Middle East
Category

Forbes Identifies the Best Businesses in the Arab World

Comments (0) Business, Featured, Middle East

2020 is not looking like a good year for most businesses. Covid-19 is affecting every stock market around the world and profits and forecasts are becoming major victims of the global pandemic. 20202’s Q1 results are what many people are looking at as indicators of how companies could perform once the current crisis is over. Forbes’ recent list of the Top 100 Companies in the Middle East is a good reflection of not only what companies have been doing well (and will do in the future), but is also a good indicator of how the region itself is performing.

Regional Financial Health

Generally speaking, it comes as no surprise that an oil-rich region does well financially. But in recent years, the oil-producing nations have sought to diversify interests and investments as they keep one eye on a finite and dwindling resource that has for so long provided a steady revenue stream.

Looking at the Top 100 Companies listed, they have total aggregate assets of $3.5 trillion and a value of around $2.3 trillion in terms of market cap over 2019/2020. The total sales amassed by the businesses was $670 billion which represented $148 billion of net profits.

Who and What?

Saudi Arabia dominates the Top 100, with 33 of the 100 companies listed there. Behind them is the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) with 21 companies, and Qatar in third place with 18. So those three countries alone have 72% of the list.

As far as business sectors are concerned, the burgeouning financial sector dominates the list with 46 entries. Far behind them in second place is industrial companies with nine entries, then real estate/construction and telecoms companies with eight each.

Top Spot

Despite the increasing diversification happening across the region, it is an oil giant that holds the No. 1 spot and they would hold that spot in most lists whether regional or global. Saudi Aramco is not only the world’s most profitable company, but also the world’s most valuable listed company. It produced the biggest IPO in history and on it first day of trading in December, its market value soared to $1.9 trillion. $0.7 trillion above Apple’s market value on the same day.

To put Aramco in a global context, they pump more than 10% of the world’s crude oil supplies and produce more than twice the oil of all of Canada. Of course, being (prior to the IPO) a government-owned entity and the only oil producer in Saudi Arabia has given it a unique advantage.

Aramco covers several areas of the energy sector, including exploration, transportation, and sales of not only crude oil but also natural gas and chemicals. While other companies may focus on diversification, Aramco focuses on innovation. In 2017 alone, they were granted 230 patents by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

As far as the Top 100 List is concerned, Aramco accounted for 59.6% of the net profits, 11.4% of assets, 69.6% of market cap, and 49% of aggregate sales.

The Other Contenders

While dominating the list, Aramco is surprisingly the only energy company in the Top 10. The other nine companies represent banking and financial, with six out of the ten positions, two telecommunications companies, and one industrial company. The gap between first and second is telling, however. Aramco had profits of $88.2 billion, while the second-placed company – QNB of Qatar – had profits of only $4 billion.

However long the Covid-19 situation lasts, some business sectors may take considerable time to completely recover. But there will be a constant need for most of the sectors covered in the Top 100 list. While oil prices may fluctuate, the sheer size and diversity of a company like Aramco will ensure that they will not suffer too much. And for businesses such as financial and telecoms, the need for their services may grow if anything. One thing is for sure; the Middle East continues to see many companies continue to thrive and grow at both regional and global levels.

Photos :

Read more

Can Bahrain’s Fintech Bay hub lead the region?

Comments (0) Business, Middle East

The Fintech (Financial Technologies) market is a huge one and one that continues to grow. It consists of products, such as apps, platforms, and other technologies, catering to the financial sector. It can cover anything from bank to bank transfer technology through to consumer contactless payment apps. In 2018, the global fintech market had a value of around US$127.66 billion and that value is forecast to grow to $309.98 billion by 2022, an impressive annual growth rate of 24.8%. 

More and more companies are looking to cashless payment systems to pay for goods bought online or in the physical world. One of the industry giants, PayPal, had reached 267 million active users by the end of 2018 and there are many other competitors looking to increase their market share. 

