GulfNews Business

GulfNews Business

HSBC sharpens focus of Saudi Arabia investment banking unit

Banking|: Dubai: HSBC Saudi Arabia is sharpening its focus on the investment banking, institutional brokerage and custody needs of its clients with an agreement to transfer its asset management, retail brokerage and retail margin lending businesses to Alawwal Invest, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Saudi British Bank (SABB). “This transaction will allow HSBC Saudi Arabia to focus its resources on its market-leading investment banking, institutional brokerage and custody businesses, which serve domestic as well as international corporate and institutional clients in the Kingdom,” said Stephen Moss, HSBC Group’s Chief Executive for the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey (MENAT) region. The HSBC Group owns 51 per cent of HSBC Saudi Arabia, with 49 per cent owned by SABB. The HSBC Group is the single largest investor in SABB with a 31 per cent shareholding. The transaction is expected to complete during the 2022 Gregorian calendar year (1443H), subject to necessary approvals. HSBC Saudi Arabia provides investment banking services to the full spectrum of corporate and institutional clients in both the private and government sectors, including public companies; private companies and establishments; funds; government agencies; and family businesses and offices. “As the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia marks the five-year anniversary of its Vision 2030 programme, we want to ensure HSBC Saudi Arabia is focused on connecting our corporate and institutional clients to the vast opportunities that arise from one of the world’s most ambitious economic transformation programmes, while ensuring that our current retail and asset management clients will benefit from a transfer into one of the Kingdom’s leading domestic banking platforms,” said Rajiv Shukla, Chief Executive Officer of HSBC Saudi Arabia.

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Sharjah sees new luxury waterfront residential project on Dh4.5b Maryam Island

Property|: Dubai: Sharjah’s property market is getting its steady flow of new projects – the latest one is a waterfront building in the Al Khan and Al Mamzar districts. The ‘Shams Residences’ on Maryam Island is from Eagle Hills Sharjah, a joint venture between Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) and Eagle Hills. It will feature a 59-unit building and form the second phase of the Dh4.5 billion Maryam Island master-development. Low Ping, CEO of Eagle Hills said: “The launch of Shams Residences marks an important step for us as Maryam Island begins to take shape. The new building is within walking distance of pristine beaches, and is complete with unparalleled views and stunning design, promising residents intimate community living like no other.” A penthous too The eight-storey building features 59 units ranging from studios to three-bedroom apartments. A four-bedroom penthouse has been assigned to the top floor. It was in 2019 that the Shurooq-Eagle Hills alliance was finalized, with the developer taking on major hospitality and residential projects in the emirate. The focus was on creating destinations by transforming some of the older neighbourhoods there. Shams Residences will cover around 6,637 square metres of gross floor area, and will be close to the retail offerings on Maryam Island and the beaches of Mamzar and Al Khan. Sharjah has since the start of the year seen major launches from Arada, which came up with a green-heavy Dh8 billion Masaar community, and also from Majid Al Futtaim.

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Elon Musk's tweets are costing Tesla CEO's status as 'world's second richest man'

Markets|: New York: Elon Musk's Twitter posts keep sending Bitcoin prices tumbling. His own fortune is heading in the same direction. On Monday, Tesla Inc.'s CEO lost his spot as the world's second-richest person to LVMH Chairman Bernard Arnault as the electric vehicle-maker's shares fell 2.2 per cent. That was on top of last week's slump amid a global rout in technology stocks and fresh signs of trouble in its China business. Musk, who held the top spot in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index as recently as March, now has a fortune of $160.6 billion, down 24 per cent from its January high. The drop follows a turbulent period for Musk, who sent Bitcoin tumbling as much as 15 per cent last week after posting a statement on Twitter that Tesla was no longer accepting the digital currency as payment. He also helped to whipsaw Dogecoin prices after tweeting he's working with developers of the Shiba Inu-themed token to improve transaction efficiencies. Tweet havoc Over the weekend, Musk wreaked havoc again when he seemed to imply that Tesla may sell or has sold its Bitcoin holdings before later clarifying in a tweet Monday that the company had done no such thing. Musk became the world's richest person in January after Tesla's shares surged almost 750 per cent last year amid a boom in technology-driven stocks. Despite reporting record first-quarter profit, the company's shares have since fallen by about a fifth amid a global semiconductor shortage and increasing competition from traditional automakers. Musk's fortune has dropped about $9.1 billion this year, the most among US-based billionaires tracked by Bloomberg's wealth index. Meanwhile, Arnault, 72, has added the most, with his networth climbing by almost $47 billion to $161.2 billion as sales of his firm's luxury goods surge in China and other parts of Asia.

