Basrah Gas signs loan agreement with IFC for project to limit gas flaring

Basrah Gas signs loan agreement with IFC for project to limit gas flaring
Iraq continues to flare some of gas extracted alongside crude oil because it lacks the facilities to process it into fuel for local consumption or exports. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 29 June 2021

Basrah Gas signs loan agreement with IFC for project to limit gas flaring

Basrah Gas signs loan agreement with IFC for project to limit gas flaring
  • Gas flaring costs nearly $2.5 billion in lost revenue for the government

DUBAI, June 29 : Iraq’s Basrah Gas Co. signed an agreement with the International Finance Corporation for a loan to fund a project to limit the flaring of natural gas, the state-run Iraqi News Agency reported on Tuesday.
Iraq continues to flare some of gas extracted alongside crude oil because it lacks the facilities to process it into fuel for local consumption or exports.
Gas flaring costs nearly $2.5 billion in lost revenue for the government and would be sufficient to meet most of needs for gas‐based power generation, according to the World Bank.


Saudi Arabia has its eye on the prize in the esports boom

Saudi Arabia has its eye on the prize in the esports boom
Updated 27 October 2021

Saudi Arabia has its eye on the prize in the esports boom

Saudi Arabia has its eye on the prize in the esports boom
  • Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan, president of the Kingdom’s esports federation, said the sector has the potential to contribute billions of dollars to the local economy
  • Analysts predict that global revenues from esports will grow to more than $1.08 billion in 2021 and will surpass $1.6 billion by 2024

RIYADH: Electronic gaming, or egaming, is an increasingly popular activity, with a recent study suggesting that 50 percent of the Saudi population consider themselves regular gamers.

A frequent criticism of electronic gaming is that it is a waste of time with little or no economic value. However Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan, president of the Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports, believes e-gaming and esports, which is the term for competitive video gaming, have the potential to contribute billions of dollars to business, job creation and gross domestic product in the Kingdom.

“When you talk about the potential in the Saudi market, one of the first things that I think back to is that we did a study with the Ministry of Sports and more than 23, 24 percent of the population considers themselves avid gamers who play more than once a week,” the prince told Arab News on Tuesday at the Future Investment Initiative Forum in Riyadh.

“About 23, 24 percent-plus consider themselves regular gamers who play more than once a month. That’s almost 50, if not more than 50, percent of the population that consider themselves gamers.”

The prince predicts that the sector will contribute about 1 percent of Saudi GDP by 2030, which might seem a small proportion but the amount of money potentially involved is significant.

“Do we really want to say 1 percent?” he asked. “Is that really a number? It sounds really small. They said, ‘That is worth more than SR80 billion ($21 billion),’ and I said I’ll go with 1 percent. That sounds like a really good number to me, and that’s both from direct and indirect job creation and GDP creation through the gaming and e-sports industry.”

According to the Global Esports and Live Streaming Market Report, published in March by games and esports analyst Newzoo, global revenues from esports, or competitive video gaming, are projected to grow to more than $1.08 billion in 2021, an increase of 14 percent on the previous year.
 

Market and consumer data company Statista predicts that global esports revenue will surpass $1.6 billion by 2024.

Like their counterparts in other countries, a growing number of Saudis are taking part in esports and streaming their gaming activities on platforms such as YouTube and Twitch. Audience numbers are also growing.

Video gaming and esports are known for fostering creativity, collaboration and leadership, skills that are highly valued in the business world. Consequently, esports and egaming can provide a path to a range of careers and employment opportunities. And as the esports sector grows, these could increasingly include opportunities for tournament organizers.

The esports industry in Saudi Arabia has experienced impressive growth in the past few years, and the Kingdom has stepped up its efforts to support it. SAFEIS held its first esports/gaming tournaments in the Kingdom recently and more are planned. Other tournaments are hosted by platforms such as the Saudi-based KAFU Games.

Meanwhile there are plans for an esports academy as part of the NEOM smart city development. And for those interested in the development of games, Tuwaiq1000 has offered course for beginners interested in learning how to program from scratch, or for professionals who want to refine their programming skills.

Thanks to all this support that is increasingly available, “sooner rather than later Saudi Arabia will become a world leader in esports,” according to academic Ali Alshammari, a game developer and researcher from Tabuk.

Gaming and esports therefore represent an emerging opportunity for Saudi authorities to support and develop a new sector that can make a significant contribution to non-oil revenues, in keeping with the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030.

“We are a part of a global community,” said Prince Faisal, who added that it is important for this community to come together and dispel misconceptions about gaming and esports.

“There are two things I want people to always remember about gaming,” he said. “Try and be positive. And please don’t ever forget that at the end of the day, gaming is about fun and if you are not having fun then you shouldn’t be doing it.”