It was perhaps inevitable, in a long evolutionary chain from Silicon Valley and other such sites, that small areas dedicated to companies working in Fintech would emerge. They offer ideal locations for Fintech startups – and some already established companies – to work in close proximity and to encourage tech development. In February of 2020, there were 8,775 such startups in America, 7,385 in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and 4,765 in the Asia Pacific region.

Sao Paulo, Bangalore, Mumbai, and New Delhi are challenging the traditional financial fiefdoms 

In recent years, countries in the Middle East have been investing heavily in the future of various sciences and technologies. With Dubai leading the way with the region’s first Fintech hub – now 15 years old – other countries in the region have looked to join a lucrative and booming sector that offers many opportunities and creates new jobs. 

The Findexable Global Fintech Index City Rankings identifies that the growth of these Fintech hubs marks a movement away from the traditional financial centres of the past. While no Fintech companies have yet to make the Fortune 500 or the S&P 500, that could be in part to the very nature of many Fintech companies. They tend to be young and ambitious and often focusing on niche markets such as cashless payments within a small geographical area. And while the traditional centres of the financial industry still feature in any Top 20 list of Fintech hubs, it is the new entries that are most interesting. Cities such as Sao Paulo, Bangalore, Mumbai, and New Delhi are challenging the traditional financial fiefdoms of old and Dubai and Bahrain are not far behind. 

Successful Fintech Hub: Bahrain Is an Attractive Choice

Deloitte believes there are four essential factors needed for a successful Fintech hub: capital, talent, demand, and policy & regulation. Capital is something that is not lacking in the region and the Bahrain hub is aiming to attract talent not only from the Middle East and Africa but from anywhere in the world. By also attracting existing experts in the field, they hope to nurture their own and regional talent. As far as demand is concerned, the demand for new and better Fintech products continues to grow, even in the midst of a global pandemic, and in some ways that crisis has increased need. 

Finally, Bahrain Fintech hub offers many incentives and positive policies that makes choosing Bahrain as a location an attractive choice. With access to international partners and a global network, Bahrain Fintech Hub offers attractive potential to new startups. Its geographical location is also a major advantage as it is ideally situated to not only serve the Middle East and Africa, but also Europe and Asia. Bahrain has also introduced fast track regulatory frameworks that allows it to bring in regulations quickly for newly emerging ideas and products, something other hubs do not always offer. 

Bahrain’s Fintech Hub Can Only Grow 

In January 2020, the Bahrain Fintech Hub announced a major partnership with Standard Chartered, the British multinational financial institution that operates in more than 70 countries. This will not only allow startups access to one of the world’s leading banking group but will also allow Standard Chartered potential access to new ideas as they happen. 

Fintech is an area that will continue to grow, and Bahrain is positioning itself to take advantage of that growth and to challenge the current Top 10 Fintech hubs. Even with a pandemic causing disruption in most business sectors, Fintech experts and entrepreneurs continue to develop new ideas and systems. With the financial backing and strong policies they have in place, Bahrain’s Fintech hub can only grow and grow. 

Photos : bahrainedb.com – bibf.com – unfoldbrics.art – bizbahrain.com

Read more

Dubai Expo 2020: Connecting Minds, Creating the Future

Comments (0) Business, Middle East

It would appear that Dubai can do no wrong at the moment. With visitor numbers in 2019 up 5.1% from 2018 to a new high of 16.73 million, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates continues to look for new ways to bedazzle the world. 

As the first city in the Middle East to hold a World Expo, Dubai has a chance to not only put its own achievements and plans for the future on show but to host countries from around the world willing to share, show off, and sell their own ideas and developments.

But just what is a World Expo?

The idea originated with France’s national exhibitions with 1844’s French Industrial Exposition often touted as the greatest of the time. But it was 1851’s “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’ held at London’s Crystal Palace that is seen as the blueprint for all the world expos up to the present day. The London World Expo is viewed as the first exhibition of manufactured products from around the world and is seen as having a major influence on trade, tourism, and art & design for decades to come. 

