Startup of the Week: Riyadh-based Nitros eases shipping woes for online retailers

Twitter: (@gonitros)
Twitter: (@gonitros)
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Updated 24 January 2022

Startup of the Week: Riyadh-based Nitros eases shipping woes for online retailers

Twitter: (@gonitros)

RIYADH: Entrepreneur Awsim Asmi has started a business that sets out to ease the logistical headache of sending a product thousands of miles from a small online retailer to a customer’s doorstep.
The CEO of the Riyadh-based platform Nitros saw the firm spring out of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw significant changes in shopping behavior from consumers stuck under lockdown restrictions.
Around 209 million extra customers in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Pakistan, — a region known as MENAP — have begun shopping online since the pandemic broke out in March 2020, according to a recent report by global payments company Checkout.com.
Asmi said his platform is a Gulf equivalent of online shipping business Shippo in the US, SendCloud in Europe and ShipRocket in India, which allows small merchants “to automate their shipping operations.”
Asmi founded the business last August, after spending five years as an avionics engineer on projects for Boeing and Airbus when he graduated with an electrical engineering degree from Central Michigan University.
But he said his work now is to streamline deliveries, rather than airplanes.
He told Arab News: “Our mission is to simplify shipping, while lowering shipping costs to the absolute minimum for e-commerce companies and individuals.
“During the pandemic, normal retailing was almost brought to a halt due to lockdown restrictions when everything had to be shipped. Some shipping firms couldn’t keep up with demand, and couriers could barely handle existing volumes, let alone take on more business.”
“I figured that online sellers were looking for a solution that would take care of the technical integration, from e-store through to customer delivery.”

“We offer a service that lets customers compare shipping rates, create labels, generate international customs documents, track shipments and make and receive money transfers. All for a small subscription fee, or pay as you go.”
Nitros is currently available in Saudi Arabia and the other five Gulf Cooperation Council nations, and plans to expand into Egypt by the end of this year.
Asmi said he launched the firm as a “bootstrap operation” with his own savings but received a major boost last December with a SR1.1 million ($300,000) pre-seed investment from US venture capital firm 500 Global and OQM Investments, a Saudi Arabian fund.
Asmi added Nitros is growing at 50 percent a month and forecasts 10,000 users by the end of the year, from an existing user base of 820. The business employs nine staff, all of whom have stock options.
But with such rapid expansion, why does Nitros require outside finance, which normally dilutes stock and comes with strings attached?
“Rather than organic growth, the goal for ambitious startups like us is to grow exponentially,” Asmi said.
“I see Nitros becoming the leading shipping aggregator in the MENA region and we plan an initial public offering within five years. In order to achieve that, we have to reinvest all of our revenue back into the company. And even that would not be enough. Venture capital investment propels a startup like us to the next stage.”
Asmi believes this is the right time to start a business in Saudi Arabia, as the Kingdom moves to reduce its dependence on oil, in part by adopting a more entrepreneurial diversified economy.
He said: “This is becoming a very dynamic place for entrepreneurs. We chose to base ourselves in Riyadh because Saudi Arabia is a massive market with an influx of foreign investment and talent – and logistics is a pillar of that economy.”


Oil prices up 2 percent on supply outages

Oil prices up 2 percent on supply outages
Updated 01 July 2022

Oil prices up 2 percent on supply outages

Oil prices up 2 percent on supply outages

LONDON: Oil prices rose about 2 percent on Friday, recouping most of the previous session’s declines, as supply outages in Libya and expected shutdowns in Norway outweighed expectations that an economic slowdown could dent demand, according to Reuters.

Brent crude futures were up $2.20, or 2 percent, at $111.23 a barrel by 1348 GMT, having dropped to $108.03 a barrel earlier in the session.

WTI crude futures gained $2.25, or 2.1 percent, to $108.01 a barrel, after retreating to $104.56 a barrel earlier.

Both contracts fell around 3 percent on Thursday, ending the month lower for the first time since November.

We “still see risks to prices as skewed to the upside on tight inventories, limited spare capacity and muted non-OPEC+ supply response,” Barclays said in a note.

Libya’s National Oil Corporation declared force majeure on Thursday at the Es Sider and Ras Lanuf ports as well as the El Feel oilfield. Force majeure is still in effect at the ports of Brega and Zueitina, NOC said.

Production has seen a sharp decline, with daily exports ranging between 365,000 and 409,000 bpd, a decrease of 865,000 bpd compared to production in “normal circumstances,” NOC said.

Elsewhere, 74 Norwegian offshore oil workers at Equinor’s Gudrun, Oseberg South and Oseberg East platforms will go on strike from July 5, the Lederne trade union said on Thursday, likely halting about 4 percent of Norway’s oil production.

