MENA region makes strides in digital assets as crypto scene heats up

Analysis MENA region makes strides in digital assets as crypto scene heats up
Heightened digital activity is not reserved for a niche group of blockchain aficionados alone; instead it’s spread across different industries. (AFP/File)
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Updated 04 April 2022

MENA region makes strides in digital assets as crypto scene heats up

MENA region makes strides in digital assets as crypto scene heats up
  • From luxury fashion to travel to art, crypto is increasingly finding more acceptance

DUBAI: Crypto has gone mainstream within a very short span of time as the Middle East region is making major strides in digital assets with a slew of new regulatory measures.

From luxury fashion to travel to art, crypto is increasingly finding more acceptance across diverse industries, indicating that these new forms of digital currencies are here to stay.

With this space becoming bigger and bigger, it will continue to draw the attention of crypto enthusiasts.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Recognizing that these digital assets will only grow from here, the region is making necessary strides by introducing new mandates.

Dubai, for instance, adopted a new law to regulate virtual assets such as bitcoin and non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, and established an entity called the Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority. These are clear moves to legitimize a nascent industry and set the stage for growth.

“I see this as very positive news that will hopefully lead to massive adoption for digital assets in the region,” said Zina Ashour, co-founder and marketing director of iOWN, a regional tech company that invests in developing fintech solutions built on blockchain.

“This means that the regulators want to be part of the big movement toward digitizing the financial sector via blockchain and cryptocurrency,” she said.

Ecosystem

Similarly, FTX, a global crypto exchange, received an official license to operate in Dubai. This was closely followed up with an operating license granted to Binance, one of the largest crypto providers in the world that has also set up a headquarters in the emirate.

This series of steps come on the back of Dubai’s decision to launch the DMCC Crypto Center in June 2021. This was established as a comprehensive ecosystem for businesses operating in the cryptographic and blockchain sectors.

The center is also expected to house a leading crypto advisory practice led by CV Labs, the entity behind the Switzerland government-backed Crypto Valley. The valley has previously spawned crypto leaders such as cardano and ethereum.

FASTFACTS

• The digital economy contributes about 4.3 percent of the GDP in the UAE, which is equivalent to 100 billion dirhams ($27 billion).

• There are more than 1,400 startups in the country, with 1.5 billion dirhams allocated to them.

• The emirate has 90 investment funds in the digital sector and 12 business incubators.

• The total value of startups in the country is estimated to be 90 billion dirhams.

“Crypto and blockchain technologies have an enormous potential to transform global trade and supply chains. This is one of the key drivers behind launching the DMCC Crypto Center,” said Ahmed bin Sulayem, executive chairman and chief executive officer, DMCC, in a press statement.

“With the DMCC Crypto Center providing a progressive and supportive regulatory environment, a strong pool of industry talent, and an ecosystem that provides access to capital, resources and opportunities to crypto firms, we are perfectly placed to support crypto businesses from across the world,” he added.




Ola Doudin

Regulatory framework

Industry experts say the growing interest of non-regional platforms for local licenses can validate the size of the market opportunity in the region.

“From a regulatory perspective, we have reached escape velocity,” said Ola Doudin, CEO and co-founder of BitOasis, a UAE-based digital asset trading exchange and platform.

She pointed out that there is momentum and a competitive dynamic among policy-makers and regulators to launch frameworks for Virtual Asset Service Providers, or VASPs.

Bahrain and the Abu Dhabi Global Market were the first to do so, with Dubai having just passed its Virtual Assets Law. The Emirates Securities Commodities Authority is the next.

Doudin explained that this trend is driven by two factors — the realization that Web 3.0 is upon us, adoption rates are high; and enabling Web 3.0 through balanced regulation will attract investment, create jobs, and position countries as centers of innovation.

“We expect to see other GCC and MENA markets follow suit over the next 12 to 24 months,” she added.

The BitOasis CEO highlighted that 19 out of 20 top crypto-markets (by weighted crypto activity) are in the emerging or developing economies. “So it’s not surprising that when a territory announces it has introduced a regulatory framework — as we are seeing across the UAE right now — there is naturally a surge of interest and investment,” she said.

From a regulatory perspective, we have reached escape velocity

Ola Doudin, CEO and co-founder of BitOasis

Digital economy

The crypto expert estimates venture investment into the sector across the GCC will exceed $500 million this year alone.

Currently, the digital economy contributes about 4.3 percent of the GDP in the UAE, which is equivalent to 100 billion dirhams ($27 billion), according to the latest statistics from the Dubai Chamber for Digital Economy. There are more than 1,400 startups in the country, with 1.5 billion dirhams allocated to them. The emirate has 90 investment funds in the digital sector and 12 business incubators. The total value of startups in the country is estimated to be 90 billion dirhams.