The development of World Expos is split into three distinct eras. The first, from 1851 to 1938, focused very much on industrialisation, and showcased technological progress and inventions. From 1939 to 1987, it was the era of culture, with the sharing of cultural ideas as well as innovation. The modern era, which began in 1988 in Brisbane, focuses more on the idea of nation branding, with countries seeking to improve their image to potential investors and tourists. 

It is difficult to judge the economic benefits to countries that participate in the Expos. The average cost of a pavilion at Hanover’s Expo 2000 was €12 million ($13 million), a figure that puts many countries off. However, an independent study into The Netherlands’ investment at Hanover estimated that their €35 million pavilion generated around €350 million in revenues for the country.

Few If Any Countries Do It Better Than Dubai

When it comes to nation branding, few if any countries do it better than Dubai. It’s a name that has become synonymous with luxury and with making dreams come true. Global recognition of Dubai is extremely high, thanks in no small part to the state carrier, Emirates Airlines, whose sponsorship deals outstrip any of their competitors. They sponsor Arsenal, Real Madrid, and Paris St Germain, three of Europe’s leading football clubs. 

World Expos take place every five years and last for six months. Dubai won a resounding victory in 2013 at the 154th General Assembly of the governing body of world expos, the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE).

Dubai 2020’s central theme of “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” reflects the philosophy Dubai follows in attracting some of the world’s leading scientists and tech innovators to work in this small gulf state. The Expo also has three subthemes:

  • Opportunity. Bringing together the people with the potential to help shape our future. 
  • Mobility. Creating a smarter world where it is easier for people, ideas, and goods to move around the world. 
  • Sustainability. Respecting the world we live in and finding ways to preserve it. 

The Expo site itself lies in the Dubai South district, within easy reach of three airports (Al Maktoum International Airport, Dubai International Airport, and Abu Dhabi International Airport) as well as the Dubai and Abu Dhabi cruise terminals. The Dubai 2020 site will also have its own metro line which will be capable of transporting 40,000 passengers per hour. The Expo site is open from 9am to 1am every weekday and from 10am to 2am at weekends and on holidays. 

Millions of Visitors, 200 Participants, 192 Countries

Over the six months’ duration, millions of visitors will visit the pavilions from some 200 participants representing 192 countries. Given that previous World Expos have given us architectural wonders such as the Eiffel Tower and the Seattle Space Needle, as well as things we now take for granted such as the typewriter or Heinz Tomato Soup, the anticipation is already growing for the Expo’s opening on October 20th.

The focal point of the Expo will be the Al Wasl Plaza, named after Dubai’s historical name of Al Wasl – the connection – due to how it connected people from around the world. The site will have three thematic districts, anchored by an accompanying pavilion, and all linked to the Expo’s theme and subthemes. The UAE will have its own pavilion, designed by Santiago Calatrava and resembling a falcon in flight. With exhibitions, performances, art, music, gardens, and food from every corner of the globe, Dubai 2020 promises to be as spectacular as Dubai itself. 

Photos : rnz.de / e3.capital/ apnews.com

Read more

OPEC March oil output sinks to 11-month low – Reuters survey

Comments (0) Actualites, Middle East, Oil

LONDON (Reuters) – OPEC oil output fell in March to an 11-month low due to declining Angolan exports, Libyan outages and a further slide in Venezuelan output, a Reuters survey found, sending compliance with a supply-cutting deal to another record.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries pumped 32.19 million barrels per day last month, the survey found, down 90,000 bpd from February. The March total is the lowest since April 2017, according to Reuters surveys.

OPEC is reducing output by about 1.2 million bpd as part of a deal with Russia and other non-OPEC producers to get rid of excess supply. The pact started in January 2017 and runs until the end of 2018.

Adherence by producers in the deal rose to 159 percent of agreed cuts from 154 percent in February, the survey found. There was no sign that other producers had boosted output to cash in on higher prices or to compensate for the Venezuelan decline.

Oil has topped $71 a barrel this year for the first time since 2014, and was trading above $67 on Wednesday. Still, OPEC says supply restraints should be maintained to ensure the end of a glut that had built up since 2014.

