Business

GulfNews Business

Abu Dhabi Department of Finance launches Dh6 billion supply chain financing initiative

Banking|: Abu Dhabi: The Abu Dhabi Department of Finance (DoF) Sunday announced a Dh6 billion supply chain financing initiative to support a variety of sectors, as a key initiative in its commitment to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The first phase of this initiative is in partnership with the National Health Insurance Company (Daman) and First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB), aiming to provide liquidity to SMEs in the healthcare sector. “SMEs are the lifeblood of the economy, and key to long-term sustainable growth for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. As part of our forward-looking fiscal sustainability strategy, we are proactively launching this initiative in order to underpin continued liquidity for SMEs in Abu Dhabi,” said Jassem Mohammed Bu Ataba AlZaabi, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Finance . Funded by Ghadan 21’s SME credit guarantee scheme, the initiative is a demonstration of Abu Dhabi’s significant commitment to sustain and support SMEs – throughout COVID-19 and beyond – and will initially support SMEs in the healthcare sector, before being extended to include other banks and sectors. Financing Image Credit: Abu Dhabi Department of Finance “The UAE has made remarkable strides as a leading nation in the global healthcare landscape. This would not be possible without the vital contributions of the many important SMEs within the healthcare sector. We are pleased to partner with the Department of Finance and FAB to ensure business continuity and liquidity for those committed to protecting the health and safety of Abu Dhabi citizens and residents,” said Hamad Al Mehyas, Chief Executive Officer, Daman. The initiative is of significant benefit to SMEs as it facilitates quick payment of their receivables, thus reducing their costs of working capital. In 2019, SMEs in Abu Dhabi accounted for 29 per cent of GDP and 44 per cent of the nonoil economy –supporting such businesses is a critical element of Abu Dhabi’s diversification strategy to move towards a knowledge-based economy. “FAB is fully committed to the economic objectives of Abu Dhabi, including supporting the ongoing development of a world leading healthcare ecosystem within the Emirate. This initiative will provide SMEs in the Emirate with the necessary liquidity to continue their sustainable growth while maintaining healthcare supply chains throughout the COVID-19 pandemic response and beyond,” said André Sayegh, Group Chief Executive Officer, FAB.

GulfNews Business

Wealth gap widens for Britain’s young with surge in house prices

Property|: London: Surging house prices in the UK are making it more difficult for younger generations to follow the most common path for accumulating wealth, widening a gap between the rich and the poor. Homeowners are benefiting from the coronavirus crisis, with cheap borrowing and government tax cuts driving real estate prices to an all-time high last year. The cost of a home averaged 253,374 pounds ($340,000) in December, up 6 per cent from a year ago, according to mortgage lender Halifax. That gravity-defying increase during the worst economic slump in three centuries has put ownership further out of reach for the young, particularly in London where the value of property has almost doubled in the last decade. It’s piling misery on a section of the population already hard hit by the pandemic, with young people more dependent on sectors closed by lockdown. “It’s about the imbalance of economic power,” said Robert Joyce, deputy director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and a participant in a review of inequalities led by Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton. “More and more houses are owned by the same people, a narrow segment of society who are renting them out to younger people.” There are implications for the productivity of the economy too. High housing costs can make it hard for workers to relocate, depriving companies of talent and robbing young people of opportunities for better jobs and pay. Widening gulf The widening gulf between “generation rent” and those just a decade or two older has spawned a range of housing initiatives since the financial crisis. More recently, it has fueled a debate over whether Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak should follow countries such as Argentina by levying a wealth tax to help repair Britain’s coronavirus-ravaged public finances. A vocal advocate of higher taxes on the rich is Gary Stevenson, an inequality economist and former Citibank trader who accurately predicted rock-bottom interest rates remaining for long after the financial crisis. He sees a similar scenario unfolding now and warns that London house prices could double again. “It makes social mobility completely impossible and housing completely inaccessible for the bottom 50 or 60 percent of society,” Stevenson said. “It’s like cutting off the bottom half and saying, you guys lost capitalism, you’re out.” Stretched affordability Affordability is particularly stretched in the UK capital, where first-time buyers paid 420,618 pounds on average at the end of 2020, the equivalent of more than nine times their earnings, according to Nationwide Building Society. It means buying often requires outsize deposits, or having money from family. While overall wealth inequality in the UK is far less pronounced than in the US, the gap has widened in the last decade. That reflects both Bank of England stimulus to fight the financial crisis, which fueled a surge in asset prices, and fiscal austerity that hit those of working age harder than older people. In 1996, more than half of 25-34-year-olds owned their homes, according to the IFS. By 2017, that figure had fallen to little more than a third. The pandemic has made the challenge facing the young harder still, with a record-low BOE benchmark rate and a temporary tax cut on homebuying feeding demand. Lenders meanwhile are withdrawing low deposit mortgages or increasing interest rates on them amid growing worries about risk. For years, build, build, build has been the mantra of campaigners, who say that new homes are the key to fix the housing crisis. But despite a homebuilding recovery in the past decade, Britain is still constructing half of the homes that it did at its peak in the late 1960s. In the year to March last year, the number of dwellings - new builds, conversions and re-purposed property - rose by under 250,000, leaving the government a way to go to meet its target of 300,000 a year by the middle of the decade. Some say close to 350,000 are needed. A key plank of the strategy is the provision of affordable homes. These rose just 1 per cent and were almost 90,000 short of the 145,000 that the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, says is needed each year for the next decade. Its head of policy, Will Jeffwitz, says that target won’t be met anytime soon. “It will mean that millions of people will be living in homes or continue to live in homes that are either unaffordable, insecure or of poor quality with knock-on effects on health, wellbeing and children’s ability to learn,” he said.

