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OPEC's output cut extension sparks forecasts of $80 a barrel in third quarter

Energy|: London: Oil briefly moved above $65 a barrel after OPEC+ chose not to relax supply curbs even as the global economy pulls out of its pandemic-driven slump, confounding widespread expectations the group would loosen the taps. The surprise decision spurred a wave of crude price forecast upgrades by major banks. The producer alliance agreed to hold output steady in April, while Saudi Arabia said that it will maintain its 1 million barrel-a-day voluntary production cut. West Texas Intermediate rose as much as 1.9 per cent and Brent briefly topped $68. Crude has soared this year, shepherded higher by OPEC+ restraining supplies and the vaccine-aided recovery in consumption that's drained inventories. The group's decision represents a victory for Riyadh, which has advocated for tight curbs to keep prices supported. Read More OPEC+ faces calls to cool oil market frenzy with extra barrels Ahmed Zaki Yamani: Long-serving minister who led Saudi Arabia through 1973 oil crisis One for oil bulls "Overall, this was the most bullish outcome we could have expected," JPMorgan Chase & Co. analysts including Natasha Kaneva wrote in a note to clients. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia, had been debating whether to restore as much as 1.5 million barrels a day of output. As part of the agreement, which was struck at a virtual meeting on Thursday, Russia and Kazakhstan were granted exemptions. The group's next meeting is set for April 1 to discuss production levels for May. Betting against shale Saudi Arabia's bold and unexpected gamble to restrain production is founded upon its view that, this time around, higher prices will not lead to a big increase in output by American shale drillers. Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said that shale companies are now more focused on dividends. Oil's rapid gains this year stand to intensify the debate about the potential resurgence in inflation, and complicate the task facing the Federal Reserve as it supports the US recovery. The Treasury market is already looking for signs of faster price gains, with yields rising rapidly. Crude is up more than 8 per cent since Tuesday's close despite a strengthening of the dollar and a steep sell-off in other major commodities, especially economic bellwether copper. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. raised its Brent forecasts by $5 a barrel and now sees the global crude benchmark at $80 in the third quarter. JPMorgan increased its Brent projection by $2 to $3 a barrel and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. boosted its three-month target to $70. Citigroup Inc. said crude prices could top $70 before the end of this month. Directional change Oil rising to these levels will likely increase strains within OPEC+ as some members will want to pump more to relieve under-pressure economies, Citi said in a note. Top importers such as China and India would also not be happy and the alliance is likely to change course at its next meeting, it said. More evidence of the demand recovery continued to emerge, especially in Asia. Gasoline and diesel consumption in China has extended its run above pre-virus levels this year after the faster-than-expected return of factory activity and infrastructure building following the Lunar New Year holiday.

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Reliance will bear full cost of COVID-19 vaccination for employees and families: Nita Ambani

Business|: New Delhi: Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) will bear the full cost of COVID-19 vaccination for its employees and their families. Nita Mukesh Ambani, Founder and Chairperson, Reliance Foundation in a letter to members of the Reliance family said, "In our Reliance Family Day 2020 message, Mukesh and I had personally assured you that as soon as any approved Covid 19 vaccine is available in India, we will do our best to plan early vaccination for all Reliance employees and family members. We remain committed to this goal and to contributing to our nation's collective ability to end the coronavirus pandemic as soon as possible." "For those who are eligible to be vaccinated, we strongly urge you to register quickly for the Government of India's vaccination programme currently underway," Nita Ambani said. "As per our earlier commitment, Reliance will bear full cost of vaccination for you, your spouse, your parents and vaccine eligible aged children. You and your family's safety and well being is our responsibility. Mukesh and I truly believe that cherishing the health and happiness of our loved ones is what it means to be part of a family-Reliance family," Ambani said. "With your support, we will soon be able to put the pandemic behind us. Until then, please do not let your guard down against the scourge of the coronavirus just yet. Continue to maintain utmost safety and hygiene precautions. We are in the last stage of the collective battle. Together we must win and we will!" Ambani said.