In March, the biggest decrease in supply came from Angola, which exported 48 cargoes, two fewer than in the same month of 2017. Natural declines at some fields are weighing on output.

Production in Libya, which remains unstable due to unrest, slipped because of stoppages at two fields, El Feel and El Sharara, setting back 2018’s partial recovery in output.

And production fell further in Venezuela, where the oil industry is starved of funds because of an economic crisis. Output dropped to 1.56 million bpd in March, the survey found, a new long-term low.

Output in OPEC’s largest producer, Saudi Arabia, dropped by 40,000 bpd from February’s revised level, even further below the kingdom’s target.

OPEC’s No. 2 producer, Iraq, pumped more. Exports from the south, the outlet for most of the country’s crude, rose despite maintenance at a loading terminal. Exports declined from the north but domestic crude use increased.

Among others with higher output, the biggest rise came from the United Arab Emirates, where production had dropped in February due to maintenance. Even so, the UAE is still pumping below its OPEC target and showing higher compliance than in 2017.

Output climbed in Qatar, after a dip in February that sources attributed to maintenance. Nigeria also pumped at a higher level, extending a run of more stable supply from Africa’s top exporter.

Nigeria and Libya were originally exempt from cutting supply because their output had been curbed by conflict and unrest. For 2018, both told OPEC that output would not exceed 2017 levels.

OPEC has an implied production target for 2018 of 32.73 million bpd, based on cutbacks detailed in late 2016 and taking into account changes of membership since, plus Nigeria and Libya’s expectations of 2018 output.

According to the survey, OPEC pumped about 540,000 bpd below this implied target in March, not least because of the involuntary decline in Venezuela.

The Reuters survey is based on shipping data provided by external sources, Thomson Reuters flows data and information provided by sources at oil companies, OPEC and consulting firms.

 

(By Alex Lawler; Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal in Dubai; Editing by Dale Hudson)

Read more

DP World wins 30-year Congo port concession

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Infrastructure, Middle East

DUBAI (Reuters) – DP World said on Sunday it had won a 30-year management and development concession for a greenfield, multi-purpose port in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The Dubai-owned port operator will set up joint venture with the Central African country’s government to manage and invest in the Atlantic Coast’s Port of Banana, it said in a bourse statement.

An initial $350 million will be invested to construct a 600-metre quay and a 25-hectare yard extension with a container capacity of 350,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) and 1.5 million tons for general cargo.

Congo has long looked to develop a port along its less than 50 km (30 miles) of coastline to handle larger vessels than those that can reach its existing shallow ports up the Congo River.

Construction is expected to start this year and take two years to complete. A total project cost of over $1 billion, spread over four phases, will be dependent on market demand.

DP World will control 70 percent of the joint venture with the government of the DRC retaining the remaining 30 percent, the statement said.

The award includes an option to extend the concession for an additional 20 years.

 

 

 

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell. Editing by Jane Merriman)

Read more

11 Arab Companies Make Forbes Global 2000 Top Growth Champions List

Comments (0) Business, Middle East

forbes

The world’s biggest and most powerful companies are ranked yearly by sales, profits, assets, and market value and ranked in the Forbes Global 2000. This year, Forbes worked with database company Statista to look at the compound annual growth rate of revenues, from 2013 to 2016, for all 2000 companies and converted figures into US dollars. The growth rates were then ranked, and the top 250 companies were listed as the Forbes Global 2000 Top Growth Champions.

While no Arab company made it into the top 250 companies that made the Best Employers, Top Regarded Companies, or Top Multinational Performers list, 11 Arab companies did leave their mark on the 250 Top Growth Champions list. Of the 11 companies, five are from Saudi Arabia, four are from the United Arab Emirates, two companies are from Qatar, and one is situated in Lebanon.

UAE Leads the Way

Heading the Top Growth Champions list is the UAE’s residential and commercial development company, Damac Properties. Situated in Dubai, the luxury real estate company delivers upscale properties across the Middle East and the United Kingdom. As of May 2017, Demac Properties had a market capitalization of $4.7 billion. It had total assets of $6.92 billion, and a gross debt of $1.36 billion. With 55 million square feet of property development in planning or progress, including more than 13,000 hotel rooms and more than 19,000 employees, Demac earned $1.63 billion at the end of Q3 2017, 13% higher than in 2016.

