President Sisi names veteran banker as caretaker head of Egypt’s central bank

President Sisi names veteran banker as caretaker head of Egypt’s central bank
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Hassan Abdalla, who was tapped by Egypt as caretaker head of the Central Bank, was CEO of the Arab African International Bank since 2004. (Wikimedia Commons) 
President Sisi names veteran banker as caretaker head of Egypt’s central bank
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Egyptian Central Bank Governor Tarek Amer, who resigned on Aug 17th, speaks at a news conference in Cairo. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 August 2022

President Sisi names veteran banker as caretaker head of Egypt’s central bank

President Sisi names veteran banker as caretaker head of Egypt’s central bank
  • Hassan Abdalla appointed in place of Tarek Amer,  who resigned from the post he had held since 2015
  • Abdalla is CEO of the Arab African International Bank and holds eminent positions in various business groups

CAIRO: Egypt’s president on Thursday appointed a caretaker governor of the central bank, the president’s office said, a day after the bank’s chief resigned amid a grinding economic crisis triggered by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

According to a statement, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi named Hassan Abdalla to succeed Tarek Amer, who had held the post since 2015. The appointment still needs to be ratified by the state-controlled parliament, which is in recess until October.

In a meeting with the new appointee, El-Sisi stressed the importance of upgrading the country’s monetary policies to cope with global economic changes and to diversify Egypt’s sources of foreign currency, the statement also said.

Abdalla, 62, had worked as a banker for almost four decades in Egypt until he became the CEO of the Arab African International Bank in 2004. In May 2021, he was appointed the chairman of United Media Services, a state-controlled media conglomerate.

On Wednesday, El-Sisi accepted Amer’s resignation and named the outgoing governor a presidential adviser. The president’s office offered no explanation for Amer’s resignation. 

Amer had traditionally been seen as in the camp that supported the pound’s depreciation as a way to secure a new loan from the International Monetary Fund in order to address the growing budget deficit.

His resignation came after key ministries were reshuffled on Saturday, a Cabinet shake-up approved by parliament in an emergency session. A total of 13 ministries were affected, including health, education, culture, local development and irrigation. The country’s minister of tourism and antiquities also was replaced.

Analysts said the CBE may have been conservative after the change of governor, even as Egypt’s economy grew faster than expected in the 2021/22 fiscal year and inflation surged. 

The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) said it left its lending rate unchanged at 12.25 percent and its deposit rate at 11.25 percent.

“The MPC decided that keeping policy rates unchanged remains consistent with achieving price stability over the medium term,” it said in a statement accompanying the rates decision.

A Reuters poll of 15 analysts taken prior to Amer’s resignation had expected a half a percentage point increase.

“In its decision to maintain policy rates unchanged today, the MPC takes note of its policy rate hikes in its previous meetings,” the MPC added.

The Egyptian currency has slid to more than 19 Egyptian pounds to the dollar. That followed a central bank decision allowing the currency to depreciate by around 16 percent in March to try to stem a growing trade deficit.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has been deeply felt in other ways in Egypt. The Arab world’s most populous country is also the world’s largest wheat importer that sources around 80 percent of it from the Black Sea region.

Following Russia’s invasion in late February, the price of wheat and other grains skyrocketed, as did the price of fuel. Although prices have come down somewhat, the cost of grains remains at least 50 percent higher than before the pandemic in early 2020. Furthermore, the cost of shipping to export those grains through the Black Sea is high.

Inflation in the country of 103 million people reached 14.6 percent in July, increasing pressure on lower-income households and everyday necessities. Around a third of Egyptians live in poverty, according to government figures.

The central bank raised rates by 2 percentage points in May and 1 percentage point in March to combat inflation after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and US interest rate hikes.

“The committee likely wants to proceed cautiously during the transition period,” said Sara Saada of CI Capital.

Egypt’s gross domestic product grew by 6.2 percent in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, up from 3.3 percent a year earlier.

This was mainly driven by the private sector, particularly non-petroleum manufacturing, tourism, and trade, the MPC said, citing data from the first nine months of the fiscal year.

