Pakistan inks deals with local and Chinese firms for Saudi-backed oil refinery

Pakistan inks deals with local and Chinese firms for Saudi-backed oil refinery
Pakistan’s minister of state for petroleum Dr. Musadik Malik (center) is pictured addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, on July 27, 2023. (AN photo)
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Updated 27 July 2023
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Pakistan inks deals with local and Chinese firms for Saudi-backed oil refinery

Pakistan inks deals with local and Chinese firms for Saudi-backed oil refinery
  • PSO, OGDCL, PPL and GHPL sign agreements to raise required local equity for $12 billion refinery
  • Engineering, procurement and construction contract signed with China National Offshore Oil Corp.

ISLAMABAD: Four Pakistani public entities have signed three memoranda of understanding to raise the necessary local equity for a multibillion-dollar Saudi refinery project and also inked an engineering, procurement and construction contract with a Chinese firm, Pakistan’s Minister of State for Petroleum Musadik Malik said on Thursday.

The $12 billion Saudi project, with a capacity to process 350,000-450,000 barrels of crude oil per day, was initially agreed upon during a visit to Islamabad by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2019.

Pakistan State Oil, Oil and Gas Development Co., Pakistan Petroleum Ltd., and Government Holdings Private Ltd. signed three MoUs to raise the required local equity, while the EPC agreement was inked with China National Offshore Oil Corp. and Pakistan’s Monarch International.

“In our earlier discussions [with Saudi authorities] there were two issues, one was obviously, who are the other equity partners, so Pakistan firmly believed that if Pakistan thinks that this is a viable project, then Pakistan should put its own equity into the project,” Malik told Arab News on the sidelines of the MoU signing ceremony.

“So, we have put together equity partnerships in excess of 40 to 45 percent as of right now.”

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Aramco were “honored partners” and had held many rounds of talks to reach an agreement on the way forward, Malik said.

“As I said, we are in the final stages, means we basically are at the spreadsheet level, trying to take out all the wrinkles that are there or that are possible, so that a world-class refinery of about 300,000 barrels can be set in Pakistan,” he added.

“PSO is taking the lead in local equity with 25 percent and other firms also committed 5 to 10 percent which makes our equity share more than what is required.”

Malik said the Pakistan government had brought in the best Chinese company for the purpose of EPC contracts.

“We have already brought to the table world-class refinery EPC construction partners who are also going to take a position in the equity,” he said.

Malik added that after the announcement of the new refinery policy, the government had also initiated talks with the UAE and Azerbaijan for investment in the sector.


Sukuk issuance to continue steady growth in 2024: Fitch Ratings

Sukuk issuance to continue steady growth in 2024: Fitch Ratings
Updated 22 April 2024
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Sukuk issuance to continue steady growth in 2024: Fitch Ratings

Sukuk issuance to continue steady growth in 2024: Fitch Ratings

RIYADH: Global sukuk issuance is expected to continue growing in the remaining months of this year, driven by funding and refinancing demands, Fitch Ratings said. 

According to the credit rating agency, additional factors that will propel the market’s steady development are economic diversification efforts by countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council region and the maturation of the debt capital market. 

However, some possible risks that could affect the issuance include new Shariah requirements that could alter credit risk, geopolitical uncertainties and high oil prices. 

“Corporates and projects will likely stay reliant on bank funding, but the government push to develop the DCM and reduce bank reliance could drive sukuk issuance,” said Fitch in the report. 

Moreover, the GCC DCM reached $940 billion in outstanding sukuk and is well on its way to surpass the $1 trillion mark. 

“Around 80 percent of GCC sukuk is now investment-grade, and the GCC DCM is well on its way to crossing $1 trillion outstanding. Saudi Arabia, UAE and Malaysia will likely stay among the most active sukuk issuers,” said Bashar Al-Natoor, global head of Islamic Finance at Fitch Ratings. 

Fitch revealed that global outstanding sukuk expanded 10 percent year-on-year to $867 million at the end of the first quarter, with GCC countries accounting for 35 percent of this amount. 

The report pointed out that Malaysia is still the largest market globally for these Islamic bonds, with around 60 percent of its ringgit DCM in sukuk.

In January, a report released by S&P Global also echoed similar views and noted that sukuk issuance globally would remain steady in 2024. 

According to the agency, higher financing needs in some core Islamic finance countries and easing liquidity conditions worldwide are two crucial factors driving the market’s growth this year. 

S&P Global projected that digitalization could unlock some opportunities by streamlining sukuk issuance, even though it demands the harmonization of legal documents and a standardized interpretation of the Shariah.

The report also predicted that sustainable Shariah-compliant bond volumes are also expected to rise in 2024, on the back of the successful UN Climate Change Conference held in Dubai last year. 


Oil Updates – prices fall more than 1% as Iran-Israel tensions ease

Oil Updates – prices fall more than 1% as Iran-Israel tensions ease
Updated 22 April 2024
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Oil Updates – prices fall more than 1% as Iran-Israel tensions ease

Oil Updates – prices fall more than 1% as Iran-Israel tensions ease

SINGAPORE: Oil prices fell by more than 1 percent on Monday, as the market focus switched to fundamentals after Israel and Iran played down the risk of an escalation of hostilities following Israel’s apparently small strike on Iran, according to Reuters.

