Arabian Business

Gulf's largest utility firm says Q1 net loss more than doubled

Saudi Electricity Co (SEC), the Gulf's largest utility firm, has reported its net loss for the first quarter more than doubled. It lost 1.94 billion riyals ($517.4 million) during the three months to March 31, compared to a loss of 913 million riyals during the corresponding period of 2014. The utility cited the costs of implementing an order from the electricity regulator on power usage by top manufacturers, as well as other expenses, for the decline in earnings. It did not elaborate. During the first quarter, the firm paid 545 million riyals to employees in bonuses as part of a scheme to celebrate the Saudi royal succession. Besides, SEC's results are highly seasonal because of the big swing between power demand in winter and in summer.

Lloyd's of London targets Islamic insurance market

Lloyd's of London has set its sights on Islamic insurance to strengthen its push into emerging markets and is in talks with regulators to set up shop in Malaysia. The plans are part of the venerable London insurance market's strategy to expand in fast-growing regions where insurance penetration remains low. It has already opened an office in Dubai's financial free zone and is a founding member of the Islamic Insurance Association of London (IIAL) being launched this month. The body is designed to support participants that want to develop Islamic products while ensuring common principles are used. Lloyd's currently has nine managing agents in its Dubai office, with plans for as many as 12 firms by the end of the year.

12m MENA children not in school, says UNICEF

At least 21 million children in the Middle East and North Africa are either not attending school or are at risk of dropping out, according to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The organisation said there had been “impressive” progress in raising school enrolment in the region during the past decade, with a 40 percent reduction in the number of out-of-school children. However, a combination of poverty, discrimination, poor quality learning and conflict had caused progress to slow in recent years. There were now one-in-four children and young adolescents out of school or at risk of dropping out.

Bahrain's Arcapita: Rising from the ashes

One of the reasons the Gulf has been so slow to introduce bankruptcy legislation is because there is still a stigma associated with the process. While some of the biggest companies and business names in the West have gone through the process, in the Arab world it is still seen as taboo and a major cultural failure. One company that has gone through the process, come out the other side and is slowly beginning to scratch away at the doomsday perception associated with bankruptcy is Bahrain-owned, US-based firm Arcapita. Atif Abdulmalik, chief executive, believes the Arcapita experience should be seen as an example to authorities in the region who might be reluctant to push ahead with the introduction of similar procedures in the Arab world for fear of the taboo associated with it.

Bahrain's GFH inks JV deal to kickstart $3bn Tunis project

Bahrain-based Gulf Finance House has signed a joint venture with France's Alliance International Holding which is likely to kick-start the Tunis Bay project. Tunis Bay is part of the overall $3 billion Tunis Financial Harbour project. Alliance International Holding is a French consortium which specialises in the building of golf course projects and new community developments. It said it has signed a deal with the GFH-owned Tunis Bay Project Company which will see more than 800,000 sq m of land developed into a golf course with surrounding villas and apartments. Construction work by the joint venture will start next year as part of the first phase of the Tunis Bay development.

Bahrain bank says CEO has resigned for 'personal reasons'

BMI Bank, a subsidiary of Bahrain's Al Salam Bank (ASBB), has announced that Jamal Al-Hazeem, director and CEO of the bank had stepped down. Al-Hazeem who took on the helm of BMI Bank in 2010 as CEO, cited personal reasons for his resignation and called the decision to step down as CEO of the Bank as "mutual and amicable". He will continue to stay on as a director on the board at BMI Bank which is currently finalising the operational aspects of its merger with Al Salam Bank as it converts its business to a Sharia compliant one.

Kuwait's Investment Dar legal battle over Boubyan Bank stake continues

Kuwaiti firm Investment Dar is making a renewed legal push to secure ownership of a major asset at the centre of its long-running restructuring process. The case is a rare test of Kuwait's Financial Stability Law, introduced in 2009 to assist debt renegotiations. The firm has been embroiled in litigation over a stake in Kuwait's Boubyan Bank, which it sold to Commercial Bank of Kuwait (CBK) in 2008, with the right to buy it back. CBK currently holds a 19.9 percent stake in Boubyan. Investment Dar hopes to sell the stake to repay creditors. For its part, CBK said last week it cancelled a proposed 120 million dinar capital-boosting bond due to "legislative and technical issues".

