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.”


Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban

Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban
Updated 33 min 56 sec ago

Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban

Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban
  • The Houthi ban has forced travelers to Sanaa and other areas controlled by the militant group into buying old banknotes from the black market at a higher rate

ALEXANDRIA: The Central Bank of Yemen in Aden has injected billions of riyals in old large-sized 1,000 banknotes into the market to address a chronic shortage of cash.

The bank also implemented several other economic measures to control the chaotic exchange market and put an end to the fall in the Yemeni riyal.

Since late 2019, the Iran-backed Houthis have banned the use of banknotes printed by the Yemeni government in Aden, creating a severe cash crunch in areas under their control which has led to local exchange firms and banks stopping paying salaries and raising remittance charges.

The Houthi ban has forced travelers to Sanaa and other areas controlled by the militant group into buying old banknotes from the black market at a higher rate and carrying Saudi riyals or US dollars.

In a challenge to the Houthis, the central bank has put billions of riyals in old banknotes into the market and started withdrawing the newly printed 1,000 banknote. Yemenis can get old banknotes from local banks and exchange firms.

However, the Houthis warned people against using the large banknotes and published copies and serial numbers of the newly circulated cash.

In a bid to regulate the exchange market and curb the plunging value of the riyal, the central bank has tightened regulations for opening new exchange shops or firms, demanding that applicants produce a three-year feasibility study prepared by a certified accountant showing estimated budgets.

Existing exchange companies must now send their annual financial statements to the bank, use an approved software for their financial activities, apply international financial reporting standards, and audit their accounts by accountants certified by the central bank.

Some Yemeni economists, however, have cast doubt over the central bank’s ability to enact the regulations after the Yemeni riyal on Wednesday broke another historic record low against the dollar.

Local money traders told Arab News on Wednesday that the Yemeni riyal was trading at 1020 to the dollar in government-controlled areas, compared to less than 980 a month ago. When the war broke out in late 2014, the Yemeni riyal was sold at 215 to the dollar.

The Yemeni government previously relocated the central bank’s headquarters from Sanaa to Aden, floated the Yemeni riyal to bridge the gap between the official rate and the black market, closed many exchange shops, and printed billions of riyals to pay public servants. But all the measures proved ineffective on the ground as the Yemeni riyal continued to drop.

Waled Al-Attas, an assistant professor of financial and banking sciences at Hadhramout University, told Arab News: “The central bank is required to control the market and close unlicensed exchange shops in parallel with tightening control and procedures on existing exchange entities.”

He noted that the latest injection of cash into the market had boosted foreign currency speculation activities and pushed up inflation.

“The large 1,000 banknote that the central bank pumped into the market represents an additional burden and additional liquidity that will cause more inflation, higher prices, and speculation on exchange rates,” he added.

The continuing devaluation of the Yemeni riyal has pushed up food and fuel prices in government-controlled areas and triggered protests.


Cryptocurrencies look up despite regulatory issues

Cryptocurrencies look up despite regulatory issues
Updated 49 min 35 sec ago

Cryptocurrencies look up despite regulatory issues

Cryptocurrencies look up despite regulatory issues

RIYADH, DUBAI: While regulatory issues continue to chase cryptocurrencies, their stock saw a rise on Wednesday with Bitcoin trading higher by 1.28 percent to $39,037.94 at 5 p.m. Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, traded at $2,609.22, up 3.56 percent, according to data from Coindesk.

The pressure on the digital currency continues, as HSBC became the latest lender to have suspended payments to cyrptocurrency exchange platform Binance in the UK.

“We have made this decision due to concerns about the possible risks to you,” the bank said in a statement, where it cited a consumer warning by the country’s financial regulator.

Regulators in Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Germany have previously issued warnings against Binance.

HSBC earlier said it was not planning to launch a crypto trading desk or offer digital coins as an investment, describing these assets as “volatile” and lacking of transparency.

But Wells Fargo, one of the largest wealth managers in the US, has a different stance on cryptocurrency, as it recently launched crypto investment offerings to its clients.

This was confirmed to Business Insider by the company’s spokesperson, Bitcoin.com has reported.

Also in the US, NCR Corp., a global leader in ATM software applications, said it was acquiring Libertyx, an American crypto company that claims to be the US “first and largest network of bitcoin ATMs, cashiers, and kiosks.”

In Argentina, two blockchain-based digital identity projects are being developed, according to a report by Bitcoin.com.

One of the projects is aimed at improving government-citizen relationships in Misiones, and the other seeks to promote financial inclusion in the Gran Chaco region. They are being organized by Project Didi, which financed by the Inter-American Development Bank.


Saudi property market adapts to new tax

Saudi property market adapts to new tax
Updated 55 min 24 sec ago

Saudi property market adapts to new tax

Saudi property market adapts to new tax

RIYADH: The Saudi Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority registered over 543,000 transactions related to the Real Estate Transaction Tax (RETT) since its implementation in October 2020, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The highest number of tax transactions was reported in Riyadh with 125,110 followed by Jeddah (55,680), Buraidah (50,462), Makkah (18,955) and Madinah (18,557).