GulfNews Business

Investors brace for US presidential inauguration, new stimulus

Markets|: Dubai: With companies worldwide reporting earnings in full swing, investors will keep an eye for how businesses are coping with the current crisis, while keeping a watch for some key economic data as well. Joe Biden steps into office as the 46th US president on Wednesday. Markets will see how both Biden’s plan to combat the health crisis and his proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package will fare, which political strategists expect is a package that will be passed but not before it is trimmed down. Stock markets have risen roughly 13 per cent post-Election Day on November 3 – the biggest S&P 500 gain between the election and the inauguration for any president going back at least to 1952, according to US-based investment research firm CFRA. Earning season in full swing Additionally, earnings season in the world’s largest economy – the US – is now in full swing, with more banks reporting numbers as well as giants like IBM and Netflix. In the UK, there are more UK trading statements to provide detail on fourth-quarter’s corporate performance. The big US banks kicked off the latest earnings season with JPMorgan, Citigroup and Wells Fargo out with reports on Friday, just a sampling before next week’s rush, which includes reports from industry titans such as Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble. Meanwhile, on the global economic front, some news expected next week from some parts of the world includes the data on Germany’s key economic ZEW index, UK inflation and the first European Central Bank meeting of 2021 – which will be closely watched for hints on economic health amid the crisis. Tense backdrop pre-inauguration As a result of an earlier mob attack on the Capitol building, there will be heightened security surrounding the inauguration and investors will keep an eye for any news stemming from such caution. Last week it was voted to impeach current US President Trump for inciting the mob, and now there is concern about further incidents in Washington or at state capitals. Markets are also watching carefully to see whether Biden can bridge some of the deep government divide, although, stock markets are seen doing well with the Biden presidency. The S&P 500 has gained an average 11 per cent in the first year of a Democratic president, but just 6 per cent for Republicans. Mixed day of trading in UAE While the bourse in Dubai slipped on Sunday, the index in Abu Dhabi edged up, as investors factored in some pandemic-related uncertainty seen in global markets. The Dubai Financial Market (DFM) slipped 0.4 per cent to 2,690 points, while the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX) gained 0.2 per cent at 5,279 points. Oil prices last slid by the most in three weeks and closed down at $55.10 a barrel on Friday after surging nearly 9 per cent since the world’s biggest oil exporter surprised the market on January 5 with voluntary output cuts of 1 million barrels per day in February and March. The region’s largest bourse - Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul – slipped 0.3 per cent on Sunday, while the benchmark in Qatar slipped marginally.