GFH Capital sells $25m property in top London postcode

GFH Capital has signed an agreement to sell a $25 million prime property in one of London's most prestigious postcodes. The investment firm said it has sold the Queen’s Gate Gardens property that it had acquired last year. The property is a Grade II listed building located in the prime Kensington area of London overlooking the gardens. According to the terms of the agreement, the buyer has paid an initial deposit with a target to complete the transaction in six weeks, subject to receiving relevant approvals. GFH Capital said investors in the deal can expect to make a return that can reach 21 percent return per annum. The deal is expected to positively reflect in the Q4 financial results of GFH.

Saudi's Sedco launches first in-house Islamic fund

Jeddah-based Islamic investment firm Sedco Capital has launched the first fund managed by its own in-house team, looking to bulk up its asset management capabilities. The Gulf equities fund, domiciled in Luxembourg, has an intial $30 million in assets and is Sedco's 14th fund overall. It is part of Sedco's strategy to source two-thirds of its assets under management from outside Saudi Arabia in four to five years. Previously, Sedco relied on external advisors for its funds. Sedco Capital said it had also signed the United Nations' Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI), becoming the first Gulf-based Islamic asset manager to do so.

Saudi Arabia helps to develop new screening method for sukuk

A new screening method for sukuk, developed in cooperation with Saudi Arabian financial institutions, aims to reduce the cumbersome approval process that these instruments often require. San Francisco-based IdealRatings said its product addressed compliance hurdles faced by sukuk investors contending with multiple structures and disparate opinions. The product reviews and categorises sukuk to allow Islamic banks to adhere to their own guidelines more efficiently, reducing the time and costs of due diligence in each deal. The service was developed over the past two years in consultation with Islamic financial institutions, in particular Saudi firms.

Bahrain's GFH buys Dubailand plot for mixed-use project

Bahrain-based Gulf Finance House (GFH) has signed a land sale agreement to establish a new mixed-use residential development in Dubailand. The agreement with Dubai Properties Group (DPG) involves the purchase of a total area of approximately 1,200,000 square feet of land. The project aims to build residential, commercial and retail space and facilities within Dubailand. The new development includes both villas and apartments in the residential part of the project and is expected to launch later this year. The project is scheduled to be completed within the next five years.

The strange story of Gulf Finance House shares

The shares Bahrain’s Islamic investment bank Gulf Finance House (GFH), at the Dubai Financial Market, rose close to limit up, by 14.86 percent last Tuesday. The number of trades in GFH stock increased by almost two and a half times on the day before, while volumes were also up many times over. On Wednesday morning, GFH put out a statement saying that it had bought a 1.2 million square foot plot of land from Dubai Properties Group in Dubailand, on which it plans to build residential property. Following the announcement GFH shares rose by another 4.6 percent on Wednesday, closing at AED3.47. The Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA) did not say whether it would take this specific issue further.

Emaar said to secure $1.5bn sharia-compliant loan

Dubai-based Emaar Properties has reportedly secured a $1.5 billion sharia-compliant loan from five local lenders. Emaar, developer of the world's tallest building, has raised the seven-year facility which will pay 175 basis points over the London interbank offered rate (Libor). This is half the rate of the existing loan, which was due to run until 2016 and had an interest rate of 350 bps over Libor. The funds have been provided on an equal basis by three Dubai lenders - Dubai Islamic Bank, Mashreq andNoor Bank - and two from Abu Dhabi - First Gulf Bank and National Bank of Abu Dhabi. The lenders plan to market the transaction to other banks in a syndication phase, which could begin in the next two weeks.

Kuwait's Investment Dar makes new offer to creditors

Kuwait's Investment Dar has made a settlement-in-kind offer to creditors, in the latest of a long line of restructurings at the company. In a statement, it said the new offer was presented to creditors at a meeting in Dubai on Wednesday, and that it was optional and voluntary. The offer is an alternative to a proposal Dar made under a KD1 billion ($3.6 billion) debt restructuring plan agreed in 2011. There were no details of the type or value of assets offered under Wednesday's proposal. Giving reasons for the new settlement offer, Investment Dar said it had originally hoped that one of its "major assets" would have been returned to it by now through the Kuwaiti judicial system, but that this had not happened. The company has been in a long-running legal battle over a stake it once held in Bouyban Bank.