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Dubai property sales during Ramadan month touches record Dh9.99b, says Property Finder

Property|: Dubai: Property transactions in Dubai during this year’s Ramadan weeks came to a substantial Dh9.99 billion – an all-time high in what is typically a quiet period for the local real estate market. The highest valued deal was a Palm villa, which was bought for Dh105 million. Between mid-April to the Eid break, there were 4,804 sales adding up to this near Dh10 billion mark, according to data from Property Finder. “We can see this year the record breaking trends since the ease in lockdown continued during Ramadan,” said Lynnette Sacchetto, Director of Research & Data. The previous highest Ramadan transaction tally was in 2015, with 3,870. Since then, the average during the Holy Month has been in the 2,500 deals range. But last year saw that dip to 1,543 sales, which coincided with the COVID-19 lockdown phase. Luxury is ticking along During the Ramadan phase, there were four homes that changed hands for Dh50 million plus apiece. Three of them were on the Palm, and were between Dh70 million to Dh105 million. The other was at Emirates Hill, for Dh72.3 million. Buy secondary More property sales in Dubai are starting to take place in the secondary market, with investors homing in on ready units. Interestingly, even on ready homes, developers are more than willing to extend payment plans beyond five years. For instance, at the Akoya community, homes are being advertised with 10-year payment plans and at no interest.

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Dubai logistics major Aramex's stock could be right ride for long-term investors

Markets|Analysis|: The logistics company Aramex has a Dh5.92 billion market cap and a 3.21 per cent dividend yield. Over the years, Aramex has consistently grown revenues - and rewarded shareholders as well. From the lows of Dh0.62 in 2009, the period of the global financial crisis, its share price has rallied by more than 553 percent. Revenues rose by almost 149 per cent from Dh2.21 billion to Dh5.51 billion. On top of it, the management has consistently issued dividends, which has kept shareholders content. In the latest quarter, revenues jumped 24 per cent to Dh1.42 billion, compared to Dh1.15 billion in Q1 2020. The rise in revenues was driven by the express deliveries business, including cross-border e-commerce and last-mile services. The B2B business, especially for healthcare and consumer goods clients, witnessed strong demand. The domestic express business shipping volumes grew 29 per cent, while international express was up 14 per cent, and domestic e-commerce in core markets experienced volume growth of 36 per cent. Battling headwinds Nevertheless, the company does face some headwinds in the near term. Higher costs from supply-chain pressures marred an otherwise brilliant quarter, with net profit declining 32 per cent to Dh46 million compared to Dh67 million in Q1-2020. The fall was due to an increase in line-haul costs triggered by global capacity constraints. Quite paradoxically, the requirement for container shipping grew through the pandemic as a surge in e-commerce led to heightened import demand for manufactured consumer goods. Global COVID-19 vaccine transportation and distribution generated further demand for cargo space. Freight rates have roughly quadrupled y-o-y on the Asia-Europe route and doubled on the Asia-North America route in the last year. This includes container transport and inventory holding cost of an empty container. The tightness in the market is likely to continue, as seaborne trade will take time to adjust to a new normal on account of operational inefficiencies. Costs add up Orders for new containers are rising, but it will take some time for them to enter service. The elevated freight rates should sustain the pressure on margins. For the first quarter of 2021, EBITDA margins came in at 11.9 per cent, down from 16 per cent in Q1 2020. Nonetheless, the company has a strong balance-sheet as cash and cash equivalents are at Dh1.05 billion compared to long-term debt of Dh0.82 billion. Aramex can withstand the turmoil, and it does have the capability to do so. Moreover, the company is a beneficiary of secular trends in growth in e-commerce since logistics is a vital cog of the industry. Aramex is an excellent long-term play, but investors should be aware of near-term challenges. Vijay Valecha The writer is Chief Investment Officer at Century Financial.