GulfNews Business

A post-pandemic world order will be rebuilt around innovation

Analysis|: We are witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime generational shift. Processes, systems, and ways of working that were the norm have given way to a new order, driven by digital transformation, and accelerated by the reality of the pandemic. The biggest lesson we can take from what we are witnessing is refreshingly simple: those who survive and emerge stronger are those who invest in innovation. This is as much applicable for individuals, corporates, and nations. Those who will come out of the crisis faster are those that have focused on innovation, leveraging investments in next-generation tech, and creating an innovation-conducive environment. In fact, one study conducted on the impact of the economic crisis of 2008 revealed that businesses that invested in innovation were the fastest to recover… and gained stronger returns when the economy rebounded. Read More UAE needs to create pools of harvested rainwater for its needs There can't be any slackness on the cyber security agenda Pay off The power of innovation to accelerate growth, through new opportunities in diverse sectors, is evident in the UAE. One of the first countries in the region to establish a National Innovation Strategy, the UAE’s focus on expanding its capabilities, through innovation, is highlighted by many breakthroughs – the Hope Probe, the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission to Mars; the world's first 3D-printed commercial building; the establishment of ministries focused on AI and Advanced Technology – the list goes on. The UAE has long invested in building national competencies in energy, healthcare, aviation, manufacturing, and finance, by leveraging the potential offered by Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. The country is also focused on its human capital, where its digital-savvy youth plays a central role. Mindset change One of the central themes moving forward must be how we can further equip national talent to embody an ‘innovation mindset’. This focus on innovation makes the UAE stronger and more resilient to the inevitable disruptions. One example is in the energy sector. Delivering uninterrupted power is a key engine for a rebounding economy. The question before innovators is how we can continue to produce, transmit and distribute electricity with a lower carbon footprint? How can we achieve higher efficiencies at existing power plants? How can we continue to scale up renewable energy generation and make it work with natural gas to meet demand in a sustainable way? These are the kind of questions innovators ask continuously and work towards achieving solutions – not just in energy, but also in healthcare and aviation. All round gains The strengthening of innovation culture has a positive ripple effect on the economy. In addition to nurturing a new generation of scientists and technology leaders who will contribute to the country’s knowledge base, innovative businesses create local entrepreneurial opportunities and support the growth of SMEs, which are an integral part of the national economy. The innovation environment the UAE provides reflects in the findings of GE’s Global Innovation Barometer, which revealed that business executives rank the nation as a global leader in creating an ‘innovation-conducive environment’. With the business community rallying for innovation and the government investing in building an innovation-conducive environment, the task before us all is embrace innovation to accelerate growth – not just for a week or a month – but for years ahead. - Dr. Dalya Al Muthanna is President of GE in the UAE and Chief of Strategy & Operations for GE International Markets.

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Cement prices offer only relief for UAE and Gulf developers as steel shoots up

Property|: Dubai: Developers in the UAE and Gulf will not have to worry about one key commodity – cement – even as steel and wood prices rocket over supply issues. And they won’t have to bother with cement supply issues for quite a long time. “The UAE and Saudi Arabia have over 30 million tonnes of surplus cement stock and excess capacities - there is no chance of a shortage within the region,” said Joey Ghose, CEO of Oman-based Raysut Cement Company, which by next year expects to have a 10 million tonne annual capacity by next year. “The GCC faces a serious oversupply.” The last time cement prices in the Gulf shot up was in 2007, in the tail end of the construction and real estate boom. Since then, there has been a continuous decline. That's in sharp contrast to the 25-30 per cent hike recorded by most other building material prices in the UAE since October last. Steel's gains are the most spectacular, from Dh1,800 a tonne to Dh2,600, while white wood is now at Dh1,000 and up from Dh600. Ripe for a mix In the last two years, there has been active speculation that some of the cement companies in the Gulf will have to merge to stand a better chance of surviving long-term. Many of these factories had raised significant capacities in the last 10 years, keeping in mind the real estate development activity. But with new projects dropping significantly, at least for the next two to three years, cement companies are caught in a bind. Industry sources say that informal talks have happened between mid-sized players over mergers and acquisition possibilities. But for the moment, they are making do with controlling production and not pushing too hard on output increases. But Ghose still has concerns – “There are new clinker plants in Fujairah and new grinding units being built. The business model for these new capacities are not fully understood.” Joey Ghose, Group CEO of Raysut Cement Co.: "We have best estimated a 50% decline in the regional demand which, continues to increase..." Image Credit: Supplied Lower offtake Even in a best-estimate situation, regional demand for cement in the near-term could be down by 50 per cent or so. The decline “continues to increase,” said Ghose. “The only upside is that exports from the region have increased.” Massive capacity The UAE has an - installed - capacity of 35 million tonnes for cement, while Saudi Arabia has 70 million tonnes and Oman comes up with 10 million tonnes. Add all of that and it is the main reason why cement prices remain stuck in a low range. “Prices in Saudi Arabia have always been low due to the subsidised energy costs,” the CEO added. “But of late, they have declined from $40 a tonne to $32 in- country and as low as $15 a tonne for export FOB (freight-on-board). “Oman prices have remained stable at OR21 a tonne. The UAE’s domestic prices range from Dh140-Dh190 a tonne, whilst exports to Oman are at as low as Dh110.” No import pressures With prices already this low, Gulf cement producers don’t see a lot of cheaper imports happening. Unlike what local and regional steel mills have to contend with. So much so, “Some producers in one market have been dumping in another Gulf market since 2015,” he said. “Some border taxes have been imposed - but these [cheaper] imports continue.”