With Expo 2020 set to increase demand for real estate in the region, Demac’s performance was attributed to continued demand for its projects. Demac recently reported more than 80% of its hotel apartment projects in New Dubai and Dubai South have sold out. It runs the only Trump brand golf club in the Middle East, and the company has also been chosen by the Oman Government to develop its $1 billion Port Sultan Qaboos waterfront project. Although revenues fell slightly in 2016, the real estate market in the region has stabilized according to Demac’s CFO Adil Taqi, and sales for the first six months of 2017 are up 4% over the same period in 2016.

Top Growth Middle Eastern Companies

The other Middle Eastern companies that made the list included Saudi owned real estate firm Jabal Omar Development, which ranked number 7. Alinma Bank, also from Saudi Arabia ranked 167th, Alawwal Bank ranked 169th, Saudi Investment Bank ranked 210th, and Saudi Arabian Mining Company came in at 222nd. Other companies from the UAE included real estate and construction firm Emaar Properties, which ranked 208th, and Dubai Islamic Bank, which ranked 249th. Qatar National Bank ranked 96th and Qatari real estate and construction company Ezdan Holding Group ranked 157th. Bank Audi from Lebanon came in at number 155.  

Top Five Global Companies

Ranked second on the list is China’s largest auto distributor China Grand Automotive Services. The Shanghai based company sells more than 50 different brands of cars, including Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz. In 2016, the firm posted revenues of $20.6 billion, 45% higher than the previous year. Also from China is real estate development company, Greenland Holdings, which ranked 3rd, and Hong Kong gaming and real estate firm Melco International, which ranked 4th. Ranking 5th was Chinese delivery service company, S.F Holdings.

The top delivering US companies on the list were e-commerce company XPO Logistics, which was ranked 8th and New Residential Investment (13th), Cheniere Energy (21st), Vereit (34th) and Liberty Expeida Holdings, which ranked 34th.    

Read more

Bringing tourism back to the Middle East

Comments (0) Middle East

tourism-middle-east

Long heralded as the must-see tourist destinations of the Middle East, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey are feeling the blow to their once prosperous tourism sector, as holidaymaker’s head to safer shores. Terrorist attacks, kidnapping and political unrest has seen a decline in tourism in the region, however, some countries are finding ways to bring the people back.

Saudi Arabian Islands Make-over

The recently announced Red Sea Project will see Virgin airlines founder and entrepreneur Richard Branson invest in turning 50 Saudi Arabian islands into luxury tourist destinations. This comes as Saudi Arabia announced its plans to turn 13,127 square miles of coastline into luxury resorts in early August. “This is an incredibly exciting time in the country’s history,” Branson said in a statement released by the Information Ministry. As one of the world’s most conservative countries, where alcohol is prohibited and women have only just been given permission to drive, Saudi Arabia is determined to change its image in the international community.

According to Arabian Business, since the appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Salman as successor to his father’s empire in June, the country has launched a media offensive aimed at pulling the country out of its dependence on oil and diversifying its revenue. The Saudi Public Investment Fund, which is headed by Prince Mohammed, will provide the initial investment to the Red Sea Project, with plans to start construction in 2019. Branson is the first international investor to commit to the project in what the ministry called “a clear sign that Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to international tourism.”

Egypt Partners with CNN

Egypt is also set to launch a tourism media campaign with cable television channel CNN, after visitor numbers fell dramatically due to the Arab Spring uprising, which overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and the Russian passenger jet which crashed in Sinai in 2015, killing all onboard. Russia, which was the number one source of tourists to Egypt, suspended flights to the country pending tighter security measures at Egyptian airports. In order to lessen the impact of these reports, Egypt will launch an advertisement to be aired on CNN’s weather forecasts in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to attract tourists during the winter season. International advertising and marketing agency J. Walter Thompson, said the aim of the campaign was to attract tourists in winter to Egypt’s consistently warm weather.