GulfNews Business

UK aviation sector calls for urgent support amid travel curbs

Europe|Aviation|: London: The UK’s aviation sector needs urgent government support if it is to survive another lengthy period of travel restrictions to curb surging coronavirus infections in the country, according to industry leaders. On Saturday, Karen Dee, the chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, urged the UK government to set out plans for how airports will survive financially during the crisis. “Airports are currently keeping their infrastructure open to support vital and critical services, such as post, freight, emergency services, military and coastguard flights, as well as to help keep the lights in the UK on through supporting flights to offshore oil, gas and wind operations,” Xinhua news agency quoted Dee as saying to the Guardian newspaper. “Airports are doing so while running on empty - there is only so long they can run on fumes before having to close temporarily to preserve their business for the future,” she said. “Government needs to help cover airports’ operational costs by, for example, urgently providing relief from regulatory, policing, air traffic and business rates costs in the current and the coming tax year.” Heathrow Airport lost its status as Europe’s busiest airport as it recorded a loss of 1.5 billion pounds ($2.04 billion) in the first nine months of 2020 due to Covid-19. Passenger numbers between July and September 2020 were down by more than 84 per cent compared with the same period in 2019, leading the west London hub to be overtaken by Paris Charles de Gaulle as the busiest in Europe. Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents all UK registered airlines, said that if by Easter the restrictions are not lifted, the industry will be “in a really difficult place”. Easter is a Christian holiday which falls on April 4 this year. Paid back “Easter is a date that we have got in mind as to when we can start to have an aviation sector again because if we don’t start to bring in revenue to the sector, we are going to be in a really difficult place indeed because we have now had pretty much 12 months without any revenue coming in, which is just not sustainable and airlines are effectively staying in business by taking on billions of pounds of debt, which will need to be paid back,” Alderslade said. On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Britain will close all travel corridors to the country from 4 a.m. on Monday in a bid to keep out new coronavirus variants. The new measure means that travellers entering the country must have proof of a negative Covid-19 test in previous 72 hours. Anyone arriving in Britain must quarantine for 10 days or they have the choice of doing an extra test on day five to shorten the isolation, Johnson said. England is currently under the third national lockdown since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country. Similar restriction measures are also in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The UK has so far reported a total of 3,325,642 coronavirus cases and 87,448 deaths.

GulfNews Business

Britain to host G7 summit in June

Business|: London: Britain will host a G7 summit in June, the government said Friday, announcing what will be the first face-to-face meeting of the group since the start of Joe Biden’s US presidency. Outgoing US President Donald Trump was forced to cancel last year’s meeting of the G7 - the world’s most advanced economies - due to the coronavirus pandemic. Individual leaders have yet to confirm their attendance, but the summit is scheduled to take place on June 11-13 in Carbis Bay, a coastal town in Cornwall, southwest England. The global response to Covid-19 and climate change are expected to rank high on the agenda at the group’s first in-person meeting in nearly two years. “As the most prominent grouping of democratic countries, the G7 has long been the catalyst for decisive international action to tackle the greatest challenges we face,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement. “Coronavirus is doubtless the most destructive force we have seen for generations,” he added, saying it was “only right that we approach the challenge of building back better by uniting with a spirit of openness to create a better future”. Leaders and ministers from the seven nations - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States - have met virtually in recent months. Johnson’s office said he would use the summit to promote a green recovery from the pandemic, encouraging G7 members to unite to “make the future fairer, greener and more prosperous”. Britain, which holds the rotating presidency of the G7 in 2021, has invited leaders from Australia, India and South Korea to attend as guest countries. Britain also takes over the presidency of the UN Security Council in February, and Johnson has signalled he is seeking to boost the UK’s international presence as it embarks on a new path post-Brexit.