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Doubts raised over Indian central bank's COVID-19-related relief measures

Banking|: Mumbai: The Indian central bank's conventional as well as unconventional policy responses to support the economy through the pandemic failed to reduce the government's borrowing costs by a lot. Policy actions by Reserve Bank of India have had only a modest impact on the 'term premium' - an indicator of the market's expectations of future interest rates, according to the research authored by Rajeswari Sengupta of RBI-funded Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research in Mumbai, and Harsh Vardhan of the SP Jain Institute of Management and Research. There were limits to which monetary policy alone could provide an economic stimulus during a crisis, they wrote in the 'Ideas for India' portal. Read More India to offer double-taxation relief to NRIs who overstayed because of pandemic India could be next happening market for SPAC-driven investor frenzy Took the lead The RBI was at the forefront of providing stimulus to the economy last year, while the Narendra Modi-led government followed with modest fiscal steps. The central bank cut interest rates by 115 basis points and injected billions of dollars through unconventional monetary policy to lower borrowing costs. Those actions by the RBI did not have any discernible impact on the behavior of the term premium - the compensation investors demand for holding longer-term debt - especially during the pandemic period, wrote the authors who used inter-bank call rates as well as one-year T-bills yield to measure the premium. At best, the RBI stopped a sharp spike such as the one witnessed after the global financial crisis. "This implies that concerns of large fiscal deficits, high inflationary expectations, and the resulting likelihood of high future interest rates could possibly have been the more important drivers of term premium," Sengupta and Vardhan wrote. Their view chimes with that of Jayanth R Varma, a member of the RBI's Monetary Policy Committee, who said higher term premiums revealed a lack of market confidence in the central bank's inflation estimates.

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There can't be any slackness on the cyber security agenda

Analysis|Technology|: All industries are undergoing digital transformation - and technologies such as cloud computing, Big Data, 5G, IoT and AI are being applied extensively. Business ecosystems are more open; service rollout faster; and solutions more diversified and made available globally. These innovations bring convenience, opportunities and benefits. However, they also create new challenges to cyber security and privacy protection. Cybersecurity is a challenge that we all share. Stakeholders across different markets will not be able to fight cybercrime alone. Users, integrators, manufacturers, consultants, distributors, researchers and other players are part of the security cycle that require unified standards, independent verification, and a whole-of-society approach. In 2020, many of us were not only fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the impact it had on how businesses operate during such a trying time. The emergence of the pandemic quickly demonstrated the lack of digital strategies in global supply chains. It forced companies to introduce business continuity measures that they were not prepared for. With employees working remotely and processes being digitized, the cracks in their security processes began to erupt. Since then, there has been a renewed focus on cybersecurity. With recent remote working initiatives rolled out extensively across the public and private sectors, the need for proper security measures and deliverables have amplified. Read More Right time for Gulf's telecom companies to be thinking out-of-the-box Gulf's wealth managers need to get better at understanding their women clientele Cyber at its core To build a digital oasis of trust, an all-industry, full-society approach to collaboration is essential to enhancing systematic cybersecurity governance for everyone. The UAE Government is a key stakeholder in reaching a trusted digital ecosystem. Last year, the Cabinet proactively agreed to establish the UAE Cybersecurity Council with the aim of developing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy and creating a safe and strong cyber infrastructure. It also launched the Dubai Cyber Index, the first of its kind in the world, to drive the emirate’s digital transformation. This new initiative plays a role in enhancing the cybersecurity measures in place to safeguard government entities in the emirate. At a business level, the UAE has a National Cybersecurity strategy in place that aims to create a safe and strong cyber infrastructure that enables citizens to fulfill their aspirations and empowers businesses to thrive. The new strategy has a positive impact on all segments of society by enhancing citizens confidence to securely participate in the digital world, encouraging innovation in cybersecurity, fostering a culture of entrepreneurship in cybersecurity, enabling SMEs to safeguard themselves against cyber-attacks, protecting critical information infrastructure assets, and building a world-class cybersecurity workforce. Constant refresh With access to such resources and to keep up with digitization, businesses need to refresh their cybersecurity polices and plans, as well as invest in their talent and leadership team to include cybersecurity experts to keep up with the ever-changing dynamics of ICT. With this in mind, it is equally important to address the shortage of cybersecurity professionals around the world. The cybersecurity skills crisis continues to worsen for the fourth year in a row and has impacted 70 per cent of organizations, as revealed by the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) and Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). Get more of the skilled As we continue to progress towards a digital ecosystem, we must be prepared to challenge the risks associated with the ICT sector by having the necessary skills and education in place. We firmly believe in the importance of all stakeholders from the public and private sectors working together to solidify the ICT ecosystem, including talent development. We work with partners – from local governments to educational organizations - to create a lasting impact and leverage innovation and collaboration to address global challenges surrounding cybersecurity. If the global ICT industry is unable to solve or confront the threats of cybersecurity, the digital world will inevitably collapse. Cybersecurity and privacy protection are the foundation of our shared future. They present challenges that governments, carriers, network equipment providers, and a wide range of third-parties need to work together to address and overcome these challenges. Together we can take the necessary steps to build the UAE into a trusted digital oasis in the Middle East and for the world. Jiawei Liu, CEO of Huawei UAE Image Credit: Supplied - Jiawei Liu is CEO of Huawei UAE