Brent futures fell $1.21, or 1.4 percent, to $86.08 a barrel by 9:55 a.m. Saudi time. The front-month US West Texas Intermediate crude contract for May, which expires on Monday, fell 97 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $82.17 a barrel, while the more active June contract dropped $1.23 to $80.99 a barrel.

“Brent crude prices failed to retain their initial surge, with broad expectations that geopolitical tensions between Israel and Iran may fizzle off given Iran’s tamed response,” said Yeap Jun Rong, market strategist at IG.

“With that, markets continue to unwind the geopolitical risk premium tied to potential supply disruptions, which seems more unlikely at current point in time,” he added.

Both benchmarks spiked more than $3 a barrel early on Friday, after explosions were heard in the Iranian city of Isfahan in what sources described as an Israeli attack. Gains were capped after Tehran played down the incident and said it did not plan to retaliate.

Yeap said rising US crude stocks had added to the pressure to sell.

US crude inventories rose by 2.7 million barrels, Energy Information Administration data showed last week, nearly double analysts’ expectations of a 1.4 million barrel rise.

“Economic concerns again become a bearish factor of the crude market,” with prices “under pressure due to a large build in the US stockpile and a hawkish Fed that led to a strong dollar,” said independent market analyst Tina Teng. A strong dollar makes oil more expensive for holders of other currencies.

Chicago Federal Reserve President Austan Goolsbee on Friday became the latest central banker to signal a longer timeline for interest rate cuts because progress on curbing inflation had stalled.

On Saturday, the US House of Representatives passed an aid package for Ukraine and Israel containing measures that would let the federal government expand sanctions against Iran and its oil production.

But markets shrugged off the news as the impact of the measures, if passed, would depend on how they are interpreted and implemented. Senate consideration of the bill is set to begin on Tuesday.

For now, ANZ analysts said in a note that volatility in the Middle East will keep oil markets “jittery.”

On Saturday, a blast at an Iraqi military base killed a member of a security force that includes Iran-backed groups. The force commander said it was an attack while the army said it was investigating.

Separately, Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah on Sunday said it downed an Israeli drone that was on a combat mission in southern Lebanon.

Israeli forces and Lebanon’s armed group Hezbollah have been exchanging fire for over six months in parallel to the Gaza war, fueling concerns about further escalation. 


PIF and stc Group strike deal to create region’s premier telecom tower company

PIF and stc Group strike deal to create region’s premier telecom tower company
Updated 22 April 2024
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PIF and stc Group strike deal to create region’s premier telecom tower company

PIF and stc Group strike deal to create region’s premier telecom tower company

RIYADH: A new telecommunications infrastructure firm is set to be created after Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund acquired a 51 percent stake in one of stc Group’s companies.

PIF will merge Telecommunication Towers Co., also known as TAWAL, with Golden Lattice Investment Company – in which the soveriegn wealth fund holds a majority shareholding – into a new entity.

With an estimated 30,000 mobile tower sites and projected annual revenues nearing $1.3 billion, the new body is expected to emerge as a global telecommunication powerhouse.

The combined new firm will be owned 54 percent by PIF and 43.1 percent by stc Group, with GLIC minority shareholders owning the remaining issued share capital.

Raid Ismail, head of MENA Direct Investments at PIF, hailed the accord as a monumental stride in Saudi Arabia’s telecommunications narrative. 

He said: “By bringing together the assets of GLIC and Tawal, we will establish a consolidated platform on which the telecommunications sector can flourish and give people a better experience to best connect communities and businesses.”

Ismail emphasized the pivotal role of robust connectivity in propelling societal and economic growth.

The Group Chief Investment Officer of stc Group, Motaz Alangari, explained that the deals mirror the firm’s commitment to sustainable growth. 

Alangari said: “These agreements are part of stc Group’s continuous endeavor to grow and maximize value in the most sustainable manner by recycling capital while retaining ownership in strategic value-added assets to benefit from the return on these assets and enable expansion into new domains.”

The consolidation of Tawal and GLIC, Alangari highlighted, is a “stepping-stone to consolidating the Saudi tower market and driving further efficiencies and operational excellence to deliver superior experiences and value for customers.”

According to the statement, the unified entity is set to revolutionize consumer experience and network coverage, amplifying connectivity and mobile internet speeds across Saudi Arabia. 

Operational efficiencies will be underpinned by a drive for innovation, fostering a dynamic telecommunication sector internationally. 

Additionally, the partnership between these entities is expected to generate synergistic effects, fostering an even more favorable business environment and propelling economic growth.

The agreements underscore PIF and stc Group’s resolve to fortify Saudi Arabia’s telecommunication infrastructure sector, unlocking its latent potential. 

This endeavor builds on Tawal’s recent acquisitions in Bulgaria, Croatia, and Slovenia, cementing its status as the region’s preeminent independent tower company.