Inflation rose to 13.6 percent in July from 13.2 percent in June, its fastest since in March 2019.

At its last meeting on June 23, the MPC said that for the next six months it would tolerate elevated inflation, caused mainly by the Ukraine crisis, as the economy grows more slowly than expected.

“We expect no changes in the policy rates until the new CBE leadership settles in and takes stock of the situation,” said Allen Sandeep of Naeem Brokerage.

Esraa Ahmed of Pharos said she believed the MPC left rates unchanged for fundamental reasons, including a gradual decrease in global commodity prices and less pressure on the budget.

“We had that view even before the change in governor,” she said. 

Meanwhile, an investigation by the country’s public prosecutor said in a statement Thursday that a fire in a Cairo church last Sunday that killed 41 people, including 15 children, was the result of a short circuit in the building’s generator, a backup source of power.

The tragedy at the Martyr Abu Sefein church in the working-class neighborhood of Imbaba threw the country into mourning but also raised questions about emergency response, fire safety codes and restrictions on building houses of worship for the country’s Christian minority.

(With AP and Reuters)

 


Gas from Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline leaks into Baltic Sea

Gas from Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline leaks into Baltic Sea
Updated 27 September 2022

Gas from Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline leaks into Baltic Sea

Gas from Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline leaks into Baltic Sea
  • President Vladimir Putin in September chided the West for keeping Nord Stream 2 shut

BERLIN/COPENHAGEN: Danish authorities on Monday asked ships to steer clear of a five nautical mile radius off the island of Bornholm after a gas leak overnight from the defunct Russian-owned Nord Stream 2 pipeline drained into the Baltic Sea.
The German government said it was in contact with the Danish authorities and working with local law enforcement to find out what caused pressure in the pipeline to plummet suddenly. Denmark’s energy ministry declined to comment.
On Monday evening, the operator of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which ran at reduced capacity since mid-June before stopping supplies altogether in August, also disclosed a pressure drop on both lines of the gas pipeline.
“The reasons are being investigated,” Nord Stream AG said on its website, without disclosing further information.
The pipeline has been one of the flashpoints in an escalating energy war between Europe and Moscow since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February that has pummelled major Western economies and sent gas prices soaring.
“A leak today occurred on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Danish area,” said Denmark’s energy agency in a statement.
The German network regulator president, Klaus Mueller, said on Twitter the pressure drop in both pipelines “underscores the German network regulator’s assessment that the situation is tense.”
The regulator said it was currently not known what had caused the pressure drop, adding the event had no impact on security of supply in Germany and that the country’s gas storage levels were around 91 percent.
Danish maritime authorities had issued a navigation warning and established a zone around the Nord Stream 2 pipeline “as it is dangerous for ship traffic,” it added.
Nord Stream 2’s operator said pressure in the pipeline, which had contained some gas sealed inside despite never becoming operational, dropped from 105 to 7 bars overnight.
The pipeline, which was intended to double the volume of gas flowing from St. Petersburg under the Baltic Sea to Germany, had just been completed and filled with 300 million cubic meters of gas when Germany canceled it days before the invasion.
NO CLARITY
“Overnight the Nord Stream 2 landfall dispatcher registered a rapid gas pressure drop on Line A of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline,” Nord Stream 2’s operator said in a statement.
“Investigation is ongoing.”
European countries have resisted Russian calls to allow the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to operate and accused Moscow of using energy as a weapon. Russia denies doing so and blames the West for gas shortages.
“We are currently in contact with the authorities concerned in order to clarify the situation. We still have no clarity about the causes and the exact facts,” said a statement from the German economy ministry.
The Swiss-based operator, which has legally been wound up, said it had informed all relevant authorities about the leak.
Russian gas exporter Gazprom referred questions about the incident to the Nord Stream 2 operator.
Russia has cut off gas supplies to several countries and also halted flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, blaming Western sanctions for hindering operations.
President Vladimir Putin in September chided the West for keeping Nord Stream 2 shut.
Monday’s gas leak happened a day before the ceremonial launch of the Baltic Pipe carrying gas from Norway to Poland.
The project is a centerpiece of Warsaw’s efforts to diversify from Russian gas. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is due to travel to Poland on Tuesday to mark the occasion.
Nord Stream 2 was widely unpopular among Danish lawmakers and the country in 2017 passed a law which allowed it to ban the project from passing through its territorial waters on security grounds.
But Nord Stream 2 later changed the original route to steer it through Denmark’s exclusive economic zone, where this veto could not be applied.