According to Egyptian news site Ahram Online, Egypt was receiving as many as 14.7 million visitors back in 2010. Before the Arab Spring, tourism represented 13% of the country’s gross national product, bringing in some $20 billion a year in revenue, according to government figures. In contrast, the first seven months of 2017 have seen just 4.3 million tourists visit the country’s historic sites and arid landscape. Although tourism revenue has increased in Egypt, for the same period, by 170%, reaching $3.5 billion, it is still nowhere near the pre-2011 figures.

Future of Middle Eastern Tourism

While travel and tourism sectors of the regions usually popular destinations have suffered, not all the Middle East has been badly affected. Certain ‘safe haven’ destinations have actually profited in recent years. According to figures from the UN World Tourism Organization, visitors from the UK have increased in the UAE. Dubai saw a 5% increase in UK tourists in 2016, and Abu Dhabi was up 3%. Russian tourists have also flocked to the country after visa-on-arrival was implemented, which saw a rise of 14%. Oman has also seen a steady growth in numbers from Europe, with Britain and Germany among the top five tourism generating source markets, followed closely by India.

According to Trade Arabia, London’s World Travel Market event, to be held in November, will expect to see a strong contingent of exhibitors from the Middle East. WTM Senior Director Simon Press said according to figures from the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2016 the total contribution to GDP from travel and tourism in the Middle East was $227.1 billion. This figure is forecast to rise by 5.2% in 2017, and 4.8% per annum to make $381.9 billion by the year 2027. “There are exciting times ahead for the Middle East,” Press said.    

Read more

Abu Dhabi’s Mega Projects Continue Despite Oil Slump

Comments (0) Middle East

Sitting on 6% of the world’s oil reserves, Abu Dhabi has pushed forward with a construction program that has seen a combined USD $37 billion poured into several mega building projects in the region, despite 2014’s slumping crude oil prices. Expected to be completed by 2020, the ten biggest projects under construction include Abu Dhabi’s own Louvre art museum, a nuclear power plant, sewerage tunnel, hospital, special burns clinic, highway, housing development, residential area and a new air terminal, among others.

Construction on the projects began before the global economic downturn and Abu Dhabi has had to make sharp cuts to spending over the past few years. According to credit-rating company Fitch, spending was cut by a 20% in 2015, after falling oil prices led Abu Dhabi to run a fiscal deficit of 13.2% of GDP that year. However, the recovery of oil prices in 2016 has eased some of the pressure from government finances and several construction projects are about to be unveiled.

Under Construction

 The Louvre, Abu Dhabi, is among the most anticipated construction projects set to be finished by the end of May. The white dome-covered building is surrounded by water and was designed by French architect, Jean Nouvel. Costing $1.14 billion, it includes a 280-seat theater and a children’s museum. Also, to be completed later in the year is a $1.5 billion housing development, Jabel Hafeet, which will provide homes for 3,000 people, including a school, a clinic and other facilities; $1.14 billion residential development, Ain Al Faida, which will house 2,000; the $1.1 billion, Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City, which specializes in treatment for burns and has 739 beds; and a new sewerage tunnel, which is said to be among the world’s longest at 25 miles in length and at a cost of $1.5 billion.

Projects to be completed in the following years include, the first nuclear power plant in the United Arab Emirates, Barakah Nuclear Plant, which will supply 25% of the country’s electricity by May 2020, according to the Emirates Nuclear Energy Co-operation. The $23 billion plant includes four reactors, which will produce a combined 5,600 megawatts. Abu Dhabi’s newest air terminal, the $3.5 billion, Midfield Airport Terminal, which will have 49 gates, shops, restaurants and a hotel. The terminal was built over six levels and will double the airports capacity to 30 million passengers a year. It is expected to be finished in January 2019.