“This gives a positive impression to the property market,” Khaled Almobid, CEO of Riyadh-based Menassat Reality Co. told Arab News.

He said many thought the new tax might contribute to a decline in the demand of property but “the market started to adapt to it,” which is a positive sign for the Kingdom’s real estate sector.

Property deals in Saudi Arabia are exempted from a 15 percent value-added tax (VAT) as the government seeks to support the real estate sector.

Instead a 5 percent tax was introduced last year to boost the economy as it was hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and weaker oil prices.

“The buyer used to pay a value-added tax (VAT) of 15 percent, and due to the real estate conditions in the Kingdom, it was turned into a tax paid by the seller, not the buyer, called the real estate transaction tax, and it was reduced to 5 percent,” Almobid said.


Tabby raises $500 million, eyes new GCC markets

Tabby raises $500 million, eyes new GCC markets
Updated 56 min 32 sec ago

Tabby raises $500 million, eyes new GCC markets

Tabby raises $500 million, eyes new GCC markets

RIYADH: Tabby, the leading buy now, pay later (BNPL) provider in Saudi Arabia and the UAE has raised $50 million in a new equity round valuing the company at $300 million.

Global Founders Capital and STV led the funding round, with participation from Delivery Hero and CCVA. Existing investors, including Arbor Ventures, Mubadala Investment Capital, Raed Ventures, Global Ventures, MSA Capital, VentureSouq, Outliers VC, JIMCO, and HOF, also participated.

This comes one month after the firm raised $50 million in debt financing bringing its total funding to over $130 million in less than two years.

The fintech firm’s Series B financing will be used to expand its product portfolio and enter new markets.

The funding will help tabby further service the growing demand for its BNPL products as customer usage continues to soar, especially in Saudi Arabia, the firm’s largest market.

Ahmad Al-Shammari, a partner at STV, said: “As the global BNPL market is expected to grow at 30 percent CAGR over the next five years, we estimate that MENA will grow at least twice as fast, further accelerated by a rapid switch to contactless payments, e-commerce growth, and access to credit.”

Financial technology startups in Saudi Arabia and the UAE offering online short-term credit say they are enjoying exponential growth as the coronavirus pandemic drives a shift in consumer spending online.

BNPL purchasing is relatively new to the region where consumers have traditionally been skeptical of paying for goods before getting them.

But Saudi-based Tamara and UAE’s Spotii, Tabby, and Postpay all say the take-up has far exceeded initial expectations. And investors are paying attention. Tamara recently raised $110 million in debt and equity, a large amount for an early-stage Middle East startup.

“With global players consolidating the MENA BNPL space, we are proud to continue building a local business and work with investors who understand its value. This investment will enable us to deliver the most rewarding and relevant shopping experience for regional consumers and retailers,” said Hosam Arab, CEO, and co-founder of the fintech firm.

This investment marks Delivery Hero’s first fintech investment in MENA. Delivery Hero, which owns and operates several regional food and grocery delivery companies including Talabat, InstaShop, and Hunger Station, has one of the largest customer bases in the Middle East and Africa (MENA) region.

“We are excited to be investing in tabby as our first FinTech investment in MENA, a strategically important region for Delivery Hero. We see great potential in tabby to drive the industry forward and are proud to be supporting the company on its growth journey,” Mark Venema, senior vice president, strategy at Delivery Hero, said.


Inflation in Saudi Arabia likely to decline in coming months

Inflation in Saudi Arabia likely to decline in coming months
Updated 04 August 2021

Inflation in Saudi Arabia likely to decline in coming months

Inflation in Saudi Arabia likely to decline in coming months
  • Credit to private companies will increase, depending on the Saudi economy recovery, says Al-Sudairi

RIYADH: The inflation rate in Saudi Arabia is expected to be 3.2 percent and the rate would decline because of a higher base, Mazen Al-Sudairi, head of research at Al-Rajhi Capital, told Arab News.

The cost of living index of Saudi Arabia remained in the positive trajectory and increased by 6.2 percent year-on-year in June 2021, mainly driven by a rise in value-added tax (VAT) from 5 percent to 15 percent in July 2020, according to Al-Rajhi Capital.

Saudi spending in the local market, especially in the retail, food, and beverages, and health segments continues to support the economy, it added.

Point of sales transactions continued their uptrend, increasing 4.6 percent in June 2021 compared to June of last year, primarily driven by an increase in restaurants and hotels, clothing and footwear, and health segments, Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) data revealed.

Credit to the private sector increased 16.8 percent year-on-year in June, while bank claims on the public sector increased 9.6 percent and the deposits grew by 10.2 percent, the official data showed.

Credit to private companies will increase, depending on the Saudi economy recovery, said Al-Sudairi.

SAMA also pointed out in its latest monthly report that remittances from Saudi nationals increased by 56 percent year-on-year in June 2021, while remittances growth from non-Saudi nationals declined 3.4 percent.

Remittance for Saudis increased due to an increase in travel while for expats the trend remains broadly flat, Al-Sudairi added.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that Saudi Arabia’s economy is recovering well from the pandemic, and the Kingdom opened its doors to vaccinated foreign tourists on Aug.1.