 


ECB eyes blockchain for settling bank transactions, says official

ECB eyes blockchain for settling bank transactions, says official
Updated 26 September 2022

ECB eyes blockchain for settling bank transactions, says official

ECB eyes blockchain for settling bank transactions, says official
  • The ECB is among a number of central banks around the world working on digital versions of their currency in response to the popularity of digital tokens

FRANKFURT: The European Central Bank is studying ways of settling transactions between banks on a blockchain in a bid to keep control of money even if lenders switch to distributed ledgers, ECB board member Fabio Panetta said on Monday.

The ECB is among a number of central banks around the world working on digital versions of their currency in response to the popularity of digital tokens such as Bitcoin and the blockchain technology that powers them.

This distributed ledger technology is predicated on market participants verifying transactions and keeping a copy of them rather than relying on a trusted party, such as a central bank.

On top of a digital euro for consumers, the ECB is looking at how it could let banks settle wholesale transactions between them on a distributed ledger, rather than the central bank’s own.

“Despite the uncertainties surrounding DLT’s potential, we want to be prepared for a scenario where market players adopt DLT for wholesale payments and securities settlement,” Panetta said. 

We want to be prepared for a scenario where market players adopt DLT for wholesale payments and securities settlement.

Fabio Panetta, ECB official

He added letting banks settle among themselves or use stablecoins, which are crypto tokens pegged to a conventional currency, would result in “trading and liquidity becoming fragmented.”

Meanwhile, giving stablecoins the ECB’s backing would “outsource the provision of central bank money to private entities, endangering monetary sovereignty,” Panetta said.

As a possible solution, Panetta said the ECB might build a bridge between the private sector’s blockchain platforms and its own Target 2 settlement system.

Alternatively, it could make central bank money — the claim against the ECB in which wholesale transactions are settled — available on those platforms or create its own, he added.


PIF’s Jada signs MoU with Invest Seoul to boost startups, SMEs

PIF’s Jada signs MoU with Invest Seoul to boost startups, SMEs
Updated 26 September 2022

PIF’s Jada signs MoU with Invest Seoul to boost startups, SMEs

PIF’s Jada signs MoU with Invest Seoul to boost startups, SMEs

RIYADH: Fund of Funds Company, known as Jada and owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, has signed a memorandum of understanding with Invest Seoul Agency to promote startups and SMEs in both countries.

In a statement posted on Jada’s website, the MoU signed between the two parties seeks to exchange information on entrepreneurial policies and best practices and support startups aspiring to enter the Saudi or Korean markets. 

Invest Seoul Agency is a foreign investment promotion agency established by the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

Mazin Al-Shanbari, director of venture capital, Jada, said the MoU will “contribute to developing the business ecosystem for startups” and support the entry of SMEs “that aim to conduct business in the other country.

As per the MoU, the PIF’s Jada and the Korean agency will facilitate exchange of personnel and organize events such as roadshows, conferences and exhibitions to help entrepreneurs from both sides explore opportunities and help them start business.


Moody’s downgrades MEDGULF KSA’s insurance financial strength rating to Ba2

Moody’s downgrades MEDGULF KSA’s insurance financial strength rating to Ba2
Updated 26 September 2022

Moody’s downgrades MEDGULF KSA’s insurance financial strength rating to Ba2

Moody’s downgrades MEDGULF KSA’s insurance financial strength rating to Ba2

RIYADH: Moody's Investors Service has downgraded the Mediterranean and Gulf Cooperative Insurance and Reinsurance Co insurance financial strength rating to Ba2 from Ba1. 

