Middle East Business News Review – 12 September

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Photo – Vahid Salemi/AP

Today’s top business news from the Middle East and North Africa:

Dubai introduces rewards system for safe drivers

Dubai Police announced they have started a white points system to encourage motorists to follow traffic rules and help cancel black points, local media reported on Wednesday.

Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, Dubai Police Chief, said under the new initiative, drivers of vehicles registered in the emirate will be awarded a point for each month they keep a clean sheet of traffic or road toll (Salik) fines.

According to the report, a motorist loses his entitlement to the month’s point if involved in any kind of accident or if they committed a violation during that month.

Etisalat set for $502m XL Axiata stake sale

Etisalat, the UAE’s biggest telecommunications company, said on Wednesday it is raising up to $502m by selling most of its stake in PT XL Axiata, Indonesia’s biggest block offering since December 2010.

Etisalat invested US$440m in Indonesia’s third-biggest phone operator nearly five years ago. The sale has been expected for a long time as the UAE firm failed to expand its partnership with XL Axiata’s major shareholder, Axiata Group of Malaysia.

Equity capital markets in Southeast Asia have seen a boom in share offerings in Malaysia, Thailand and other markets. It also follows a surge of nearly 50% in XL Axiata shares in 2012, compared with an 8.7% rise in Indonesia’s benchmark share index.

Israel obstructing our peaceful nuclear energy programme: Jordan

Jordanian King Abdullah II accused Israel of disrupting and interfering with Jordan’s nuclear energy programme, in an exclusive interview with AFP.

The Hashemite Kingdom plans to invest $4.9 billion in a nuclear power plant that would constitute one third of the total power capacity generated in the country today.

“Strong opposition to Jordan’s nuclear energy programme is coming from Israel,” the king said. “When we started going down the road of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, we approached some highly responsible countries to work with us. And pretty soon we realised that Israel was putting pressure on those countries to disrupt any cooperation with us,” he added.

Egypt budget deficit hits 11% of GDP

Egyptian Finance Minister Mumtaz Al Saeed announced on Wednesday its budget deficit reached 11% of gross domestic product for the fiscal year ending in June, far higher than the 8.6 per cent originally forecast.

The finance ministry attributed the rise to public sector salary increases and a drop in tax revenues because of faltering economic activity during the 18 months of political turbulence since the revolt which toppled Hosni Mubarak as president.

Industrial action and unrest among workers also deterred foreign investment and reduced tourist numbers, the ministry said in a statement.

Oil demand depressed, supply comfortable: IEA

The International Energy Agency said on Wednesday that global oil demand is likely to be muted over the next year and supply and inventory levels look comfortable, implying there is no need to release emergency stocks to curb oil prices.

The United States and other members of the International Energy Agency (IEA) such as France and Britain have been considering an emergency stocks release to help suppress high oil prices.

But the IEA is opposing a coordinated release of stocks, saying the market does not face a supply crunch. Its monthly oil market report on Wednesday implied such a release would be unnecessary. The agency said global oil demand would grow at a steady rate of around 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) or 0.9% in both 2012 and 2013, little changed from its previous assessment.

Saudi inflation falls to lowest level for 3 years

Saudi Arabia’s annual inflation eased to 3.8 percent in August, its lowest level in almost three years, although the monthly increase was the fastest in 10 months, data showed on Wednesday.

Consumer price growth in the world’s top oil exporter has been slowing gradually since peaking at 5.4 percent in February and March, registering 4.0 percent in July.

The month-on-month rate edged up to 0.4 percent in August from 0.3 percent in the previous month, the data from the Central Department of Statistics also showed.

KSA dominates Middle East in world university rankings

A list of the 700 top universities in the world has seen the Middle East break into the top 200 for the first time in the list’s nine year history, with Saudi Arabia the dominant educational player in the region.

While US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) took the top spot from last year’s reigning winner, the UK’s Cambridge University, Saudi Arabia’s King Saud University (KSU) was the number one university in the Middle East, moving three places up to the number 197, according to the 2012 QS World University Rankings.

Jordan seeks $750 Mln-$1.5 billion eurobond – Financial minister

Jordan is discussing with global banks the issuance of a seven to ten year $750 million to $1.5 billion sovereign Eurobond to help cover some of the cash strapped country’s financing needs, the finance minister said on Wednesday.

“We have issued a number of invitations to several banks and international financial institutions to lead manage this eurobond,” said Suleiman al-Hafez said in a statement.

A number of bids had been received by global banks and the government would announce the lead manager as a step to proceed with the bond offering, Hafez added, saying the government sought a seven to ten year issue.

Iran weighs reform to stem currency crisis

Iran is hoping that radical reform of its currency market will help to stabilise the rial, which has been badly battered by Western economic sanctions, speculators and inconsistent government policy.

The rial’s unofficial rate plunged to record lows around 25,000 to the U.S. dollar this week, less than half its value a year ago, as Iranians rushed to convert their savings into hard currencies. They fear the sanctions, imposed over the country’s disputed nuclear programme, will prevent the central bank from preserving the value of the rial.

Egypt Needs Loan Package in Excess of $10B – EU Official

Egypt’s needs from a financial loan package exceed $10 billion, a senior European Union official said Wednesday.

Egypt is currently negotiating a loan package with the International Monetary Fund worth just under $5 billion.

Speaking about the IMF loan talks, the official said “probably Egypt will need more than double that amount.”

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