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ATM 2021: Pre-bookings for Expo are 'looking healthy', says Dubai Tourism's Issam Kazim

Tourism|: Dubai: Dubai’s hotels and tourism-focussed businesses can start breathing easy – forward booking for the Expo in October is “looking healthy”. That’s according to Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Tourism, the agency that is right at the centre of reclaiming Dubai’s status as the destination to be in. "What we hear from our partners is that they seem to be very happy with the way things are being conducted now, they can see the appetite is back," said Kazim. "We're not involved in the ticket sale aspects… but I know that everything is pointing towards a very positive push." The rescheduled Expo will start in October and go on till April 2022.Issam Kazim of Dubai Tourism provides an update and a wishlist on the industry's prospects.Irish Eden R. Belleza/Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News Summer strategy After a better-than-expected Ramadan-Eid period for hotels, Dubai's next focus will be to keep occupancy levels at optimum levels through the long summer. The 'Dubai Summer Surprises' programme is part of this effort. "It's literally about trying all through the summer months, creating lots of events, and working with a lot of the private sector and malls," said Kazim. Dubai Tourism brings hotel operators to its offices to do a full workshop. "We show them exactly what we're planning for that period of time," said Kazim. "We also do separate individual workshops to be able to deep dive into what their needs are, and accordingly, target the right segments of our markets." UK situation needs mending UAE continues to be on the UK' s ‘red list’ of countries despite resumption of international flights from the country. The decision had attracted the ire of frequent travelers and businessmen who rely heavily on that route. (A red list requires strict quarantining for travellers.) "It's one of those situations where it's not something that we control - it is something that their government is deciding on now," said Kazim. "We're doing our part to make sure that we are educating the market. It's just a matter of time before they really see the demand that exists - and in a big way back - in the UK." Potential replacements With international borders constantly re-opening and closing down, it has become vital for travel and aviation entities to tap into newer markets. "Africa, the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) and Northern European countries have huge potential," said Kazim. "When you have situations like what we're going through now, it gives us that added reason to venture into those markets." Earlier this month, the UAE placed an indefinite ban on flights from India, shutting some of the world’s busiest air routes and also its biggest source market. More events coming up Although business travel remains subdued at a global level, there's enough evidence that it is making a comeback in Dubai. The city hosted two international trade shows during the pandemic - Gulfood and GITEX. "We started in 2020, with an event, which was more local, and then very quickly we started to open up to more and more events," said Kazim "It's only going to keep getting better and better from here" Abu Dhabi rule change An Abu Dhabi official said the emirate would do away with compulsory quarantine for international arrivals from July 1. Abu Dhabi will also make it easier for travelers to enter the emirate by road. "The complementing factors of the entry point is one thing, but it's also the complementing factors of the product as well," said Kazim.

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Saudi Arabia mulls scrapping prison sentences for debt defaulters

Markets|Saudi|: Abu Dhabi: In a major relaxation of existing rules, Saudi Arabia plans to scrap jailing of debt defaulters, local media reported. The revised rules, drafted by the Ministry of Justice, include ending suspension of government services provided to and financial dealings with defaulters, in addition to cancelling executive detention of those who default on debts. The new law will give defaulters right to ample notice to repay dues before repossessing assets to realise the arrears. During the notice period, defaulters can make their representation to the authorised officer and put forth their objections to the repossession notice. The rules state it is not permissible to seize the following:* State-owned funds;* The house in which the defendant and their legal dependents live, but it is permissible to seize it if it is mortgaged to the creditor;* The means of transporting the defendant and his legal dependents, but it may be seized if it is mortgaged to the creditor;* Wages and salaries, except for the following:1. Half of the total wage, or salary, for the alimony debt.2. One-third of the total wage, or salary, for other debts. Oalf of the total wage or salary is allocated to the alimony debt, and one-third of the other half for other debts, and in the event of multiple such debts, one third of the half shall be distributed among the creditors in accordance with the provisions of the law.* What is required for the defendant to practice his profession;* The personal requirements of the defendnat; and* Governmental subsidies provided to the defendant. The new rules will guarantee right to ensure fair value and realise balance proceeds. Resisting or suspending execution of attachment on properties shall be penalised by a jail time not exceeding seven years and or a fine of up to 300,000 riyals, according to the draft rules. The move is part of the country’s targets to attract foreign investors by modernising the Saudi law to match international laws and business practice. In August 2018, a new Bankruptcy Law was created as a balanced modern means to protect both debtors and creditors in Saudi Arabia. It was also part of a series of Saudi judiciary reforms through the issuance of new commercial laws and regulations such as the new Companies Law of 2015 and the amended law of Civil Procedures.The economic crisis the country has undergone during the past few years because of low oil prices, prompted the creation of a Bankruptcy Law for the benefit of all parties doing business in Saudi Arabia. Historically, declarations of bankruptcy are very rare in Saudi Arabia. In most instances, such a declaration would require the imprisonment of the bankrupted individual for five to seven years, not as a penalty but to ensure that the bankruptcy claim was not fraudulent.

