Middle East Business News Review – 14 August

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Photo – Vahid Salemi/AP

Middle East Business News Review – A look at today’s important financial news and business updates from the Middle East and North Africa

HRW expresses concerns on Nepal women Gulf work ban

The government of Nepal has imposed a ban on women under the age of 30 from working as housemaids in the GCC states, a top government official announced in Kathmandu on Tuesday. The ban has been reimposed two years after the country lifted a ban on nationals taking up employment in domestic services in the Gulf states.

Thousands of young Nepalese women leave the impoverished country every year to take up domestic and construction jobs in Gulf states. Officials in the Himalayan country lifted a 12-year ban on women being employed in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar in 2010, introduced after a domestic worker subjected to abuse in Kuwait committed suicide.

Saudi Electricity awards massive power contracts to revamp network

State-owned Saudi Electricity Co announced it will spend hundreds of millions of riyals to improve its power distribution network across the Kingdom after thousands of people suffered blackouts last month including in Jeddah and Riyadh.

In a statement on Monday, Saudi Electricity Company said it had awarded three contracts worth around SR700m ($186.6m) in total involving the construction of two substations to boost its networks in the western city of Jeddah and in the Medina area, and to extend cables to some plants in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital.

The contracts, given to unnamed companies, are part of the company’s efforts to boost the electricity network, meet rising demand and avoid power cuts, SEC said quoting its chief executive officer, Ali Bin Saleh al-Barrak.

Standard Chartered hopeful to retain New York licence

Standard Chartered said it hopes to retain its New York banking licence over charges it violated US sanctions against Iran in an interview published Tuesday. The British lender, with a strong presence in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, vehemently denied US allegations it hid $250 billion in transactions with Iranian banks for almost a decade.

“We hope we do not lose our licence, we don’t believe we should lose our licence and we don’t believe we will,” Standard Chartered’s chief executive Peter Sands told India’s Business Standard newspaper in an emailed interview.

Many financial analysts believe Washington’s decision to strip Standard Chartered of its New York licence would effectively cut the British lender’s direct access to the US banking market.

Occupied West Bank dreads Israel power cut threat over debts

The East Jerusalem power company that supplies electricity to parts of the Occupied West Bank warned on Tuesday its Israeli partner is threatening to cut supply over unpaid debts.

JDECO purchases power from Israel and supplies to Palestinian homes in Occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the West Bank cities of Jericho, Bethlehem and Ramallah.

“The Israeli national electricity company informed us that it will begin measures including cutting the supply of electricity to any area at any time,” Ali Hamuda, deputy director-general of the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO), said. “There were threats over a week ago, but yesterday they informed us of their intention to take measures, including cutting power supply and seizing the company’s funds and its headquarters in Jerusalem,” Hamuda added.

Reform or face further unrest – IMF warns Tunisia

The state of Tunisia’s economy has come under renewed questions after the International Monetary Fund released a damning report in which it expressed its concerns over the internal tensions within the country in the wake of the 2011 uprisings that toppled the government of Zine el-abidine Ben Ali.

The IMF report said Tunisia’s weak economy is having a severe impact on the country’s financial wellbeing. It urged the central bank to implement reforms targeting the country’s failing banking sector in a bid to increase loan provisions and kickstart the economy.

The Paris-based monetary agency also urged the central bank regulators to develop crisis-management arrangements for struggling banks and review its exposure to these organisations by winding back its liquidity support.

Foreigners sink $5.9bn in Dubai homes in H1

Foreign investments totalling AED22bn ($5.98bn) were made in Dubai’s real estate market in the first half of the year, the emirate’s Land Department said on Tuesday.

The Real Estate Investment Promotion and Management Centre said investors of various nationalities bought 12,875 properties including buildings, land, apartments and villas during H1.

Saudi Arabia approves $16.5bn transport revamp

Saudi Arabia has approved a SAR62bn(US$16.5bn) plan to modernise the transport system in its holy city of Mecca, including building a bus network and metro system, state news agency SPA said on Tuesday.

More than 6m visitors from across the world visit Mecca every year for the Haj and Omra pilgrimages. The influx has strained the narrow roads and outdated transport system.

Four metro lines of a total length of 182 km will be built across the city, with 88 stations, SPA reported.

Lebanon buys 150,000 tonnes gasoil in spot market

Lebanon’s energy ministry has awarded an import tender for 150,000 tonnes of gasoil in the spot market at slightly higher premiums than a previous purchase, traders said on Tuesday. The delivery dates for the purchase could not immediately be verified.

Terminas Holding had the lowest offer of $14.75 a tonne over Mediterranean quotes, winning the tender, they said. This was 30
cents higher than Lebanon’s previous tender to purchase a similar volume for July-September delivery. Other firms that participated in the tender were BB Energy, the Coral Oil Company, Lebneft, Uniterminals and Trafigura, one of the sources said.

Kuwait’s NIG to repay $475m sukuk on time, drops delay request

Kuwait’s National Industries Group Holding (NIG) will repay its $475m Islamic bond, or sukuk, when it matures on August 16, it said on Tuesday, dropping earlier plans to get a four-year extension from creditors.

NIG, an investment firm controlled by one of the country’s biggest merchant families, asked creditors in July to extend 70 percent of the sukuk maturity to 2016 in exchange for a much higher interest rate.

While about 92% of certificate holders had approved the extension, the request has been cancelled because NIG has raised enough finance to fully repay the sukuk, the firm said in a statement to the Dubai bourse.

World powers eye emergency food meeting; action doubted

Leading members of the Group of 20 nations are prepared to trigger an emergency meeting to address soaring grain prices caused by the worst U.S. drought in more than half a century and poor crops from the Black Sea bread basket.

France, the United States and G20 president Mexico will hold a conference call at the end of August to consider whether an emergency international meeting is required, aiming to avoid a repetition of the food price spike that triggered riots in poorer countries in 2008.

Yet even as the third grain surge in four years stirs new fears about food supply and inflation, many say the world’s powers are no better prepared to rein in runaway prices. Apart from a global grain database, which has yet to be launched, and the Rapid Response Forum that authorities are considering convening for the first time, the G20 has few tools.

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