Fashion, money, power and sustainability: Welcome to the new FII

Fashion, money, power and sustainability: Welcome to the new FII
Updated 27 October 2021

Fashion, money, power and sustainability: Welcome to the new FII

Fashion, money, power and sustainability: Welcome to the new FII
  • Business bigwigs debate and brainstorm how to solve big problems at global level

RIYADH: The Future Investment Initiative Forum returned to Riyadh on Tuesday, two years after the city last hosted the event, at which powerful and affluent people from around the world traditionally gather to look for big contract opportunities.

But this year, the fifth staging of the forum, is different. There was no talk about big contracts; instead, the powerful participants were discussing how can we give back to humanity and solve big problems at a global level. It is all about sustainability and investing in humanity.

The return of the FII after a postponement of a year caused by the pandemic, is a sign that the worst is behind us — at least in Saudi Arabia, which is going through a deep transformation.

Riyadh is no longer talking a language all of its own. It is now talking a global language that includes terms such as “saving the planet,” “sustainability,” “carbon emissions reduction” and “planning for a better world.”

The Saudis wanted to make sure that the launch of this year’s forum would send a strong message and they found no better way of achieving than by having renowned singer Gloria Gaynor appear and perform her famous song, “I Will Survive,” during the opening.

The world, and Saudi Arabia, has survived the pandemic, with all the hard decisions and tough measures this took, from the rapid development of vaccines to prohibiting Muslims from gathering in mosques to pray.

It is perhaps hard to imagine that big asset-management businesses such as BlackRock and Blackstone might exist for anything other than making big deals, but their respective bosses Larry Fink and Stephen Schwarzman are talking about subjects such as inequality and future generations at the forum.

Still, some things at the FII remain the same. The corridors are filled with people in fancy suits and dresses and the event is still a gathering place for the biggest deal-makers on the planet, who collectively manage trillions of dollars in assets.

Empowerment of women is another hot topic, and it was surprising to hear Schwarzman, Blackstone’s co-founder, talk candidly about how his company has had trouble recruiting women.

“Like many people in finance, we were having a lot of trouble hiring women,” he said during the opening panel discussion on Tuesday. “It was a male-dominated business and we made a decision to change that in 2015.

“We analyzed it and what we realized is that women weren’t applying to Blackstone. We tried to find out why and we found out that they were scared of us. I don’t think I’m very scary.”

Ana Botin, chairperson of Banco Santander, was the only woman on the eight-person panel, although there were female speakers at the opening of the forum.

As the first day of the event was ending, Saudi Aramco announced deals that will help it become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Indeed, the world has changed.


Saudi market at the forefront of digital transformation

Saudi market at the forefront of digital transformation
Updated 27 October 2021

Saudi market at the forefront of digital transformation

Saudi market at the forefront of digital transformation
  • Kingdom leading consumer trends in the region, says Bain & Company Middle East partner

The coronavirus pandemic has taken the world to a whole other level of digitalization and the youth are the driving force behind the ongoing digital transformation, said Anne-Laure Malauzat, partner at Bain and Company Middle East.
Talking on the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative Forum in Riyadh on Tuesday, she said Saudi Arabia is one of the leading countries in terms of contactless payments and other innovative solutions.
“We’ve seen the Kingdom lead in a number of things, the first one, for example, is everything that has to do with social media penetration. The Kingdom is known to have some of the highest social media utilization in the world,” Malauzat told Arab News.
She said YouTube utilization in Saudi Arabia is also one of the highest in the world. “With over 85 percent of people who have access to YouTube and watch YouTube on a regular basis, which is quite high,” she said.
Malauzat also pointed out that the region is also leading the way in terms of millennial and younger customers that are dictating change in market behavior and consumption pattern. 
She said that people in the Kingdom no longer want to spend time in making payments. “They want seamlessness and convenience and if it’s not convenient they might actually drop the purchase that’s how demanding our consumers are here,” she said.
The entrepreneur said the coronavirus pandemic has changed several things in the world and has forced companies rethink their strategies to deal with the changed environment focussed on digitalization.
“The main question we kept asking ourselves is we’re seeing the world changed especially in the last two years with the COVID-19 pandemic and we were wondering whether the change in the region was going to be different than around the world. What we found is actually there are quite a lot of similarities between the global and regional trends,” she said.
“We thought we were digital before COVID-19 now it’s a whole other level of digitalization,” Malauzat said.
“For example, we’ve seen that in Saudi Arabia, there are over 90 percent of people who said that they started shopping online more frequently following the COVID-19 pandemic and over 50 percent of those people said they would stick to their behaviors even after the pandemic.”
She said what happened was a structural change in how people purchase and shop.
Another example that occurred mainly due to the pandemic, she added, is that more people have started giving preference to their local products. 
“People were traveling less due to the pandemic so they spend more and more money locally and as a result the local offerings have grown; there has been a growth in local brands in different sectors whether it’s food or fashion. We’ve seen a rise of the local supply to meet the growing demand,” she said.