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Dubai residents keep citing COVID-19-created job loss for early exit on rental contracts

Property|: Dubai: Hit with a job loss… and want to exit the rental contract you are in? A resident in Dubai can still cite COVID-19 as a reason for wanting to get out of the contract and, in the process, do so without paying a penalty for an earlier exit. Residents can do so using the Rental Disputes Centre, which operates under Dubai Land Department, to do so. More than 12 months after COVID-19’s impact on businesses and subsequent job losses, the pandemic is still rated as a valid reason if someone finds that his or her existing rental obligations are too burdensome. The Rental Disputes Centre shares that view even after 12 months have elapsed since COVID-19 was cited as a reason, according to a senior lawyer with Baker McKenzie Habib Al Mulla – Dubai Office. “Yes, COVID-19 is still an existing reason - many businesses remain affected,” said Wael El Tounsy, Counsel and Head of Real Estate and Litigation at the law firm. “However, the judge considers the validity of this before making a decision, though it is noticed that the number of cases for this reason has decreased.” Read More Rents in Dubai and Sharjah stabilise, with some locations seeing increases after 3 years: Asteco Rent freeze law to stabilise demand in Dubai real estate market An exit route But for tenants in Dubai caught in the unfortunate situation of having to deal with a job loss and worrying about reduced household income, the portals of the RDC remain the best option. The penalties for wanting an early out from a residential contract can be quite taxing, otherwise, with landlords able to impose two months’ rents on the tenant. It could be more in some instances. But tenants in this situation should also keep in mind that there will be a time limit to citing COVID-19 as a reason for their job loss and drop in income. “Usually, a ‘force majeure’ reason is bound by a certain timeframe,” said another lawyer. “It’s inconceivable that someone losing a job in the second-half of 2021 can refer to COVID-19 for breaking his/her residential contract.” The ‘force majeure’ clause applies to completely unforeseen circumstances that prevents an individual (or business) from fulfilling any contractual obligations. Last year, RDC used this clause as a reason to allow tenants wanting to exit leases on their residential or commercial premises. The RDC is willing to give ear to this reason even now. The property court adjudicated overwhelmingly in favour of tenants who had brought their plight before it during the peak months of COVID-19 created job disruptions last year. These tenants were helped by their employers who, in their termination letters, specifically cited COVID-19 as the reason for redundancies. “Actually, the evaluation of the evidence is one of the absolute powers of the judge,” said El Tounsy. “I believe tenant services can been terminated due to COVID-19 only if there is evidence of this impact on a workplace. The tenant will need to show the termination letter from a company or even an email that the reason for termination is the financial condition of the company due to the pandemic.” Tenants can always rely on any reason when requesting a termination of the lease, whether due to COVID-19 that they have lost their job or otherwise. However, the court makes its decision based on evidence presented to it - and the the interests of both tenants and landlords Wael El Tounsy of Baker McKenzie Habib Al Mulla – Dubai Office Change of circumstances But, of late, businesses are not as willing to show they are letting go because of the COVID-19 created situation. “Then, it will be up to the employee to convince his company or HR department to issue such a letter to show the landlord,” said a property consultant. “Otherwise, tenants worried about their job situation and entering a new residential contract will need to have some backup plans in case of a termination.” Job market In the first three months of this year, businesses were reporting job losses, according to multiple sources, including IHS Markit, the consultancy that tracks private sector activity. But April provided some respite, with businesses, especially in Dubai, reporting slight improvements in adding to the workforces.

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US President Biden releases tax returns, shows drop in income

Americas|Markets|: Washington: President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden reported a drop in income as they filed their tax returns for 2020, marking a return to the normal practice of releasing such information by modern US presidents. The Bidens reported income of $607,336 in 2020, down from $985,223 in 2019 due to the lack of book sales and paid speeches during the election campaign. During the 2020 presidential race, Biden’s campaign said he and his wife made $11 million in 2017 and $4.6 million in 2018. The Bidens paid $157,414 in federal income tax and their 2020 effective federal income tax rate is 25.9 per cent. The most recent IRS data indicates that the average federal income tax rate is just over 14 per cent. The Bidens also reported holding cash and investments between $1.2 million and $2.88 million in a financial disclosure filed with the Office of Government Ethics. An exception Former President Trump paid a grand total of $750 in 2016 and 2017... Image Credit: AFP Former President Donald Trump, who had long sought to keep his personal financial records secret, repeatedly refused to release his tax returns, claiming multiple times that he was not able to as he was being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, even as the agency claimed he was free to do so. The New York Times reported in 2020 that Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 - and none in 10 of the previous 15 years - following years of reporting steep losses from business enterprises. Tax the wealthy The release of Biden’s tax returns also comes at a time when he has pushed for raising the taxes on the wealthy to fund his infrastructure plan. Biden has proposed an increase in capital gains tax to 39.6 per cent from 20 per cent for those making more than $1 million a year. “With this release, the President has shared a total of 23 years of tax returns with the American public,” the White House said. It also released 2020 tax returns for Vice-President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. They reported a combined income of $1,695,225, most of which came from Emhoff’s work at a law firm. They paid $621,893 in federal income tax at a rate of 36.7 per cent. Harris and Emhoff’s earnings were also substantially lower from 2019, when they had $3,018,127 in income and paid $1,185,628 in taxes.