Further showcasing its leadership position, stc Group was awarded the title of the top workplace in Saudi Arabia by the professional networking platform LinkedIn earlier in April.


Pakistan’s finance minister expects remittances to increase to $29 billion this year

Pakistan’s finance minister expects remittances to increase to $29 billion this year
Updated 22 April 2024
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Pakistan’s finance minister expects remittances to increase to $29 billion this year

Pakistan’s finance minister expects remittances to increase to $29 billion this year
  • Workers’ remittances bring billions of dollars annually to Pakistan and are crucial for country’s fragile economy
  • Finance Minister Aurangzeb says IMF “very receptive” in agreeing to a larger and longer financial assistance program 

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb expects Pakistan’s remittances from overseas citizens will increase to $29 billion this fiscal year, English-language newspaper The National reported on Monday. 

Workers’ remittances bring billions of dollars annually from overseas Pakistanis to the South Asian country and are vital for its fragile economy. These inflows bolster foreign exchange reserves, stabilize balance of payments and support the Pakistani currency.

Aurangzeb has been in Washington since Apr. 13 to participate in spring meetings organized by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. His tour is an important one for the South Asian country as Pakistan’s ongoing nine-month, $3 billion loan program with the global lender expires this month.

When asked about the World Bank estimating that remittances would globally drop this year, Aurangzeb said the “reality is it’s the other way round.”

“So, I think we closed the year at about $28 billion last fiscal year and we expect to close at $29 billion this year,” Aurangzeb said. “So, the remittances have not only been holding up, actually during this fiscal year they will actually go up.”

The Pakistani minister had confirmed last week that Islamabad was seeking a “larger and longer” multi-billion-dollar loan program from the IMF and discussions were underway with the Fund’s officials. 

“We have had very constructive discussions with the managing director and her very senior team,” Aurangzeb said. “And given that we are successfully completing this program, the Fund has been very receptive in terms of agreeing to consider a larger, longer program.”

On China, which has invested heavily in Pakistan through a multi-billion-dollar road and infrastructure project known as the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Aurangzeb said Pakistan “missed a trick” by taking too long to monetize projects. 

Since its initiation in 2013, CPEC has seen tens of billions of dollars funneled into massive transport, energy and infrastructure projects. But the undertaking has also been hit by Pakistan struggling to keep up its financial obligations as well as attacks on Chinese targets by militants.

“We have been slow over the last few years,” he said. “We are going to move forward with Phase Two so that we can get going with the revenue generating part of the of CPEC.”


NEOM wraps up China tour by confirming Sindalah island attraction to open in 2024

NEOM wraps up China tour by confirming Sindalah island attraction to open in 2024
Updated 22 April 2024
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NEOM wraps up China tour by confirming Sindalah island attraction to open in 2024

NEOM wraps up China tour by confirming Sindalah island attraction to open in 2024

RIYADH: Saudi megacity NEOM on Sunday wrapped up a tour courting Chinese investors with an event at its last destination, Hong Kong.

The event was organized in partnership with the Belt and Road Office under the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau of the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

The roadshow for NEOM traveled from Beijing to Shanghai to Hong Kong, where potential investors flocked to a chic museum to peruse eye-popping renderings in various stages of development.

A series of presentations by the NEOM leadership team led the event agenda, showcasing the progress and milestones of NEOM to date, as well as the partnership and investment opportunities available to the audience, according to an official press release.

A private showcase “Discover NEOM: A New Future by Design,” was one of the many highlights of the event, providing guests with an immersive experience that explored The Line, the 170-km-long city that will be the future of urban living; Oxagon, which is redefining the traditional industrial model; Trojena, the mountain resort of NEOM, and finally, Sindalah, a luxury island destination in the Red Sea that will be open to the public later this year.

NEOM CEO Nadhmi Al-Nasr said: “We would like to thank the finance and business sector for their support and contribution to the success of our tours ‘Discover NEOM.’ We enjoyed showcasing NEOM’s tangible on-the-ground progress and discussing the range of investment opportunities available to Hong Kong companies. We are looking forward to continuing to engage with our Hong Kong partners to meet our shared goals for a better future.”

NEOM’s Executive Director Tarek Qaddumi walked journalists through the exhibition at the M+ museum on Friday, talking up NEOM’s goal of balancing “nature conservation, human livability and economic prosperity.”

“NEOM is a very vast vision … It is an initiative that is probably the most exciting and the most forward-looking in the 21st century,” he said.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Algernon Yau said: “As an open economy and one of the world’s top financial, investment, and innovation hubs, Hong Kong stands ready to support Saudi Arabia in achieving its vision while bringing growth opportunities for Hong Kong. Saudi Arabia is a key player in the development of the Belt and Road Initiative.

“With our internationally-benchmarked professional services and talent pool, Hong Kong can provide support for projects, such as NEOM, along the Belt and Road countries.”

Discover NEOM Hong Kong is the latest stop for the global roadshow and follows events in key markets including Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore, New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paris, Berlin and London.

The megacity is progressing alongside other major development projects launched as part of Vision 2030.