Turkey’s banks said to shy away from Erdogan’s ‘crazy’ canal

Turkey’s banks said to shy away from Erdogan’s ‘crazy’ canal
People wait in line to submit their petitions opposing a massive canal project in Istanbul, Turkey, Dec, 27, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 April 2021

Turkey’s banks said to shy away from Erdogan’s ‘crazy’ canal

Turkey’s banks said to shy away from Erdogan’s ‘crazy’ canal
  • Russia has signaled unease about the project
  • Cost of canal would eclipse other mega projects

ISTANBUL: Some of Turkey’s biggest banks are reluctant to finance President Tayyip Erdogan’s planned Istanbul canal due to environmental concerns and the investment risks hanging over the massive construction project, four senior bankers told Reuters.
Two of the sources said a global sustainability pact that six of Turkey’s top banks have signed was a barrier to funding the Kanal Istanbul, which Erdogan dubbed his “crazy project” when he floated it a decade ago.
The government expects to break ground in June on the canal, which would connect the Black Sea to the north with the Marmara Sea to the south, running 45 km (28 miles) through marshland, farms and towns on the western edge of the city.
Erdogan says the canal would protect the Bosphorus Strait, which runs through the heart of Istanbul, by diverting traffic.
Yet Istanbul’s mayor, engineers and, according to one poll, most citizens, oppose the project on enviromental grounds, saying it would destroy a marine ecosystem and resources that supply almost a third of the city’s fresh water.
Russia, meanwhile, has signaled unease about the project on security grounds as the canal would open a second passage to the Black Sea, which is home to a Russian naval fleet.
“I don’t think we can take part in the funding of Kanal Istanbul,” said a senior banker who requested anonymity. “It may trigger some environmental issues.”
Six Turkish banks, including Garanti Bank, Is Bank and Yapi Kredi, have signed the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Banking framework which calls on signatories to avoid harming people and the planet.
“Definitely we don’t want to give a loan to this kind of project because of the environmental issues,” a second senior banker told Reuters, adding that signatory banks must abide by the UN-backed sustainability pact.
In 2019, the canal’s price tag was estimated at 75 million lira — or $13 billion at the time — in a government report.
The reluctance of some Turkish lenders to finance the project makes it more likely state and foreign financing will have to play a bigger role for Erdogan’s dream to come true.
A Finance Ministry spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Asked whether Turkish banks would participate in the financing, Erdogan’s spokesman and adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, told Reuters the project would “certainly” attract investors and creditors when tenders are held soon.
Garanti Bank declined to comment. Is Bank and Yapi Kredi did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Denizbank and state-owned Vakifbank also declined to comment on the canal’s financing while Akbank and state lenders Halkbank and Ziraat Bank did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The cost of the canal would eclipse other mega projects such as Istanbul’s vast new airport that have defined Erdogan’s legacy of credit-driven growth.
Massive foreign short-term debt worth some $150 billion for banks and companies has dogged the lira and laid bare the risks of Turkey’s depleted foreign exchange reserves.
A currency crisis in 2018 delayed the canal project but it is back on the agenda as the economy rebounds from the pandemic and the government approved development plans last month.
In an interview on Sunday, Erdogan’s adviser Kalin said there was already interest in the bidding that would be open to all including Turkish, European, American and Chinese firms.
“It’s a profitable project ... and we are positive it will move forward,” he told Reuters.
But for most of Turkey’s banks, especially lenders with European backers and those involved in loan syndications, the risks would likely be too high, the sources said.
They said taking on such a large project could limit their capacity to carry out further loan syndications while there was also a risk the project could be torpedoed at a later stage.
“No Turkish bank, neither state nor private, could take that risk,” said a former senior banker.
Turkey’s environment ministry has carried out environmental assessments which cleared the way for the project to proceed.
But European backers of Turkish banks would probably not see a Turkish environmental stamp of approval as credible, the former banker said.
“This is one of those white elephants. Other than land price speculation, it is hard to see any value in it,” he said.
The canal would destroy a marine ecosystem and basins that provide nearly a third of Istanbul’s fresh water, according to the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects.
Moscow is concerned the canal might not be covered by the Montreux Convention that restricts foreign warships’ access to the Black Sea through the Bosphorus Strait.
A Turkish official said in 2019 that the new canal would not be covered by the convention, which dates back to 1936.
This month, amid a build-up of Russia’s navy near Ukraine, the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin told Erdogan on a call that the convention must be observed.
A fourth banker also said that given opposition parties oppose the project, construction could halt if Erdogan’s ruling AK Party is ousted. Presidential elections are set for 2023.
“The size of the project is tremendously big. It has reputational risks and loan risk,” the person said. “It also still seems like government’s pet project.”