In fact, this heightened digital activity is not reserved for a niche group of blockchain aficionados alone; instead it’s spread across different industries. With the basic understanding of crypto growing among the masses, this will benefit most businesses in the long run.


Almana set to expand network of hospitals outside of the Eastern Province: CEO

Almana set to expand network of hospitals outside of the Eastern Province: CEO
Updated 03 February 2023

Almana set to expand network of hospitals outside of the Eastern Province: CEO

Almana set to expand network of hospitals outside of the Eastern Province: CEO

RIYADH: As part of its five-year plan, Almana Group of Hospitals, one of the oldest and largest medical groups in Saudi Arabia, is set to expand its network of hospitals, its CEO told Arab News in an exclusive interview. 

Being the first private medical center established in the Eastern Province, the group’s initial focus will be on exploring opportunities for a new hospital outside of the eastern region within the next few years with the view to expanding into other areas following that, Mana Almana informed.

“We are strongly aligned with the vision of our great leaders and stand ready to support the government to build capacity within the sector due to our expanding facilities and offerings tailored to the evolving needs of our communities,” he said.

Almana added: “We recognize that to meet the future needs of the medical sector, we need to partner with world-renowned healthcare institutions to help us accelerate and further develop the Kingdom’s healthcare system.” 

Not surprisingly, the group is also seeking to partner with the Ministry of Health under public-private partnerships to deliver advanced and specialist services.

As the only dedicated oncology unit in eastern Saudi Arabia, the group has recently expanded its specialists department in Dammam to cater to cancer patients’ mounting needs in the region. 

CEO Mana Almana. (Supplied)

“When it comes to oncology, Almana’s goal is to provide cancer patients with the highest international standard of care and cater to the growing need for cancer care in the Kingdom,” Almana said. 

“As such, in addition to our existing seven hospitals and clinics, we decided to create a dedicated space where patients could receive individualized and tailored treatment within a centralized and fully-fledged unit.” 

The new oncology center has been designed with the complexity of cancer in mind. By bringing the group’s 70 specialized oncologists under one roof, it can provide personalized treatments and precision fit for specific types of cancer. 

The new unit will include four new clinics specializing in medical oncology, radiation and surgical oncology in addition to four chemotherapy treatment rooms. 

“Besides providing exceptional treatment for patients, we also focus our efforts on preventive cancer care measures,” Almana explained. 

“Our efforts include free year-round breast-cancer screenings at all branches of Almana hospitals in Dammam, Alkhobar, Ahsa, Jubail and Rakah,” he continued. “Over the years, our free screening has touched the lives of over 10,000 patients, potentially helping to save even more lives.” 

In line with the ambition of Saudi Vision 2030 to unify patient care records and improve health information exchange, the group is investing heavily in technology within its hospitals to ensure all services will be automated while providing seamless service for its patients.

“We are also establishing a new central command center to improve patient outcomes by coordinating care between our hospital locations,” Almana informed. 

“As a group of hospitals, we continuously foster a culture of innovation to create value in areas of high unmet medical need across the Kingdom. For example, we’ve created unique offerings where they currently don’t exist such as our foot disease and diabetes center, the only one in the region,” he continued.

In addition, the group is also taking several steps to train and recruit medical professionals. 

“We also share the ambition of Saudi Vision 2030 to increase the number of females within the workforce,” Almana said. “Already, we have females leading our medical departments and are looking to increase this even further by 20 percent over the next five years.” 

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve also helped develop the next generation of doctors and nurses in the Kingdom through our official healthcare training academy, Mohammed Almana College for Medical Science, which contributes to over 180 Saudi graduate nurses each year,” he pointed out.


Global Markets: Stocks, bonds tumble as stellar US jobs report may force Fed rethink

Global Markets: Stocks, bonds tumble as stellar US jobs report may force Fed rethink
Updated 03 February 2023

Global Markets: Stocks, bonds tumble as stellar US jobs report may force Fed rethink

Global Markets: Stocks, bonds tumble as stellar US jobs report may force Fed rethink

LONDON: Global stocks and Treasury prices tumbled on Friday after an unexpectedly strong US jobs report indicated the Federal Reserve may need to keep interest rates elevated to control inflation, according to Reuters.

This placed another roadblock in the way of a weeks-long markets rally that stumbled in US after hours trading on Thursday over disappointing earnings from Google, Apple, and Amazon.

S&P 500 futures slid 1.1 percent, contracts on the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 dropped 1.8 percent.

The MSCI index of global shares fell 0.3 percent, having hit its highest level since August on Thursday in a rebound buoyed by optimism that central banks are close to the end of their aggressive rate hiking cycles.

The keenly-watched US nonfarm payrolls report showed US employers added 517,000 new workers in January, vastly overshooting expectations of economists polled by Reuters for a 185,000 gain.

