Bahrain tops Middle East for work-life balance – survey

InterNations survey finds that Bahrain ranked second in terms of work-life balance globally, behind only Denmark

Bahrain is the second best country in the world for expat work-life balance, behind only Denmark, according to a new report from InterNations.

In its “Expat Insider” survey – which queried over 12,500 respondents in 188 countries – InterNations found that 46 percent of expats cited work-related reasons for moving to Bahrain, while 69 percent said they were satisfied with work-life balance.

Additionally, 72 percent of respondents in Bahrain reported being satisfied with working hours, which averaged 42.9 hours a week, compared to the global average of 44.3 hours.

Of the respondents in Bahrain, 73 percent said they were “generally satisfied” with their work, while 36 percent said they were “completely satisfied”.

Denmark was ranked first for work-life balance, followed by Bahrain, Norway, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Sweden, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Oman and Malta.

In Oman, 43 percent of expats reported moving to Oman for work-related reasons, and 60 percent said they were generally satisfied with their job.


Bahrain’s Investcorp inks $286m deals for US residential property

Bahrain’s Investcorp has invested in four US residential apartment complexes and a student housing facility for a total purchase price of $286 million, the company announced on Monday.

The communities include a 660-unit property in Atlanta, a 408-unit property in Chicago, and two properties with a total of 505 units in Dallas.

The student housing property, located in Orlando, has over 800 bedrooms.

Additionally, Investcorp invested in four industrial portfolios, comprising 2.7 million square feet and over 40 buildings for a total purchase price of approximately $206 million.

The four portfolios comprise nine buildings totalling 552,370 sq. ft. in Phoenix, Arizona, 11 buildings totalling 833,193 sq.ft. in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 7 buildings totalling 440,013 sq.ft. in Austin, Texas and 15 buildings totalling 876,955 sq.ft. in Chicago.

“These investments are a continuation of our real estate investment strategy and our commitment to growing our U.S. real estate portfolio,” said Investcorp Co-CEO Mohammed Al Shroogi. “Investcorp has been a leader in this market since we entered over 20 years ago, and it remains a key part of our long-term strategy.”


100% debt club set to get new member from oil-rich Gulf

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Bahrain, a rare Middle East oil exporter that needs crude at over $100 to balance its budget, will soon be part of another short list: the triple-digit debt club.

The smallest oil producer in the Gulf will join Lebanon, Libya and Sudan in 2019 as the only countries in the Middle East and North Africa with debt that exceeds 100 percent of gross domestic product, according to the latest IMF economic outlook.

Bahrain has been borrowing regularly from the international debt market, but had to shelve an issue in March as investors sought higher yields.

Last year, it was said to ask Gulf allies for financial assistance as it sought to replenish its foreign-exchange reserves and avert a currency devaluation.

The kingdom said in April it discovered a giant, offshore shale oil basin, which will be dificult and costly to recover.


Bahrain to stick to diversification

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Bahrain to stick to diversification effort despite oil find, says minister
Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism Zayed Alzayani also said he one day hopes for a common GCC currency

Bahrain will “stick to the course” in its diversification efforts despite the recent discovery of a vast oil field off the country’s west coast, according to the country’s Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism.

Speaking at the Gateway Gulf Investor Forum in the Bahraini capital of Manama on Wednesday, Minister Zayed Alzayani said that while the discovery is “a gift from God” that will improve the country’s oil and gas sector, the country will “need to use the additional revenue from it to boost other sectors of the economy.

“What we found in the recent discovery is something additional, and it will no doubt have a positive impact on growing our GDP, and there will no doubt be more contribution from the oil and gas,” he said.

“But I think we should act wisely to use the revenues generated by this find to develop our economy and diversify it even further, by reducing national debt, by investing in human capital, health services and education.

“The most undersold asset we have in Bahrain are the Bahrainis, and we don’t market them often enough,” he added. “What makes this economy is strong and growing is the people from Bahrain and the embracing of expatriates that come to Bahrain.”

The Baharain minister of oil, Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, said that they “still aren’t making any projections as far as production” of the find.

A recent analysis from Moody’s noted that the find “could stimulate private investment in the country’s energy sector in the near term, and in the medium-term could increase government and oil and gas related revenue and reduce the country’s fiscal and current account deficit.”

In 2017, hydrocarbon-related revenue accounted for 75 percent of government revenue, significantly less than the 87 percent recorded in 2013.

In his remarks, Alzayani also said that he hopes that one day to see a “borderless” GCC unified by a single currency.

“We are missing out on a lot of inter-GCC trade because of delays and bureaucracy that really we don’t need,” he said.


Bahrain’s Gulf Air set to increase flights in summer schedule

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National carrier says flights during the peak summer period will jump by 200 more weekly flights compared to 2017

Gulf Air, Bahrain’s national carrier, has announced its summer schedule, increasing capacity and flights to and from several popular destinations between mid-June and mid-September.