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Passenger numbers will recover in 6 months, but won't be at pre-COVID-19 levels: Sheikh Ahmed

Aviation|: Dubai: Emirates airline CEO Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum expects passenger traffic to recover in the next six months - but added that he doesn't see it going back to pre-pandemic levels. "It has been a tough year for all the airlines," the carrier head told a group of reporters at the Arabian Travel Market event. Emirates had earlier said it would need to raise more cash following a $2 billion cash injection from the Dubai Government last year. Al Maktoum said it would depend on "how we do this year and how the market opens." He added the airline had no plans to issue bonds. We cannot fix a date that can be applied around the world Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum on the relaunch of services to the Indian Subcontinent Fleet changes "We are reassessing our plan in terms of fleet requirement [and] what should be really pushed back because we have to deal with a market that really goes back and forth," he said. Sheikh Ahmed indicated that Emirates may swap some of its orders for 777Xs with smaller 787s. India, Pakistan routes The resumption of travel to the Subcontinent will depend on how the different governments are dealing with the situation, said Sheikh Ahmed. "We cannot fix a date that can be applied around the world," he said, emphasizing on the need for faster vaccination programmes. "Health authorities, airport capacity, slots time are all an obstacle" to the resumption of air travel. UK travel "I hope it will happen soon - it is unfair with the number of British people living in the UAE," said Sheikh Ahmed. The opening of air routes between UK and UAE "is a must". The Dubai-London route was the busiest in the world before a spike in COVID cases led the British government to shut it down. Working with flydubai The Emirates CEO said that Emirates would work more closely with flydubai, but added that they will continue to operate as two separate brands. "The focus is now on doing things the right way... putting more flighs together (and) serving different markets."

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ATM 2021: Dubai an immediate beneficiary from Saudi re-opening its borders, says Seera official

Tourism|Saudi|: Dubai: As Saudi Arabia resumes international flights, travellers are heading to familiar destinations like Dubai, Bahrain, and Egypt, according to a top official at Seera Group, a major player in the Kingdom's tourism space. Seera saw a "dramatic" increase in searches, said Muzzammil Hussain, Executive Vice-President. "People were interested in understanding what's out there (like) new flight schedules, new hotel prices - primarily in traditional markets like Dubai, Bahrain and Egypt, but also in some new up and coming destinations such as Georgia, Bosnia, and Maldives." Hussain said that travelers were still nervous about flying to destinations in Europe, but added that there was growing interest for Greece and Morocco. Read More ATM 2021: UAE hotel operators back with new openings, Emaar Hospitality to launch in Fujairah, Bahrain Etihad Airways to give away 10,000 prizes during Arabian Travel Market Inbound traffic limited Despite the opening up of Saudi Arabia’s borders, few people will be visiting the country - for now. Tourists have shown interest, but current COVID-19 restrictions mean only vaccinated passengers from select countries can enter. "At the same time, we've seen a lot of interest for religious tourism - druing Ramadan, we got a lot of bookings from Kuwait and Qatar to Mecca, so that will continue," said Hussain. "I think the overall inbound (tourism) will grow towards the end of the year." AlUla is on the map AlUla, which is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hegra, is seeing a lot of interest from international travelers. There is "significant demand for AlUla both from domestic and international people like from Russia, China and Europe," said Hussain "AlUla is investing heavily in building out its overall masterplan, and increasing the amount of hotels and rooms availabe. Right now, there's a limited supply, but as that opens up, we'll see a significant boost." Expo impact There was "significant" amount of interest for the Expo event before the pandemic."Now, Expo is coming back with its marketing efforts, we expect interest (to grow)," said Hussain. "We're waiting for information about the regulations and the kind of events that will happen, but I think there'll be a continued interest." He added that people were reluctant to book in advance given that the travel situation could change any time.