to operate 70% of pre-pandemic capacity by year-end
  • The Dubai flag carrier may obtain further financial support from the Dubai government and could also issue bonds

RIYADH: Emirates Airline will operate 70 percent of its pre-pandemic power by the end of this year, Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum revealed.
He said the company maintained strong financial solvency despite the devastating impact of the pandemic on the global aviation sector, Bloomberg reported.
The Dubai flag carrier may obtain further financial support from the Dubai government and could also issue bonds, he said.
“We are dealing with an emergency situation that changes on a weekly or even daily basis,” he said. “We are working on long and short trips. We currently have 151 Boeing 777 planes, and about 20 Airbus A380s in service, and we are awaiting the opening of markets and destinations to gradually return them,” he said.
Emirates Airline and flydubai were working to improve cooperation and develop further partnerships, he said.


Egypt to prioritize vaccination of tourism workers

Egypt to prioritize vaccination of tourism workers
Updated 37 min 47 sec ago

Egypt to prioritize vaccination of tourism workers

Egypt to prioritize vaccination of tourism workers
  • About 65 percent of tourists in Egypt head to those coastal destinations

DUBAI: Egypt is prioritizing the vaccination of tourism workers to support the sector’s recovery and is on track to announce full inoculation of two resort areas this month, its tourism minister said.
While Egypt’s tourism industry is still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector has picked up in recent months, with more visitors heading to resorts along the Red Sea and Mediterranean coasts.
“We will prioritize workers in the tourism industry, which is an essential sector for Egypt’s economy,” Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled Al-Enani told AFP.
“In May, I will announce, along with the minister of health, the complete vaccination of Egyptian workers in hotels, resorts, businesses and restaurants in South Sinai and the Red Sea,” he said on the sidelines of a travel industry conference in Dubai.
About 65 percent of tourists in Egypt head to those coastal destinations, he said.
Enani said other tourist spots will follow, such as Luxor, Aswan and the capital Cairo, home of the Giza pyramids and major museums.
Egypt, which has a population of approximately 100 million, has administered some one million doses, according to authorities.
About two million people work in the tourism industry or organizations linked to it.
Along with its pyramids and pharaonic temples, Egypt is also known for its seaside resorts.
After experiencing “significant and continuous loss” since the coronavirus outbreak, the sector has picked up, said Enani.
He said Egypt welcomed 500,000 tourists in April, more than double the number in January and up from just 200,000 tourists a month in the second half of last year.
“The important thing is there is an upward curve,” Enani said.
“We hope the numbers will increase again in the near future with the opening of some countries and the easing of restrictions, including in Arab countries, Europe and Russia,” he said.
“The return of tourism in Egypt does not only depend on us, but remains linked to other countries.”
Cairo has announced several major new archaeological discoveries in recent months, hoping to revive a sector which was battered by a 2011 uprising, political unrest and jihadist attacks.
While the industry recorded a rebound of nearly $13 billion in revenues for 2018-2019, tourism was hit hard again by the  pandemic.
Official figures show a drop of more than 20 percent in revenues for mid-2019 to mid-2020.
Egypt reopened to foreign tourists in July last year after having closed its borders in March. Visitors only need to produce a negative PCR test.
Russia earlier this year resumed flights to Egypt’s Red Sea resorts after the lifting of a flight ban.
Moscow banned direct flights to Egypt after the 2015 bombing of a Russian airliner shortly after it took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.
 


Saudi sovereign fund PIF boosts US equities exposure to over $15 billion

Saudi sovereign fund PIF boosts US equities exposure to over $15 billion
Updated 18 May 2021

Saudi sovereign fund PIF boosts US equities exposure to over $15 billion

Saudi sovereign fund PIF boosts US equities exposure to over $15 billion
  • Fund increased its US stock holdings to $15.4 billion in the first quarter

