Foreign firms vie to rebuild ravaged Beirut port

Foreign firms vie to rebuild ravaged Beirut port
The August 4 explosion of hundreds of tons of ill-stored fertilizers devastated the dockside and large swathes of the capital, killing more than 200 people. (File/AFP)
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Updated 14 April 2021

Foreign firms vie to rebuild ravaged Beirut port

Foreign firms vie to rebuild ravaged Beirut port
  • A German delegation last Friday unveiled a spectacular $30-billion project to rebuild the port and adjacent areas
  • Former colonial power France has also been positioning itself to take on the port’s reconstruction

BEIRUT: Eight months after a massive blast ripped through Beirut port and nearby districts of the Lebanese capital, a host of foreign companies with different national interests are competing to rebuild it.
“Everyone has their eyes on the port: the Russians, the Chinese, the Turks, the French and now the Germans,” interim port director Bassem Al-Kaissi said.
“But for the moment these are only declarations of intent.”
The August 4 explosion of hundreds of tons of ill-stored fertilizers devastated the dockside and large swathes of the capital, killing more than 200 people.
A German delegation last Friday unveiled a spectacular $30-billion project to rebuild the port and adjacent areas, in the presence of their ambassador.
The ambitious plan, drawn up by companies including Hamburg Port Consulting, seeks to move the port east, and remodel the nearby area to include social housing, a “central park” and even beaches.
Former colonial power France has also been positioning itself to take on the port’s reconstruction.
When French President Emmanuel Macron made a second visit to Beirut in September after the monster explosion, the Lebanese-born head of French shipping giant CMA-CGM, Rodolphe Saade, was in his delegation.
During the trip, his company presented Lebanon with a three-phase project to rebuild, expand and modernize the seaside location to become a “smart port,” its regional director Joe Dakkak told AFP.
The first two phases would cost between $400 million to $600 million and the firm would fund half, while around 50 companies and international organizations had also shown interest in participating, he said.
CMA-CGM has already obtained a concession to run the container terminal in Lebanon’s second city Tripoli until 2041, and hopes to soon win a bid for container operations in Beirut.
Beyond the commercial interests, political analyst Imad Salamey says geopolitical influence is also at play.
The appeal includes ongoing “offshore gas exploration in the Mediterranean,” “Russian expansionism” in the region, and “future economic collaboration between Israel and Arab countries” in the wake of several normalization accords, he said.
In 2018, Lebanon signed its first contract for offshore oil and gas drilling in two blocks with a consortium comprising French, Italian and Russian energy giants, Total, ENI and Novatek, respectively.
And further north, Damascus ally Russia has started drilling off the coast of war-torn Syria, Salamey said.
The port is likely small fry for China, Salamey said.
But it could attract the Chinese “to strengthen their alliance with the Iranians,” who hold sway in Syria and Lebanon, where it sponsors the powerful Hezbollah movement.
The former US envoy for Near Eastern affairs, David Schenker, has warned against China winning the bid.
“Beijing’s aversion to transparency and its ambivalence toward Hezbollah would make a Chinese role in reconstruction a worst-case outcome,” he wrote.
He said Washington should work closely with whichever country wins the port bid to ensure the project is “bound to the principle of reform.”
The international community is insisting on sweeping reforms, including at the port, before pumping in foreign aid to rescue the country from its worst economic crisis in decades.
But for eight months, deeply divided politicians have failed to agree on a new cabinet to launch them.
Despite this, Kaissi said port authorities were working on an action plan to reconstruct and revamp the facility, to be submitted to any new government.
There is an obstacle to the German proposal.
Lebanese activists fear its plan for a park and beaches could spell a repeat of the Beirut center’s post-war transformation.
The neighborhood was once a historic and vibrant commercial center where people of all social and religious backgrounds mixed.
But Lebanese company Solidere privatised downtown Beirut, converting it into grandiose real estate unaffordable to the average Lebanese.
“We will not accept a new Solidere with a foreign touch,” civil society group Nahnoo has said.
Economist Jad Chaaban said that any project as huge as the port would require “national consultation.”
“Foreign companies alone should not decide. Neither should the Lebanese state.”