Also under construction is a new highway, the E11, which will link Abu Dhabi with the Saudi border at a cost of $1.5 billion. The $1.2 billion, Al Ain Hospital to be completed by December 2018 and a new district in Abu Dhabi called Zayed City. Currently the road network, sewerage, electricity, lighting and water infrastructure is only 19% complete. The $909 million project is expected to be finished by 2020.

Positive Outlook for 2017

Despite the cut-backs, the outlook for construction companies across the Middle East is set to improve in 2017. According to a report from Middle East Business intelligence service MEED, the region still offers significant opportunities for construction companies, despite the slowdown in spending. ‘There is no doubt that the worst is behind us,’ said MEED editorial director, Richard Thompson. ‘The recovery in oil prices and the implementation of reforms means things will improve for the region’s construction market in 2017,’ he said. Although the future for construction companies looks brighter in Abu Dhabi, increased competition is expected due to the lower volume of construction projects, warns MEED.

Read more

Alabbar’s plan to conquer e-commerce

Comments (0) Featured, Middle East

A new online shopping platform created in the United Arab Emirates is set to dominate the industry in the Middle East and possibly the world. Noon.com, which was announced early November, is an online retailer boasting over 20 million products and same-day delivery. Created by Emirati billionaire and businessman Mohamed Alabbar, the site will be launched worldwide in January, 2017.

Stocking millions of products ranging from fashion to electronics, food to cars, the site will be ten times bigger than the region’s current ecommerce site, Souq.com and will stock over 5 million more products than Dubai’s biggest malls. Starting with 20 million products, the plan is to get to 100 million, Alabbar explained in an interview with Arabian Business. Initially the site will sell popular consumer items, he explained, but will eventually expand to sell niche items too.

The region is ripe for an ecommerce revolution: Alabbar

With $1 billion in financial backing, half from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and half from Alabbar himself and a group of Gulf Cooperation Council investors, the ecommerce site will operate from and focus on the UAE and Saudi Arabia before branching out. Noon’s head office will be located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

As a region with 50 percent of people under the age of 25, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have extremely high internet and smartphone usage as well as high per capita income Alabbar explained. However, ecommerce accounts for only 2 percent of total retail sales in the region, a total of $3 billion a year.

People in the Gulf nations are still buying online from Amazon US and Amazon UK even though they have to wait a long time for delivery, Alabbar said. Countries like the USA, China and the UK have an ecommerce penetration of 15 to 18 percent of retail, but it is negligible in the Middle East. “The region is all but ripe for an e-commerce revolution,” Alibbar said. “Local giants have emerged in ecommerce around the world, like Alibaba in China. Why should it be any different in the Middle East?”

Ecommerce market to be worth $70 billion by 2025

By 2025 the ecommerce market is expected to be worth a whopping $70 billion a year, and Alabbar aims to take a sizeable chunk of it. Noon is being built with an eventual goal of an initial public offering in five to seven years Alabbar said. Immediate goals, however, include growing online sales in the region from 2 percent to 15 percent. A financial goal from $3 billion to $70 billion within a decade, taking up much of the ecommerce market.

“Any vision to change the world necessarily has to be big. A quantum leap cannot be small,” Alabbar said. An obvious comparison to Noon is Alibaba. When Alibaba was launched, Amazon was already a large public company, Alabbar explained. But that didn’t stop CEO Jack Ma from dreaming big. Today they are the largest ecommerce company in the world, and Amazon is almost non-existent in China, Alabbar said.

End to End Ecommerce Retailer

Noon plans on being an all-encompassing retail experience. From its website to an app, to delivery system and pay platform, it is all the same company from start to finish. Noon’s CEO and former country manager for Souq, Fodhil Benturquia said Noon’s edge over competition lay in its technological advances. “Our customer experience will be driven by state-of-the-art technology that will power everything from product discovery to purchase and delivery,” Benturquia said.

As well as creating its very own paying platform, Noon Pay, the company is also currently building the world’s largest warehouse adjacent to Dubai’s Al Maktoum International airport to store its products. The warehouse, which will be the size of 60 football fields will be one of many similar centers across Saudi Arabia and later across the entire region. Large storage centers mean same-day delivery is possible and this will be achieved via an in-house system called Noon Transportation and part-owned delivery service, Aramex. Noon is going to change the online shopping landscape for the Middle East customer, Benturquia said.