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UAE's F&B businesses focus on change on menu, pricing and more for a comeback

Retail|: Dubai: Switch dining concepts, the pricing, the way food’s served, or ordered and delivered. Nearly everything to do with operating a F&B business in the UAE – and elsewhere - has changed. Something far deeper than doing away with the buffet option. Those who couldn’t have had to shut down, and not just temporarily. But there are those who with a change here and an addition there are managing to turn things around… slowly. Social by Heinz Beck, a fine dining restaurant on the Palm, has re-opened with a slightly different concept to adjust to revised market demands. “We are changing our menu and offering a different price point,” Heinz Beck said. “Some of our starters are lower in price and our dishes are just more direct. The menu is shorter… more focused.” The high-end dining spot treats guests to a Michelin experience with a menu starting from Dh65, with the most expensive dish priced at Dh230. Which is considered relatively reasonable for a fine dining establishment in a premium neighbourhood in Dubai. “When we closed our restaurant during the pandemic, we used the time to come up with new dishes and different ways to combine ingredients,” said Beck. “In fact, when the restaurant launched eight years ago, it was more difficult to source good ingredients in comparison to today. “Despite the pandemic, I would say today we have better ingredient sourcing than we did when we first opened.” Read More Dubai's online F&B sales rocketed 255% in pandemic year: Dubai Chamber Gulfood 2021: Time for further resets for UAE's F&B businesses Repeats Most important, especially these days, is winning repeat customers. “They make up a big portion of our diners,” he said. “We are slightly out of the way, especially for those who do not live on the Palm. But once the guest comes, they begin to understand that the concept is very experiential and they tend to come back.” Deal making For other F&B brands, the present is an opportunity for expansion… and re-negotiate. “We have been able to negotiate compelling deals with landlords and franchisees, allowing us to take the concept further afield in the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” said Ahsan Kahlon, co-owner of Reif Japanese Kushiyaki, a Dubai-based concept recognised for its unconventional spin on Japanese food. “We are assessing additional locations in the region… and globally.” Reif Japanese Kushiyaki, which is helmed by the Singaporean chef Reif Othman, opened in August 2019. In the final three months of last year, it recorded a revenue increase of 85 per cent, which Kahlon attributes to getting creative with the menu, constant communication during the lockdown phase and a loyal clientele. As a result, in May is the opening of the first franchised Reif Japanese Kushiyaki restaurant took place in Cairo. Three franchise-led locations are being explored for Riyadh, with the first due to open later this year. New entrants, new ways It’s safe to say that standard restaurant operations have had to adapt quite a bit, food retail wasn’t affected as severely. Industry sources point to the increase in space dedicated for food products in the UAE’s retail space, at physical stores and online. “I believe that with COVID-19 there’s been a lot of competition for food brands,” said Maywand Jabarkhyl, CEO and Managing Director at FBMI, which is launching Mira, an ethically sustainable dried fruit, nuts and saffron brand from Afghanistan. “Many new entrants may see this particular time as a challenge. However, competition makes you better and we aim to differentiate ourselves on two key aspects – the quality of the product as well as the social commitment aspect.” FBMI invests in healthcare, education, numerous social and economic reforms; and provides employment opportunities in Afghanistan. About 70 per cent of its employees are women who work from home. Each employee receives free vocational training, medical care and schooling for their children. FBMI originally started as a carpet production and community development programme in 2010. “As we launched Mira, we separated the carpet arm of the initiative,” said Jabarkhyl. “I am confident that our existing customer base and followers will continue to support us through this new food retail arm. “Additionally, COVID-19 has made consumers more conscious of their eating habits. People have been made to focus more on healthier options and favour more natural products and diets like keto. This shift, I feel, will benefit a brand like Mira.” Mira’s range is being marketed at a premium. “Our aim is for Mira to be sold at boutique and gourmet stores as well as several other sales channels,” he added. The products are not available commercially nor are they farmed commercially like the majority of agricultural products which involve heavy investment in machinery, technology to increase yields, and the use of artificial elements. “Our food products are grown in the wild and handpicked daily by farmers,” said Jabarkhyl. Just over a year since the pandemic showed up, UAE’s F&B space is into constant learning. Some of those lessons learnt are paying off.