ArcelorMittal takes over TAQA’s JESCO

ArcelorMittal takes over TAQA’s JESCO
Updated 01 August 2021

ArcelorMittal takes over TAQA’s JESCO

ArcelorMittal takes over TAQA’s JESCO
  • With the deal, JESCO’s 100 percent ownership has been transferred to AMTPJ

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Industrialization and Energy Service Co. (TAQA) on Sunday sold all its shares in Jubail Energy Services Co. (JESCO) to ArcelorMittal Tubular Products Jubail (AMTPJ).
With the deal, JESCO’s 100 percent ownership has been transferred to AMTPJ, TAQA said in an emailed statement, without disclosing the value of the deal.
Commenting on the sale of stocks, TAQA Chairman Ahmed Al-Zahrani said: “The divestiture of JESCO is in line with TAQA’s 2021 strategy to become a major player in Vision 2030 realization by maximizing the value of local investment and creating a more diverse and sustainable economy. The transaction will result in a much stronger industry in the steel sector serving not only the Kingdom but also the rest of the world.”
The company’s mandate is to lead the way in localizing industries in the Kingdom, supplying specialized equipment, and development of oil and gas resources in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
TAQA CEO Khalid Nouh said: “The divestiture of non-core businesses such as JESCO allows TAQA to expand its portfolio through acquisitions of additional services and technologies.” 


Bitcoin tops $41,000 as cryptocurrencies rally after weeks-long downtrend

Bitcoin tops $41,000 as cryptocurrencies rally after weeks-long downtrend
Updated 01 August 2021

Bitcoin tops $41,000 as cryptocurrencies rally after weeks-long downtrend

Bitcoin tops $41,000 as cryptocurrencies rally after weeks-long downtrend
  • Bitcoin is currently trading above $41,000 and up more than 15 percent over the past week

RIYADH: Bitcoin, the leading cryptocurrency in trading internationally, traded higher on Sunday, rising by 0.02 percent to $41,447.73 at 4:41 p.m Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, traded at $2,580.98.76, up 5.33 percent, according to data from Coindesk.

Here is a rundown of major crypto news:

Bitcoin is currently trading above $41,000 and up more than 15 percent over the past week. The uptrend continues after the massive sell-off in May and two months of consolidation above the $30K support level, according to CoinDesk.

Germany plans to allow some institutional funds to invest billions of dollars in crypto assets for the first time, Bloomberg has reported.

A law effective Monday will allow so-called Spezialfonds with fixed investment rules to put up to 20 percent of their holdings in Bitcoin and other crypto assets. The funds, which can only be accessed by institutional investors, currently manage about $2.1 trillion.

“Most funds will initially stay well below the 20%,” said Tim Kreutzmann, an expert on crypto assets at BVI, Germany’s fund industry body.

In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky has signed the Law on Payment Services adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on June 30, the President's administration announced this week.

The new legislation aims to “modernize and further develop” the payment services market, and encourage innovation in the financial sector, according to a press statement.

The National Bank of Ukraine has also given the power to issue its own digital currency.

In an interview with Bloomberg on Thursday, Henri Arslanian, crypto leader at accounting and financial services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), explained that crypto firms have high valuations due to the entry of major investors.

He mentioned investment firms and family offices are backed by major venture capitalists, private equity funds, and even some pension funds, and noted smaller venture capital firms are not satisfied with the trend.

Over to the US, Lael Brainard, a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, highlighted the urgent need to develop a digital dollar, speaking to the Aspen Institute’s Economic Strategies Group on Friday.

He cited several reasons for creating a digital version of the US dollar, while the central bank agreed that it will have both international and domestic applications.