GulfNews Business

Trump's China tech war backfires on automakers as chips run short

Automakers around the world are shutting assembly lines because of a global shortage of semiconductors that in some cases has been exacerbated by the Trump administration's actions against key Chinese chip factories, industry officials said. The shortage, which caught much of the industry off-guard and could continue for many months, is now causing Ford Motor Co., Subaru Corp and Toyota Motor Corp to curtail production in the United States. Automakers affected in other markets include Volkswagen, Nissan Motor Co Ltd and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The problems stem from a confluence of factors as auto manufacturers compete against the sprawling consumer electronics industry for chip supplies. Consumers have stocked up on laptops, gaming consoles and other electronic products during the pandemic, creating tight chip supplies throughout 2020. They have also bought more cars than industry officials expected last spring, further straining supplies. In at least one case, the shortage ties back to President Donald Trump's policies aimed at curtailing technology transfers to China. One automaker moved chip production from China's Semiconductor Manufacturing International, or SMIC, which was hit with U.S. government restrictions in December, to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co in Taiwan, which in turn was overbooked, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters. An auto supplier confirmed TSMC has been unable to keep up with demand. "The systemic aspect of the crisis is giving us a headache," said a supplier executive, who asked not to be identified. "In some cases, we find substitution parts that could make us independent from TSMC, only to discover that the alternative wafer manufacturer has no capacity available." TSMC and SMIC did not immediately respond to requests for comment. On an earnings call with investors Thursday, TSMC Chief Executive C.C. Wei said there was a shortage of automotive chips made with "mature technology" and that it is working with customers "to mitigate the shortage impact." It only takes the tiniest of chips to throw off production: a Ford plant in Kentucky that makes the Escape sport utility vehicle idled because of a shortage of a chip in the vehicle's brake system, a union official in the plant said. Ford also will idle its Focus plant in Saarlouis, Germany, for a month starting next week because of chip shortages. The situation is unlikely to improve quickly, since all chips, whether bound for a laptop or a Lexus, start life as a silicon wafer that takes about 90 days to process into a chip. The chipmaking industry has always strained to keep up with sudden demand spikes. The factories that produce wafers cost tens of billions of dollars to build, and expanding their capacity can take up to a year for testing and qualifying complex tools. "The long and short of it is, demand is up about 50%. And there's no asset-intensive industry like ours that has 50% capacity lying around," said Mike Hogan, senior vice president at chip manufacturer GlobalFoundries and head of its automotive unit. Huawei Effect Tight capacity and soaring demand has made it difficult for chip producers to absorb two shocks from the Trump administration. First, the White House in September banned Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, the Chinese telecommunications giant and a major smartphone maker, from buying chips made with American technology. Huawei stockpiled chips ahead of the ban in order to keep building what products it could after it took effect. And Huawei's rivals, eyeing a chance to grab market share, started snapping up chips, analysts said. Second, the U.S. government enacted rules that bar SMIC from using some U.S. tools to make chips, a move that has prompted at least some of SMIC's customers to look for a different chip factory because of concerns that production could be disrupted. "There's a fear of using a Chinese chip factory if the United States is going to put them on an entity list," said Daniel Goehl, chief business officer of UltraSense Systems, referring to possible further restrictions. A Commerce Department spokesman declined to comment on the implications of the SMIC and Huawei blacklistings for the auto sector but said that the top priority was "to ensure the Export Administration Regulation protects U.S. national security, economic security, and foreign policy interests. Analysts said the automotive chip shortage is likely to persist for as long as six months. An AutoForecast Solutions report estimated the global auto industry had already experienced lost volume of 202,000 vehicles as of Jan. 13. Executives at automakers and suppliers said they are adapting production schedules to protect chips used in higher-profit vehicles. And companies are weighing sourcing chips from more suppliers and increasing inventory levels in the future. "It's four-dimensional chess all day long," said one auto official, who asked not to be identified.