Average hourly wages, which analysts and investors focus on for clues about whether a tight labour market may continue to fan the flames of inflation, rose 0.3%, matching economists' forecasts.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which underpins borrowing costs worldwide, added 11 basis points to 3.51 percent after the jobs data. The two-year Treasury yield, which follows traders' expectations of Fed fund rates, rose by 12 bps to 4.24 percent.

The Fed hiked its main interest rate by 25 bps to a range of 4.5 percent to 4.75 percent on Wednesday, taking benchmark borrowing costs to their highest since late 2007, and signalled more hikes to come. The European Central Bank and the Bank of England also raised rates on Thursday to contain inflation.

"In a year when the economic data is more important than the Fed, the January employment report clearly justified the Fed having tightened by 425 bps over the past 10 months," said Jack McIntyre, portfolio manager at Brandywine Global.

Ahead of the nonfarm payrolls data, markets had priced two US rate cuts by year-end on hopes the US economy was cooling enough to quell inflation but not on course for a downturn that could reduce companies’ earnings more than markets were already counting on.

US tech shares took a beating in after-hours trading on Thursday after Apple projected another revenue decline in the start of the year, Amazon warned that its operating profit could fall to zero in the current quarter, and Google parent Alphabet missed fourth-quarter profit and revenue expectations.

"We will see headwinds from further earnings downgrades, but we have incorporated quite a lot (of this) already so I think markets can hold here if we are indeed right on the Fed,” said Willem Sels, global chief investment officer at HSBC's private bank, who expects the US central bank to raise rates just one more time in 2023.

An index measuring the dollar against major currencies stood at 102.53, rising further from recent nine-month lows of 100.80.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 share benchmark fell 0.4 percent. Germany's benchmark 10-year bond yield rose 13 bps to 2.14 percent, having on Thursday dropped by the most since 2011 as prices shot higher.

The euro traded at $1.0841, down 0.65 percent and pulling further away from Thursday's 10-month top of $1.1033.

 


World food prices decline for 10th month running in January, says UN Food Agency

World food prices decline for 10th month running in January, says UN Food Agency
Updated 03 February 2023

World food prices decline for 10th month running in January, says UN Food Agency

World food prices decline for 10th month running in January, says UN Food Agency

ROME: World food prices fell in January for a 10th consecutive month, and are now down some 18 percent from a record high hit last March following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UN's food agency said on Friday.

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s price index, which tracks the most globally traded food commodities, averaged 131.2 points last month against 132.2 for December, the agency said on Friday. It was the lowest reading since September 2021.

The December figure was revised down from an original estimate of 132.4.

Falls in the prices of vegetable oils, dairy and sugar helped pull down the index, while cereals and meat remained largely stable, the FAO said.

In separate cereal supply and demand estimates on Friday, the FAO raised its forecast for global cereal production in 2022 to 2.77 billion tons from a previous estimate of 2.76 billion tons.

The FAO cereal price index rose just 0.1 percent month-on-month in January to give a 4.8 percent increase on the year.

International wheat prices declined 2.5 percent as production in Australia and Russia outpaced expectations. Rice, by contrast, jumped 6.2 percent, driven in part by strong local demand in some Asian exporting countries.

Vegetable oil prices fell 2.9 percent in January, the dairy index dipped 1.4 percent and sugar declined 1.1 percent. Meat slipped a mere 0.1 percent.

Looking at supply and demand for cereals, FAO said it expected a record global output of wheat in 2022 thanks to revised crop forecasts from Australia and Russia.

The forecast for world rice production was revised down on the back of lower-than-expected output in China, and is now predicted to decline 2.6 percent from its all-time high in 2021.

Looking ahead to 2023, FAO said early indications pointed to a likely expansion of winter wheat cropping in the northern hemisphere. However, it warned that high fertilizer costs may impact yields.

World cereal utilization in 2022/23 was forecast to dip 0.7 percent from the previous year to 2.78 billion tons. The estimate for world cereal stocks was pegged at 844 million tons, pushing down the world stock-to-use ratio for 2022/23 to 29.5 percent from 30.8 percent in 2021/22


Oil steadies with spotlight on EU embargo, US jobs data

Oil steadies with spotlight on EU embargo, US jobs data
Updated 03 February 2023

Oil steadies with spotlight on EU embargo, US jobs data

Oil steadies with spotlight on EU embargo, US jobs data

LONDON: Oil prices steadied on Friday as investors sought more clarity on the imminent EU embargo on Russian refined fuels, with prices set for a second weekly loss in the absence of clear signs of demand recovery in top consumer China.

Brent crude LCOc1 futures gained 15 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $82.32 a barrel by 1301 GMT, having dropped by about 1 percent in the previous session. US West Texas Intermediate crude CLc1 futures were up 12 cents, or 0.2 percent, at $76.00.

Brent is poised to register close to a 5 percent decline this week while WTI is on course for a 3.6 percent drop.