Ecuador’s government and indigenous groups’ leaders on Thursday reached an agreement to end more than two weeks of protests which had led to the shut-in of more than half of the country’s pre-crisis 500,000 bpd oil output.

On Thursday, the OPEC+ group of producers, including Russia, agreed to stick to its output strategy after two days of meetings. However, the producer club avoided discussing policy from September onwards.

Previously, OPEC+ decided to increase output each month by 648,000 barrels per day in July and August, up from a previous plan to add 432,000 bpd per month.

US President Joe Biden will make a three-stop trip to the Middle East in mid-July that includes a visit to Saudi Arabia, pushing energy policy into the spotlight as the United States and other countries face soaring fuel prices that are driving up inflation.

Biden said on Thursday he would not directly press Saudi Arabia to increase oil output to curb soaring prices when he sees the Saudi king and crown prince during a visit this month.

A Reuters survey found that OPEC pumped 28.52 million bpd in June, down 100,000 bpd from May’s revised total.

Oil prices are expected to stay above $100 a barrel this year as Europe and other regions struggle to wean themselves off Russian supply, a Reuters poll showed on Thursday, though economic risks could slow the climb.

India introduced export duties on gasoil, gasoline and jet fuel on Friday to help maintain domestic supplies, while also imposing a windfall tax on oil producers who have benefited from higher global crude oil prices. 


Russia seizes control of partly foreign-owned energy project

Russia seizes control of partly foreign-owned energy project
Updated 01 July 2022

Russia seizes control of partly foreign-owned energy project

Russia seizes control of partly foreign-owned energy project

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin has handed full control over a major oil and natural gas project partly owned by Shell and two Japanese companies to a newly created Russian firm, a bold move amid spiraling tensions with the West over Moscow’s military action in Ukraine, according to Associated Press.

Putin’s decree late Thursday orders the creation of a new company that would take over ownership of Sakhalin Energy Investment Co., which is nearly 50 percent controlled by British energy giant Shell and Japan-based Mitsui and Mitsubishi.

Putin’s order named “threats to Russia’s national interests and its economic security” as the reason for the move at Sakhalin-2, one of the world’s largest export-oriented oil and natural gas projects.

The presidential order gives the foreign firms a month to decide if they want to retain the same shares in the new company.

Russian state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom had a controlling stake in Sakhalin-2, the country’s first offshore gas project that accounts for about 4 percent of the world’s market for liquefied natural gas, or LNG. Japan, South Korea and China are the main customers for the project’s oil and LNG exports.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that there is no reason to expect a shutdown of supplies following Putin’s order.

Shell held a 27.5 percent stake in the project. After the start of the Russian military action in Ukraine, Shell announced its decision to pull out of all of its Russian investments, a move that it said has cost at least $5 billion. The company also holds 50 percent stakes in two other joint ventures with Gazprom to develop oil fields.

Shell said Friday that it’s studying Putin’s order, which has thrown its investment in the joint venture into doubt.

“As a shareholder, Shell has always acted in the best interests of Sakhalin-2 and in accordance with all applicable legal requirements,” the company said in a statement. “We are aware of the decree and are assessing its implications.”

Seiji Kihara, deputy chief secretary of the Japanese cabinet, said the government was aware of Putin’s decree and was reviewing its impact. Japan-based Mitsui owns 12.5 percent of the project, and Mitsubishi holds 10 percent.

Kihara emphasized that the project should not be undermined because it “is pertinent to Japan’s energy security,” adding that “anything that harms our resource rights is unacceptable.”

“We are scrutinizing Russia’s intentions and the background behind this,” he told reporters Friday at a twice-daily news briefing. “We are looking into the details, and for future steps, I don’t have any prediction for you at this point.”

Asked during a conference call with reporters if Putin’s move with Sakhalin-2 could herald a similar action against other joint ventures involving foreign shareholders, Peskov said, “There can’t be any general rule here.”

He added that “each case will be considered separately.”

Sakhalin-2 includes three offshore platforms, an onshore processing facility, 300 kilometers of offshore pipelines, 1,600 kilometers of onshore pipelines, an oil export terminal and an LNG plant.
 

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Riyadh no longer one of the 100 most expensive cities for expats: Mercer

Riyadh no longer one of the 100 most expensive cities for expats: Mercer
Updated 01 July 2022

Riyadh no longer one of the 100 most expensive cities for expats: Mercer

Riyadh no longer one of the 100 most expensive cities for expats: Mercer

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, has dropped 72 places in a ranking of the world’s most expensive cities for expats as it tumbled out of the top 100, according to a report issued by Mercer.