GulfNews Business

An auto CEO much of Detroit doesn't know takes over a new empire

The just-finalised merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and PSA Group is poised to raise the global profile of an under-the-radar chief executive who will lead a vast and massively complex carmaker with quiet intensity. The market debut this week of Stellantis, the group formed by the Italian-American and French auto manufacturers, will function as coming-out party for its leader, Carlos Tavares. He's spent a 40-year career rising up the ladder of an industry that birthed the modern day celebrity CEO, engineering impressive turnarounds while largely going unrecognized taking commercial flights in and out of Detroit. The wiry, hyperactive 62-year-old has shown little desire to be another Lee Iacocca, Dieter Zetsche, Sergio Marchionne or Carlos Ghosn. But whether he comes around to the spotlight or not, he'll get much more of it steering an empire of roughly 400,000 employees and 14 brands into an uncertain future, where cars increasingly run off of batteries and software and the combustion engine meets its demise. "He's not selling Carlos, and he doesn't want to," said Jim Press, an auto executive who worked with Tavares when the latter headed Nissan Motor Co.'s North American operations. "He develops people and organizations. The guy is a great businessman." Automotive mega mergers have failed in simpler times. Before Daimler's disastrous combination with Chrysler around the turn of the century, PSA's archrival Renault acquired American Motors in a doomed deal the French company reversed from a little over a decade later. For Tavares to succeed with Stellantis, he'll have to do more than just streamline and slash costs, the playbook he followed in bringing PSA back from the brink. The self-described "performance psychopath" also will have to prove his product chops and catch up on electrification in an era when little seems to matter more to investors. Racing Roots Born and raised in Lisbon, Tavares displayed his early passion as a 14-year-old volunteer at the Estoril track. He has since competed in more than 500 races as an amateur driver and has said he became an engineer because he lacked the talent and money to race professionally. He was scheduled to drive a Lancia Stratos at an annual rally in Monaco this month before Covid-19 forced its cancellation. After graduating from one of France's top engineering schools, Tavares started his career at Renault in 1981. He headed up partner Nissan's North America operations for two years before becoming No. 2 to Ghosn at Renault in 2011. In an unusual power play for a top job, he told Bloomberg News in 2013 that since Ghosn was planning to stick around, he would be interested in running General Motors Co. or Ford Motor Co. He left Renault within weeks and took the helm of almost-bankrupt PSA six months later. The French state and China's Dongfeng Motor Group bailed out PSA by participating in a share sale and 3 billion-euro capital raise. Tavares pruned the model lineup, cut costs and raised vehicle prices. PSA turned its first annual profit in three years. He applied similar tactics with Opel and Vauxhall, the brands GM cast off to PSA in 2017 after racking up about $20 billion of losses over two decades. By slashing development spending and buying out thousands of workers, he swiftly pushed those operations into the black. "The Tavares factor was probably the most underestimated" of PSA's 2014 turnaround plan, said Societe Generale auto analyst Stephen Reitman. "Opel Vauxhall was seen as maybe a step too far, but he proved that by patiently going around and reasoning with people, they would reconsider positions that had contributed to 20 years of losses." Five-Slide Rule Bloomberg News spoke with half a dozen people who have worked closely with Tavares. They describe him as ultra-competitive with a dogged attention to detail. He doesn't tolerate meetings starting late or dragging on and asks underlings to make presentations in five slides or less. Tavares shuns the annual gathering of business elite that Ghosn frequented in Davos, Switzerland, and shows up to glitzy car shows in scuffed-up dad shoes. He often spends weekends tinkering on cars at his suburban Paris home. As head of Stellantis, he'll answer to dynastic shareholders - the Agnellis, led by Chairman John Elkann, as well as the Peugeots - and politics will play an outsize role. The French state will retain a stake in the merged company, and Italy's deputy economy minister has hinted its government may acquire a shareholding as well. PSA's outgoing Chairman Louis Gallois has said that since Tavares's roots are in Portugal, where he owns a vineyard and small vintage-car business, he'll be an effective neutral arbiter. Stellantis will be an amalgam of model lines with a strong presence in North America's lucrative truck and SUV segments, thanks to Fiat Chrysler's Ram and Jeep divisions. PSA's revitalized Peugeot and Citroen brands also have excelled in Europe and are the envy of Renault. Yet Stellantis won't have much of a foothold in the luxury-car business. The Alfa Romeo and Maserati lines are struggling and PSA's DS is tiny. Fiat Chrysler and PSA also have stumbled in China's vast auto market. "Tavares knows that if the Chinese market is a medium- or long-term goal, Europe is right now Stellantis' most compelling challenge," said Carlo Alberto Carnevale Maffe, a professor at Bocconi University in Milan. "He needs to act by cutting costs, recovering profitability and investing in a range of technologies."

GulfNews Business

Fiat Chrysler and PSA seal merger to become Stellantis

Fiat Chrysler and PSA sealed their long-awaited merger on Saturday to create Stellantis, the world's fourth-largest auto group with deep enough pockets to fund the shift to electric driving and take on bigger rivals Toyota and Volkswagen. It took over a year for the Italian-American and French automakers to finalise the $52 billion deal, during which the global economy was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. They first announced plans to merge in October 2019, to create a group with annual sales of around 8.1 million vehicles. "The merger between Peugeot S.A. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. that will lead the path to the creation of Stellantis N.V. became effective today," the two automakers said in a statement. Shares in Stellantis, which will be headed by current PSA Chief Executive Carlos Tavares, will start trading in Milan and Paris on Monday, and in New York on Tuesday. Now analysts and investors are turning their focus to how Tavares plans to address the huge challenges facing the group " from excess production capacity to a woeful performance in China. Tavares will hold his first press conference as Stellantis CEO on Tuesday, after ringing NYSE's bell with Chairman John Elkann. FCA and PSA have said Stellantis can cut annual costs by over 5 billion euros ($6.1 billion) without plant closures, and investors will be keen for more details on how it will do this. Marco Santino, a partner at consultants Oliver Wyman, said he expected Tavares to disclose the outlines of his action plan soon, but without divulging too many details at first. "He has proven to be the kind of person who prefers action to words, so I don't think he will make loud statements or try to over-sell targets," he said. Like all global automakers, Stellantis needs to invest billions in the years ahead to transform its vehicle range for the electric era. But other pressing tasks loom, including reviving the group's lagging fortunes in China, rationalising its huge global empire and addressing massive overcapacity. "It will be a step by step process, also to allow the market to better appreciate every single move. I don't think we will have all the details before one year," Santino said. FCA CEO Mike Manley - who will head Stellantis' key North American operations - has said 40% of the carmaker's expected synergies would come from convergence of platforms and powertrains and from optimising R&D investments, 35% from savings on purchases, and another 7% from savings on sales operations and general expenses.