Saudi Arabia’s real estate price index rises by 0.4% in Q2

Saudi Arabia’s real estate price index rises by 0.4% in Q2
Updated 01 August 2021

Saudi Arabia’s real estate price index rises by 0.4% in Q2

Saudi Arabia’s real estate price index rises by 0.4% in Q2
  • The report said a 1 percent hike in the prices of residential plots jacked up the prices of residential properties

RIYADH: The real estate price index in Saudi Arabia rose by 0.4 percent in the second quarter of 2021 compared to the same period of the previous year, official data showed on Sunday.
The statistics issued by the General Authority for Statistics showed a 0.8 percent increase in the residential real estate prices in the second quarter while prices of commercial and agriculture properties declined by 0.5 percent and 0.2 percent respectively.
The report said a 1 percent hike in the prices of residential plots jacked up the prices of residential properties.
Meanwhile, the Wafi program, which regulates off-plan property activity in the Kingdom, issued a report highlighting its performance during the first half of the year.
Wafi issued 55 licenses for off-plan sales projects providing 24,328 housing units during the first half of 2021.
Off-plan property sales represent a growing sector of the Saudi real estate market, but some consumers are still wary of developers’ abilities to deliver quality homes on time.
The sector has been steadily increasing its share of total residential sales and data from the Wafi program.
According to real estate consultancy company, Knight Frank, off-plan units represent around 9 percent of total existing housing stock, but a massive 60 percent of total future supply in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s real estate sector is a key and effective economic driver for the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and is connected to at least 120 industries.
Mortgage lending in Saudi Arabia increased 27 percent this year through May, as interest rates decreased to between 1 percent and 4.9 percent, compared to about 6 percent early last year.
Residential real estate financing contracts offered to individuals by local banks reached 133,006 through May, with a value of SR69.5 billion ($18.5 billion), according to data from the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA).
Real estate financing grew by 50 percent compared with the same period in 2020 when SR46.6 billion was lent via 104,000 contracts.


Saudi net foreign assets jump in June, central bank data shows

Saudi net foreign assets jump in June, central bank data shows
Updated 01 August 2021

Saudi net foreign assets jump in June, central bank data shows

Saudi net foreign assets jump in June, central bank data shows
  • Data from the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) showed the assets rising by 34 billion riyals ($9.1 billion)

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s net foreign assets rose over 2 percent in June, as the global oil industry gradually recovers from the impact of COVID-19.

Data from the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) showed the assets rising by 34 billion riyals ($9.1 billion) to 1.65 trillion riyals in June from the month before.

Total assets increased by 16.18 billion riyals to 1.842 trillion riyals, the central bank said.


Saudi Arabia’s economy likely to grow in 2021 and 2022, says report

Saudi Arabia’s economy likely to grow in 2021 and 2022, says report
Updated 01 August 2021

Saudi Arabia’s economy likely to grow in 2021 and 2022, says report

Saudi Arabia’s economy likely to grow in 2021 and 2022, says report
  • Capital Economics' forecast a further evidence that the Saudi economic recovery has taken off in 2021

RIYADHH Saudi Arabia’s economy is poised to grow from 2.2 percent to 4.8 percent in 2021 and from 4.1 percent to 6.3 percent in 2022, said a Capital Economics report.

The new forecasts are further evidence that the Saudi economic recovery has taken off in 2021.

At the start of the year, the Kingdom’s Ministry of Finance said that it expected 3.2 percent growth this year — reversing the pandemic-driven downturn of 2020. The International Monetary Fund forecast just 2.1 percent growth two months ago.

The Saudi economy is expected to maintain growth in the second half of the year. The expansion is also backed by higher oil output amid an OPEC+ agreement.

The Kingdom’s finance, insurance, real estate, and business sectors are likely to expand by 9 percent annually and their relative share to overall economic activity will grow by 12.7 percent.

Meanwhile, the services sector is also likely to grow about 10 percent annually on average, implying that its relative gross domestic product (GDP) share will climb to almost 40 percent in 2030.