Saudi Arabia approves international central securities depositories instructions

Saudi Arabia approves international central securities depositories instructions
Updated 58 min ago

Saudi Arabia approves international central securities depositories instructions

Saudi Arabia approves international central securities depositories instructions
  • New instructions are effective May 6

RIYADH: Saudi Capital Market Authority announced on Thursday the approval of International Central Securities Depositories Instructions by the Securities Depository Center Company (Edaa), effective May 6, 2021.

The instructions regulate the linkage application process and its conditions, related Depository Center accounts, and additional general provisions, Edaa said in a filing.

The development is consistent with Saudi Vision 2030, which includes a program to create a regulatory environment in keeping with international best practices and to increase Saudi capital markets’ attractiveness to foreign investors.


Abu Dhabi's IHC to list three subsidiaries on ADX in Q2

Abu Dhabi's IHC to list three subsidiaries on ADX in Q2
Updated 07 May 2021

Abu Dhabi's IHC to list three subsidiaries on ADX in Q2

Abu Dhabi's IHC to list three subsidiaries on ADX in Q2
  • Emirates Stallion Group, Al Seer Marine to IPO on ADX Second Market
  • IHC took stakes in SpaceX and Oxford Nanopore in past year

ABU DHABI: Three subsidiaries of International Holding Company (IHC) will be listed on Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange’s (ADX) Second Market in the second quarter of 2021, the company said in a filing on Thursday.

Real estate company Emirates Stallion Group (ESG), Al Seer Marine Supplies & Equipment Co. and an as yet unnamed third company will be listed, IHC said.

IHC, one of Abu Dhabi’s largest conglomerates is chaired by HH Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, national security adviser to the UAE. Last year it listed Palm Sports, Easylease and Zee Stores on ADX’s Second Market.

ESG, founded in 2006, owns a diversified portfolio of businesses across engineering and construction, real estate investment, development and management. It had assets of 394 million dirhams ($107 million) as of the end of 2020 and over 1,000 employees, according to IHC.

Al Seer Marine, which provides services including yacht management, repair and maintenance, and boat building, was founded in 2002 and acquired by IHC in April 2020. It had assets of 717.8 million dirhams as at the end of 2020, IHC said.

Over the past six months, IHC and its subsidiaries have made investments in UK-based DNA sequencing firm Oxford Nanopore Technologies, Quantlase Lab and Tamouh Healthcare, which recently developed the concept of Containerized Aid for Respiratory Emergencies.

In 2020, it took a stake in Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX, launched a partnership with DAL Group for a significant agricultural development in Sudan, and helped marketing consultancy Multiply make an investment in New York data-driven marketing firm YieldMissouri

IHC reported on Wednesday first-quarter net profit of $408 million.


Saudi-based B2B platforms Sary and Retailo raise combined $37.2m

Saudi-based B2B platforms Sary and Retailo raise combined $37.2m
Updated 56 min 57 sec ago

Saudi-based B2B platforms Sary and Retailo raise combined $37.2m

Saudi-based B2B platforms Sary and Retailo raise combined $37.2m
  • Sary raised $30.5 million in a Series B round led by VentureSouq
  • Retailo secured $6.7 million in a seed round led by Shorooq Partners

RIYADH: Two competing Saudi business-to-business online marketplaces have announced fundraising, a further sign of the growing interest in the region’s startups.