Investors are eyeing developments on the Feb. 5 EU ban on Russian refined products, with EU countries seeking a deal on Friday to set price caps for Russian oil products.

The Kremlin said on Friday that the EU embargo on Russia's refined oil products would lead to further imbalance in global energy markets.

"The exact details around what the cap will be and how they will implement it are still unclear," Capital Economics commodities economist Bill Weatherburn said, adding that the uncertainty is keeping a lid on prices.

"There hasn't been any data out of China to indicate the extent of the recovery in China's crude demand."

ANZ analysts noted a sharp jump in traffic in China's 15 largest cities after the Lunar New Year holiday but said that Chinese traders had been "relatively absent".

Markets now await US payrolls data due at 1330 GMT. US job growth in January is likely to have remained strong thanks to a resilient labour market, but expectations of a continued slowdown in wage gains offer the Federal Reserve some comfort in its fight against inflation, a Reuters survey showed.

The US central bank scaled back to a milder rate increase than those over the past year, but policymakers also projected that "ongoing increases" in borrowing costs would be needed.

Increases to interest rates in 2023 are likely to weigh on the US and European economies, boosting fears of an economic slowdown that is highly likely to dent global crude oil demand, said Priyanka Sachdeva, market analyst at Phillip Nova.

 


Who is Hindenburg, the firm targeting India’s Adani?

Who is Hindenburg, the firm targeting India’s Adani?
Updated 03 February 2023

Who is Hindenburg, the firm targeting India’s Adani?

Who is Hindenburg, the firm targeting India’s Adani?
  • Hindenburg is an investment research firm with a focus on activist short-selling. It looks for corruption or fraud in the business world, such as accounting irregularities and bad actors in management, and It can make money out of its work

NEW YORK: Hindenburg Research, the financial research firm with an explosive name and a track record of sending the stock prices of its targets tumbling, is taking on one of the world’s richest men.
Hindenburg is back in the headlines after last week accusing Indian conglomerate Adani Group of “a brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud scheme.” It cited two years of research, including talks with former Adani senior executives and reviews of thousands of documents.
The Adani Group has blasted the accusations, calling them “a malicious combination of selective misinformation and stale, baseless and discredited allegations that have been tested and rejected by India’s highest courts.”
Nevertheless, Hindenburg’s scorching allegations have caused the fortune of Adani Group’s founder, Gautam Adani, to slide by nearly $47 billion in just over a week, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires index. Here’s a look at the firm behind all the movement:
What is it?
Hindenburg says it specializes in “forensic financial research.” In layman’s terms, it looks for corruption or fraud in the business world, such as accounting irregularities and bad actors in management.
Hindenburg has even come to be known as Ponzi hunters in some circles, according to the Washington Post, which detailed how it helped bring down an alleged $500 million scheme that targeted Mormons.
Where did its name come from?
The firm says it sees the Hindenburg, the airship that famously caught fire in the 1930s to the cry of “Oh, the humanity,” as the “epitome of a totally man-made, totally avoidable disaster.” It says it looks for similar disasters in financial markets “before they lure in more unsuspecting victims.”
Who else has Hindenburg gone after?
It’s perhaps most famous for a 2020 report on Nikola, a company in the electric-vehicle industry whose founder Hindenburg said made misleading claims to ink partnerships with top auto companies hungry to catch up to Tesla.
Among its allegations, Hindenburg accused Nikola of staging a video to calm skepticism about its truck, one that showed the vehicle cruising on a road. Hindenburg said the video was actually just showing the truck rolling down a hill after getting towed to the top.
What has come of such accusations?
For Nikola, quick scrutiny from the government and investors.
The company and its founder, Trevor Milton, received grand jury subpoenas from the US Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York and the N.Y. County District Attorney’s Office shortly after Hindenburg released its report.
The Securities and Exchange Commission also soon issued subpoenas to Nikola’s directors.
Milton was convicted this past October of charges he deceived investors with exaggerated claims about his company’s progress in producing zero-emission 18-wheel trucks fueled by electricity or hydrogen.
And Nikola in late 2021 agreed to pay $125 million to settle SEC charges that it defrauded investors by misleading them about its products, technical advancements, and commercial prospects.
What does Hindenburg get out of this?
It can make money. In its Adani report, it said that it had taken a “short position in Adani Group Companies” through bonds that trade in the US and other investments that trade outside India.
It has made similar “short” bets against other companies it published unflattering reports on. A “short” trade is a way for someone to make money if an investment’s price falls. Afterward, if the price of a company’s stock or bonds falls because of the negative attention from the report, Hindenburg can profit.
Such short sellers have been criticized for unfairly pushing down prices of stocks with potentially unfounded allegations. But proponents also call them a healthy part of a stock market, keeping stock prices in check and preventing them from running too high.