Riyadh was positioned at 103 in Mercer's Cost of Living Index 2022, falling from 29 in the previous year’s list. 

Commenting on Riyadh’s fall, Khaled Al-Mobayed, CEO of Menassat Reality Co., a Riyadh-based real estate developer, said: “The results came in contrary to the expectations, due to the pandemic’s ongoing consequences and the rising cost of logistics and supply chain.”

“Being out of the 100 top expensive cities is a good sign despite the challenges that the economy has gone through,” he added.

UAE's Dubai took over Lebanon's capital, Beirut, as the most expensive city among Arab countries in the region, ranking 31.

Despite being placed third in 2021, Beirut was not even on this year’s list of 227 cities due to the country’s economic turmoil.

The city’s fall reflects the severe drop in value of the Lebanese pound, according to Lebanese economic analyst Bassel Al-Khatib, who pointed out the minimum wage is now worth $20, while it was $450 before the economic crisis gripping the country. 

“Lebanon is extremely expensive to those who get paid in Lebanese pounds yet very cheap for those who get pain in US dollars,” he told Arab News, adding: “Lebanon was expensive for both citizens and foreigners, and with the currency dropping 95 percent and the dollar reaching record levels, the situation changed.”

“Everything has become expensive but not for foreigners who have dollars. All services by the government such as water, electricity fees, or internet are still the same but food prices skyrocketed,” he added.

Abu Dhabi was the second highest Arab city from the region, ranked at 61, while Jeddah came in at 111 this year compared to 94 in 2021.

Jordan's capital Amman ranked 115, followed by Bahrain's Manama at 117, Oman's Muscat at 119 and Kuwait city at 131.

Egypt's capital, Cairo, was placed at 154 while Rabat, Algiers and Tunis came as the least expensive in the region, ranking 162, 218 and 220 respectively.

Hong Kong topped the list as the most expensive city in the world in 2022, moving from second rank last year and taking the top spot from Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat.

Switzerland’s Zurikh and Geneva followed as second and third most expensive cities, replacing Hong Kong and Beirut respectively.

Turkey’s capital, Ankara, came in as the least expensive city, ranking 227, taking the spot from Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek.


France eyes ‘good investment opportunities’ in Saudi Arabia: Official

France eyes ‘good investment opportunities’ in Saudi Arabia: Official
Updated 01 July 2022

France eyes ‘good investment opportunities’ in Saudi Arabia: Official

France eyes ‘good investment opportunities’ in Saudi Arabia: Official

RIYADH: France is intensifying efforts to take advantage of Saudi investment opportunities in all sectors, mostly energy, technology, water and other industrial services, the country's Ambassador in Saudi Arabia said.

Saudi Arabia is an attractive region and a suitable environment for investments in all its vital sectors, Ludovic Pouille told a press conference.

The French government and the private sector are working to expand the number of companies operating in the Kingdom, which currently stands at about 135, Aleqtisadiah reported citing Pouille.

The aim is to gain large investment spaces, and to benefit from the reforms and economic developments undertaken by Saudi Arabia, which constitute a good opportunity for French companies, he said. 

The French ambassador said France will take the model of agreements between the Al-Ula Authority and his country’s institutions in the fields of infrastructure and culture, as a starting point for expanding the map of investments in the future.


New Saudi smart city AlNama to be zero-carbon

New Saudi smart city AlNama to be zero-carbon
Updated 01 July 2022

New Saudi smart city AlNama to be zero-carbon

New Saudi smart city AlNama to be zero-carbon

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s new AlNama smart city will be a zero-carbon community, according to the company charged with designing the development.

The hospitality hub, located on a 10 sq. km area in Riyadh, will create 10,000 jobs in various sectors, including green-tech industries to create a ‘green circular economy’, Construction Week reported. 

The project is planned to provide 11,000 residential units and an eventual population of 44,000 people.

ALNAMA will be designed by Dubai's URB, and the firm’s CEO Baharash Bagherian said: “AlNama aims to be the next generation of self-sufficient city, producing all the city’s renewable energy needs, as well as the resident’s caloric food intake on site.

“Biosaline agriculture, productive gardens, wadis, and carbon-rich habitats are key features of the development’s innovative and resilient landscape design.

“The city was planned through the design of its landscape, rather than its buildings. This creates an urbanism that is more socially inclusive, more economically valuable, and more sensitive to the environment.”

AlNama will consist of eco-friendly glamping lodges, eco resorts and a nature conservation center to promote ecotourism, while an autism village, wellness center and clinics within the medical hub will help promote medical tourism.

The green-tech hub will provide an innovative ecosystem for urban-tech companies related to food, energy, water, waste, mobility, and building materials