Sary raised $30.5 million in a Series B round led by VentureSouq and joined by new investors US-based Rocketship.vc and STV, Sary said in a press release. Existing shareholders Ra’ed Ventures, MSA Capital and Derayah also contributed to the funding round.

Riyadh-based Retailo raised $6.7 million in a seed round led by existing investor Shorooq Partners and UK private equity shop Abercross Holdings, Retailo said a separate press release. Retailo, founded by former Careem executives, has now raised $9 million after being in operation for just nine months.

While Sary is the more mature business having being founded in 2018, both companies offer a platform to connect small businesses with wholesalers and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies.

Sary plans to use the funds to grow geographically and expands the services it offers including credit provision.

“Core to VentureSouq’s overall fintech thesis is the emerging trend of embedded financial services,” VentureSouq Co-Founder and General Partner Suneel Gokhale said in the press release. “In Sary’s case, we see this move into credit as directly contributing to top-line growth, diversifying revenue streams, and improving unit economics for a strong, proven vertical-specific technology company.”

A rush to fund digital startups in the Middle East risks creating a valuation bubble, Fadi Ghandour, CEO of venture-capital investor Wamda, said last month.

“Since the pandemic the whole digital ecosystem which we were predicting to happen within ten years actually happened within a couple of months, so everything digital is growing exponentially,” he told Bloomberg Television. “Everything that is digital is exploding. So, lots of new money and lots of new startups.”

“There is so much new money coming into the market,” he said. “Sovereign wealth funds are starting to invest, and they are seeding a lot of VCs and so I think yes there is a little bit of a valuation bubble.”

Last month, 44 startups across the Middle East and North Africa raised more than $175 million, up $5 million from March, according to data from Wamda.

The biggest deal was by Riyadh-headquartered buy now pay later platform Tamara, which raised $110 million in a Series A round led by leading global payment processor Checkout.com. Helped by that transaction, Saudi Arabia topped the list in terms of number and value of startup investments for the first time.


Saudi financial liquidity rises to record at end of April

Saudi financial liquidity rises to record at end of April
Updated 07 May 2021

Saudi financial liquidity rises to record at end of April

Saudi financial liquidity rises to record at end of April
  • Money supply increased 1 percent in the week to SR2.199 trillion

RIYADH: Saudi liquidity reached its highest level ever at the end of last week, April 29th, at SR2.199 trillion ($586.2 billion), compared with SR2.177 trillion a week earlier.

Money supply increased by 1 percent during the week, and 2.3 percent since the end of last year, Al Eqtisadiah reported, citing Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority data.

Money supply has been above SR2 trillion since May 7, 2020.


Saudi insurance sector grew 2.3 percent in 2020 amid pandemic

Saudi insurance sector grew 2.3 percent in 2020 amid pandemic
Updated 07 May 2021

Saudi insurance sector grew 2.3 percent in 2020 amid pandemic

Saudi insurance sector grew 2.3 percent in 2020 amid pandemic
  • Written premiums rose to SR38.78 billion
  • Net profit increased 61.1 percent

RIYADH: The Saudi insurance sector grew 2.3 percent in terms of written premiums in 2020, to SR38.78 billion ($10.3 billion), according to the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority’s (SAMA) 14th annual report on the Saudi insurance market, issued on Thursday.

Energy and accident & liability insurance classes showed notable increases in written premiums with penetration of the sector increasing from 1.3 percent in 2019 to 1.5 percent in 2020.

In terms of underwriting performance, the overall loss ratio improved to 77.5 percent.

Insurance net profit (after zakat and tax) increased by 61.1 percent compared to the previous year’s corresponding figure, thereby improving the return-on-assets and return-on-equity ratios.

The SAMA report also noted that the overall Saudization ratio increased from 74 percent in 2019 to 75 percent in 2020.