Read more

The collapse of oil prices is forcing the UAE to reconsider a long-standing taboo on taxation

Comments (0) Featured, Middle East

The past seven months have seen global oil prices drop sharply leading to significant revenue shortfalls in many energy exporting nations in the Middle East. Desperate to diversify revenue, the Gulf states will introduce direct taxation on its citizens for the first time.

According to Younis Haji Al Khouri, the United Arab Emirates Finance Minister Undersecretary, taxation could generate billions of dollars in revenue for the oil-dependent nation. A draft law for corporate taxation was approved by the UAE cabinet at the start of the year and plans to introduce value-added tax (VAT) by 2018 are underway. VAT would include heavy fees on luxury items such as cigarettes and alcohol, Al Khouri explained, but certain sectors such as healthcare, education, social services and 94 different food items would be exempt.

“There was a study conducted in 2014 that showed that the [revenues] collected from the implementation of value-added tax for the UAE are between AED10 billion (USD$27 billion) to AED12 billion (USD$32 billion)” Al Khouri said.

Falling oil prices

Oil prices reached an all-time low at the start of the year with benchmark Brent crude oil prices as low as just $28 per barrel and up to only $45.4 per barrel half way through November. In comparison, Brent crude went for more than $115, per barrel in June of 2014, reported Gulf News.

Largely to blame for the decrease in oil prices are surging oil production in the United States, a higher US dollar, and weak economic growth in energy importing countries, reports the BBC. However, the war in Syria and Iraq has also had a part to play. Militant group ISIS has been capturing oil wells and purportedly undercutting market prices by selling oil on the black market at a significant discount. According to the BBC, ISIS is making around $3 million a day selling oil for around $30 – $60 per barrel.

This has left the UAE and other oil-producing countries to deal with lower prices for their output. While the UAE government has taken some steps to remedy the situation, such as cutting billions of dollars’ worth of petrol subsidies, according to Deutsche Bank and IMF, the nation would still need the price of oil barrels to rise to at least $81 per barrel to balance its budget.

Introducing Tax in the Gulf nations

Introducing tax may be the answer to the UAE’s revenue woes. Although taxation has long been a taboo subject in the Gulf states, the current price of oil has caused many countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to rethink their stance. Taxation could be an alternative source of income for countries hoping to move their economies away from a dependence on oil and gas.

A research and risk analyst at Moody’s Investor’s Service Mathias Angonin, said the UAE has a limited amount of ways to improve revenue. “The UAE introduced tough measures quickly, including the fuel subsidy reform and the reduction in capital expenditures,” Angonin said. “But the list of low-hanging fruits to raise revenue or reduce expenditures is getting shorter and shorter. The authorities are focusing on medium-term measures such as the VAT introduction in 2018 and 2019 and new forms of taxation.”

Moving Economies Away from a Dependence on Oil

Although it has long been a steady source of income, the UAE is not entirely dependent on oil and gas. The country has a thriving maritime port and is a global aviation hub. According to Gulf News, UAE is one of the most diversified economies in the region. Trade and logistics, services, retail, tourism and aviation are among the key drivers of non-oil growth, explains Shady Shaher Al Borno, Head of Macro Strategy Research, Global Markets and Treasury, Emirates NBD.

“We expect the UAE economy to grow by 3.4 per cent in 2017,” says Al Borno. “In the medium run, we expect Expo 2020 to have a positive impact on growth dynamics of the UAE as a whole as the non-oil sector will benefit from the flow of projects for the construction of facilities to host the 2020 event.”

Dubai’s staging of the next universal technological exposition, entitled ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ and based on themes such as sustainability, mobility and opportunity, is expected to add an estimated 4.5 percentage points to GDP growth in the UAE and an extra $10 billion of private sector cash injected into the GCC, according to a report by Qatar National Bank. The event will also create thousands of jobs in construction, planning and tourism.

Read more