DUBAI : Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has increased its US stock holdings to $15.4 billion in the first quarter from nearly $12.8 billion at the end of 2020, according to a US regulatory filing on Monday.
The Public Investment Fund (PIF) bought 2.9 million class A shares in SoftBank Group Corp-backed Coupang Inc, equivalent to $141 million, and dissolved its share stake in Suncor Energy, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
It more than doubled its position in Activision Blizzard to 33.4 million shares from 15 million shares at the end of the fourth quarter, which led it to a $3.1 billion exposure from $1.4 billion.
The fund increased its shares in Electronic Arts Inc. to 14.2 million, equivalent to $1.9 billion, from a $1.1 billion position at the end of the previous quarter.
PIF, which did not immediately respond to a comment request on the filing, is at the center of Saudi Arabia’s plans to transform the economy by creating new sectors and diversifying revenues away from oil.
The $400 billion fund is expected to inject at least $40 billion annually in the local economy until 2025, and increase its assets to $1 trillion by that date, which would make it one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds.
“PIF would have wanted to take advantage of the bullish sentiment in equity markets in Q1 to make opportunistic investments and add to its portfolio,” said Rachna Uppal, director of research at Azure Strategy.
“In line with domestic efforts to achieve the objectives of Vision 2030, the Saudis also appear to be favoring investments into sectors such as technology, mobility, and especially future mobility, tourism and entertainment,” she said.
At the start of last year PIF piled up minority stakes in companies worldwide, taking advantage of market weakness caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Monday’s filing showed the value of its biggest US stock holding, Uber Technologies, rose to nearly $4 billion in the first quarter, from $3.7 billion as of Dec. 31, as the ride-hailing company’s shares gained value during the period.
PIF was an early investor in Uber, taking a $3.5 billion stake in 2016, three years before its listing in 2019.


Qatar Investment Authority to take $740m chunk of US renewables firm Avangrid

Qatar Investment Authority to take $740m chunk of US renewables firm Avangrid
Updated 18 May 2021

Qatar Investment Authority to take $740m chunk of US renewables firm Avangrid

Qatar Investment Authority to take $740m chunk of US renewables firm Avangrid
  • QIA will buy shares worth $740 million and Iberdorla, the largest shareholder in Avangrid

RIYADH: Renewable energy provider Avangrid said it would sell shares worth a total of $4 billion to both the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) and Spanish Iberdrola Group for $ 51.40 a share.
QIA will buy shares worth $740 million and Iberdorla, the largest shareholder in Avangrid (based in Orange County, Connecticut, US), will purchase approximately $3.26 billion of stock, Asharq Business reported.
The deal is expected to close on Tuesday.
The Qatar Investment Authority last March also acquired 16 percent of the 53 million shares offered by Siemens Healthineers, through a private placement of $2.8 billion.
The fund is targeting deals in Asia, in an attempt to diversify its investment portfolio, which has a great focus and weight in America. Northern and Europe, Chairman Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said in a previous interview with Bloomberg.

 


Egyptian neobank Telda raises $5m in Sequoia-led pre-seed round

Egyptian neobank Telda raises $5m in Sequoia-led pre-seed round
Updated 18 May 2021

Egyptian neobank Telda raises $5m in Sequoia-led pre-seed round

Egyptian neobank Telda raises $5m in Sequoia-led pre-seed round
  • It was the first investment for the American venture capital firm in the Middle East and North Africa

DUBAI: Telda, a Cairo-based digital banking application, has raised $5 million during its pre-seed funding round organized by US firm Sequoia Capital.
It was the first investment for the American venture capital firm in the Middle East and North Africa.
Global Founders capital and Class 5 Global also participated in the round.
The app recently announced it has received license from Egypt’s central bank to issue cards and on-board customers to its platform.
It has received 30,000 sign ups since it started its operations, it said.
The funding comes as digital-only banks rise in popularity across the region, where 60 percent of the population is estimated to be under the age of 25.
“Egypt boasts of a large, young, talented and tech savvy population with a strong appetite to innovate,” Sequoia partner George Robson said.
Egypt is among the top 10 countries most reliant on cash and with the highest rate of unbanked people, according to Merchant Machine.
“Today’s funding milestone promotes the digital transformation of the Egyptian economy and allows Telda to provide everyone with access to important financial services so they can fully participate in the economy,” Telda chief technology officer Youssef Sholqamy said.
Sholqamy, who was a former senior engineer in Uber’s infrastructure team, co-founded the startup with Ahmed Sabbah, who also founded the Egyptian bus-hailing service Swvl.