Growth of Qatar's Islamic banks falls

Asset growth rates at Islamic banks in Qatar have dropped to just above those of their conventional peers, cutting a large lead which the industry held in previous years and suggesting the impact of a regulatory ban on Islamic windows is fading. Islamic banking assets grew 12.2 percent in 2013 to 218.8 billion riyals ($60 billion). That was only marginally faster than 11.2 percent growth posted by conventional banks during the same period. Before the ban of Islamic windows, they captured 54.6 billion riyals of assets. Since Qatar's ban took effect at the end of 2011, Islamic banks have added 57.5 billion riyals of assets to their balance sheets. This suggests that if Islamic banks absorbed the assets from the Islamic windows in their entirety, their growth excluding this factor has been minimal.

Saudi gov't plans to sell 15% stake in largest lender

Saudi Arabia's government plans to sell a 15 percent stake in National Commercial Bank (NCB) in an initial public offer. Finance Minister Ibrahim Alassaf said the IPO plan would be submitted to the market regulator in the third quarter of this year. Sovereign fund Public Investment Fund will be the seller. The fund, which currently owns most of NCB, will also sell an additional 10 percent stake to the government's Public Pension Agency. The pricing of the IPO was not discussed but it is likely to be one of Saudi Arabia's biggest. Until now, direct foreign investment is not allowed in Saudi's stock market. Authorities are preparing to open the market but it is not clear when this will happen.

Qatar banks set for rocky 2014 - report

Qatari banks are likely to witness poor earnings growth as their net interest margins continue to be squeezed by the cost of funds, according to SICO Investment Bank’s quarterly results preview of GCC equities. The report said Commercial Bank of Qatar (CBQ) and Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB) were expected to see higher provisioning charges caused by a rise in real-estate impaired loans, while Doha Bank’s higher net interest income year on year was expected to drive earnings. SICO also said it expected banks in Saudi Arabia to continue to report strong double digit growth, while UAE banks should witness modest lending growth as a result of limited corporate borrowing, while provisioning was expected to remain at elevated levels.

Kuwait's Investment Dar says a third of creditors to accept deal

The indebted Kuwaiti shareholder of British luxury carmaker Aston Martin has persuaded just under a third of its creditors to accept a debt restructuring deal that offers them shares in a portfolio of its assets. The sharia-compliant investor defaulted on a $100 million Islamic bond payment in 2009, leading it to restructure around $3.7 billion in debt two years later. Under the new deal which was accepted by 29% of Investment Dar's creditors, they settled claims at a 62.6 percent discount in exchange for cash, debt and equity held by a vehicle based in Jersey. In May, Investment Dar said creditors which did not want to take part in the offer could retain their claims under an original restructuring plan, which offered creditors a 10 percent stake.

Dubai, Kuwait firms to launch Islamic reinsurer in Jan

Dubai Holding, a conglomerate owned by the emirate's ruler, and Kuwait's Al Fajer Re plan to launch a Emirates Retakafulfirm with $500m of authorised capital in January to tap unserved demand in retakaful. The new firm, Emirates Retakaful, will be set up in the Dubai International Financial Centre, said Fareed Lutfi, director of insurance services at Dubai Holding. There will be scope to add more investors to the firm, he added. Emirates Retakaful will focus on covering general takaful business, such as oil- and aviation-related risks, and later explore family takaful risk.

London, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur fight for Islamic finance crown

London has long been the default centre for international firms to issue sharia-compliant bonds, but it faces a mounting challenge from Dubai and Kuala Lumpur. The final result of the three cities' rivalry may not be known for years, but thousands of jobs and large amounts of direct investment in companies and real estate are likely to depend on the outcome. The most high-profile - and most cut-throat - area of competition between the three centres is arranging sukuk. Other areas of competition include Islamic insurance, known as takaful, and asset management. London has led in attracting sukuk issues by big international companies because of the massive size of its conventional financial markets and its globally respected legal system. However, its position looks weakest among the three centres from a long-term perspective because it is not located within a natural pool of sukuk issuers and European customers will remain a limited group.

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