The firm, also known as MEDGULF KSA, is a Saudi joint stock company, and has seen its outlook changed from positive to negative.  

This reflects the challenges MEDGULF KSA faces in improving its underwriting performance and continued pressures on its capitalisation. 

In addition, Moody’s expects the company’s financial flexibility to become more constrained since its rights issue in 2021 with greater uncertainty around its ability to access additional external capital given persistent underwriting losses.

Meanwhile, Moody's has also downgraded the local and foreign currency long-term issuer ratings of Sharjah Islamic Bank to Baa2 from Baa1. 

In addition, the bank's baseline credit assessment was downgraded to ba2 from ba1, while the outlook on its long-term issuer ratings changed to stable from negative.

Moody's says that the downgrade of the bank’s long-term ratings captures the downgrade of the bank’s BCA to ba2 from ba1 and reflects primarily the deterioration in the bank's asset quality.


UAE In-Focus — Arada to open $1.7bn Sharjah office park

UAE In-Focus — Arada to open $1.7bn Sharjah office park
Updated 26 September 2022

UAE In-Focus — Arada to open $1.7bn Sharjah office park

UAE In-Focus — Arada to open $1.7bn Sharjah office park

DUBAI: Sharjah property developer Arada is boosting its portfolio with a 6.3 billion dirham ($1.71 billion) office park and five new residential projects in the UAE.

Arada CBD is spread over 4.3 million sq. feet of prime leasable space located in 40 smart office blocks. 

It will meet demand for a contemporary business district in Sharjah and will cater to the needs of companies throughout the UAE and beyond in the future, Emirates News Agency WAM reported.

According to analysis firm Oxford Economics, the Sharjah economy is projected to grow at a rate of 5 percent annually for the medium-term due to the launch of Arada CBD.

With 96 percent of its gross domestic product derived from non-oil sectors, the Emirate attracted 808 million dirhams in foreign direct investment in 2021, making it one of the most vibrant and diverse economies in the region.

Arada CBD’s first cluster is scheduled to break ground in 2023 and will feature 812,000 sq. feet of Grade A and Grade B leasable space spread across eight buildings.

There are also 1,666 parking spaces, 76,000 sq. feet of landscaped green space, and 26,500 sq. feet of retail space in the cluster.

Arada will relocate its headquarters to the first building of Arada CBD.

When Arada CBD’s first cluster is ready in 2025, the Aljada community will already have 20,000 residents.

Aljada, Sharjah’s largest ever project, covers 24 million sq. feet and will transform the Emirate.

There are numerous residential districts in Aljada, as well as extensive retail, hospitality, entertainment, sports, educational, and health care facilities, all integrated into a green urban master plan.

Approximately 1,500 homes have already been built at Aljada, and 6,000 more are currently being built.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the top most liveable cities in the Middle East and Africa

A massive vaccination drive against the COVID-19 pandemic made Abu Dhabi and Dubai among the safest and fastest to recover from the pandemic in the Middle East and Africa, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Both cities remain the most liveable in the region.

As a result of the vaccination campaign, the country avoided a full-scale lockdown in 2021 and, so far, in 2022, EIU said.

The report, published on Sept. 26, marks 1,000 days since the first COVID-19 case was announced to the World Health Organization in December 2019.

According to EIU, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have largely remained open for business since the first wave in 2020.

All target groups were vaccinated against COVID-19 by the UAE in June. Dubai was one of the first major cities to reopen during the pandemic.

Authorities implemented strict policies to contain the pandemic and reopen the city earlier.

As a result of strong trust between the two emirates, Dubai Airport handled 7.12 million passengers while Abu Dhabi Airport handled 6.3 million.

This year, Dubai’s population crossed the 3.5 million mark for the first time.

The region’s top cities to live in include Tel Aviv, Kuwait City, and Bahrain after the two emirates. Damascus, Lagos, Tripoli, Algiers, and Harare are the least liveable cities.