Saudi development fund issues $3bn to Pakistan to help support economy

Saudi development fund issues $3bn to Pakistan to help support economy
Updated 27 October 2021

Saudi development fund issues $3bn to Pakistan to help support economy

Saudi development fund issues $3bn to Pakistan to help support economy
  • The funds will help the Pakistani government support its foreign currency reserves

RIYADH: The Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) announced it will deposit $3 billion to the State Bank of Pakistan to help the Pakistani government support its foreign currency reserves and in combating the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.
SFD said that the directive was issued to finance the oil derivatives trade with $1.2 billion throughout the year.
The fund added that these directives confirm the Kingdom’s continued stance in supporting the Pakistani economy.


FII: Bank chiefs, CEOs pass mixed verdict on cryptocurrency investment

CNN's Richard Quest (L) moderates a session at the annual Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 26, 2021. (AFP)
CNN's Richard Quest (L) moderates a session at the annual Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 26, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 27 October 2021

FII: Bank chiefs, CEOs pass mixed verdict on cryptocurrency investment

CNN's Richard Quest (L) moderates a session at the annual Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 26, 2021. (AFP)
  • Saudi central bank chief does not foresee destruction of banking system by digital currencies
  • Leading investors still view gold and dollar as a safer haven for investments than bitcoin

RIYADH: The verdict on cryptocurrency products and funds was mixed as CEOs, central bank chiefs, investors and policymakers exchanged views on the topic on the first day of the Future Investment Forum in the Saudi capital.

The three-day forum, which is themed “Invest in Humanity,” includes talks on artificial intelligence, robotics, education, healthcare and sustainability.

Taking part in a session on Tuesday, Fahad Al-Mubarak, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s central bank, said SAMA should have no involvement with crypto-assets as many of those who deal in them are criminals.

He did not foresee the destruction of the banking system by digital currencies but rather an expansion of centralized systems for regulating tender.

Bitcoin is the leading digital currency trading internationally, followed by Ether and Solana.

The three-day forum, which is themed “Invest in Humanity,” includes talks on artificial intelligence, robotics, education, healthcare and sustainability. (AFP)

Regulators are still playing catch-up when it comes to how cryptocurrencies should be governed, Al-Mubarak said.

Having made his point, he noted that there has been a sharp jump in online banking during the coronavirus disease pandemic. “Before the pandemic, only 35 percent of bank transactions were electronic,” he said. “Now it’s around 55 percent.”

Hussain Abdulla, co-CEO of Qatar-based investment bank QInvest, said cryptocurrency products were not yet Shariah-compliant, and more understanding was needed.

Nevertheless, he warned that the Middle East is lagging way behind the US and Europe when it comes to digitization of the banking industry.

“Winners in the banking industry will be those who take steps today toward digitization rather than later,” Abdulla said.

Several prominent business people who took part in FII sessions on Tuesday said leading investors still view gold and the dollar as a safer haven for investments than bitcoin.

Both Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, and David Solomon, chairman and CEO of the Goldman Sachs Group, said they preferred investments in US dollar over bitcoin.

Ray Dalio, founder and co-chairman of Bridgewater Associates, opted for gold over bitcoin.

Khaldoon Khalifa Al-Mubarak, CEO and managing director of the UAE’s Mubadala Investment Co., said he would take bitcoin “hedged in gold.”

In the past week, the crypto industry has seen inflows to the tune of $1.5 billion, amid soaring optimism with the trading of bitcoin exchange traded funds.

Inflows so far this year hit $8 billion, far exceeding the record set for the whole of 2020 of $6.7 billion, according to data from a report released by digital asset manager CoinShares on Monday.

The bulk of inflows for the sixth straight week went to bitcoin, with $1.45 billion, data showed. Inflows year-to-date amounted to $6.1 billion.

With more than 250 expert speakers from the economic, business, education and corporate worlds, discussions at the FII, dubbed the “Davos in the Desert,” have centered on investments that aim to create the greatest benefits for humanity.

Solomon said there must be clarity regarding indicators of economic recovery and action plans, and this contributes to attracting investments and facilitating the movement of funds.

Guests attending the opening ceremony of the annual Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh. (AFP)

More broadly, he underscored the importance of supporting and investing in small businesses to ultimately bring growth and innovation to economies.

“One of the key solutions to drive economic participation and growth is support for small businesses and finding ways that we all can contribution to growth and innovation,” Solomon said.

BlackRock’s Fink said: “It is important to improve human and environmental conditions and to think about long-term solutions, and governments have a great burden.”

In his remarks, Al-Mubarak highlighted the importance of coming together to combat the challenge of climate change.

“The climate challenge will require everybody to contribute in their own way. Nobody is going to solve it on their own. We have to solve it together, working together globally as institutions, as governments, as civil society.”