Gulf Air flights to the Jordanian capital city of Amman will increase to triple daily, while flights to the Lebanese capital city of Beirut will increase to double daily.

The popular summer destination of Istanbul in Turkey will be served with 12 weekly flights during the peak summer period while Athens, Greece will be served by seven weekly Gulf Air flights.

Gulf Air flights to Larnaca, Cyprus have permanently increased to a daily service and Baghdad in Iraq has also permanently increased to a five weekly service, the airline said in a statement.

It added that the airline’s flights to Multan in Pakistan have already increased to five weekly while capacity on its Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa routes have also been boosted.

Gulf Air also said that its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner serving London Heathrow, will see increased capacity and enhanced on-board products and services from June 15.

It said it will increase its flights during the peak summer period by 200 more weekly flights compared to 2017.

Regionally, the airline’s upcoming network expansion will see it launch five weekly flights to Abha and Tabuk in Saudi Arabia from June 15, three weekly flights to Alexandria, Egypt from June 10 and two weekly flights to Sharm El Shaikh, Egypt from June 16.

In India, Gulf Air has launched daily flights to Bangalore and seven flights weekly to Calicut from June 15. Alongside this, the airline will offer five flights weekly to Casablanca in Morocco from June 11 and five weekly flights to Baku in Azerbaijan from June 12.

Gulf Air CEO Krešimir Kucko said: “Not only will our upcoming network additions better connect our valued passengers to the places and people that matter the most, our summer 2018 schedule will see us increase flights to several popular destinations.

“The frequency and capacity increases that Gulf Air will implement in the coming months are in response to the demand on these key routes.”

In 2018, Gulf Air’s network will serve 49 cities in 26 countries.

Bahrain launches $100m VC fund for start-ups


Bahrain has launched a $100 million venture capital fund aimed at boosting the country’s start-up ecosystem, the government announced on Thursday.

The Al Waha Fund of Funds is aimed at providing venture capital funds to support startups across Bahrain and the region.

“This is very exciting news for the startup ecosystem both here in Bahrain and across the Middle East,” said Khalid Al Rumaihi, chairman of the Bahrain Development Bank. “We know that access to capital is one of the biggest constraints on growth for startups, so this fund will help businesses in Bahrain and across the Middle East to get access to the capital they need to expand.”

Al Rumaihi noted that VC investment in the Middle East and North Africa is a “fraction” of that in markets such as the USA and China.

“This means there are entrepreneurs with great ideas that are not realising their potential because they cannot access the funding required,” he said.

In addition to providing capital to regional startups, the fund is expected to help attract additional venture capital funds to Bahrain, where the start-up scene has benefited in recent years from a reduction in the amount of capital necessary to start a business and measures to enable onshore crowdfunding.

Speaking to Arabian Business on the sidelines of the Gateway Gulf Investor Forum in Manama, Bahrain Development Bank senior vice president and head of business services Areije Al Shakar said that the fund “will help complete” Bahrain’s start-up ecosystem.

“We need VCs to come, spend more time and be present here,” she said. “With Al Waha, these VCs will be here a lot more, and they [start-ups] won’t have to wait for an event or to travel to try to get access to funding or expertise.”

“That will further support the growth of our ecosystem,” she said. “At the same time, we have a lot of start-ups that are choosing Bahrain because of ease of set-up costs, access to talent and friendly regulatory environment, but they also need that kind of funding and expertise, and Al Waha will hopefully be able to resolve that.”


Qatar’s sovereign rating cut by Fitch over Gulf spat


Qatar’s sovereign rating was cut to AA- by Fitch Ratings, which cited little progress toward ending a Saudi Arabia-led embargo of the emirate.

Fitch lowered the Gulf state’s sovereign long-term debt rating by one notch, putting it on par with Belgium and South Korea. The outlook is negative, the New York-based firm said in a statement.

“International mediation efforts are still ongoing but are not showing significant progress,” Fitch analysts Krisjanis Krustins and Jan Friederich said. “In our view, the negotiating positions of Qatar and the boycotting countries remain far apart.”

Qatar, the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, was put on a negative rating watch in June after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties and transport routes with the country. The four countries accuse Qatar of destabilising the region through support of Islamist movements, a charge it denies. The Gulf nation’s economy will expand this year at the slowest pace since 1995, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg this month.

Qatar’s foreign deposits fell almost 8 percent in July, according to central bank figures, and the nation is telling its banks to go to international investors for funding instead of relying on the state, according to people familiar with the matter. Qatar is spending billions of dollars preparing to host the soccer World Cup and turn Doha, the capital, into a regional hub.

Fitch estimates the pace of fiscal consolidation will slow as the government bears some of the increased cost of imports and postpones certain non-oil revenue measures in a bid to support economic activity and sentiment.


Qatar agree to disclosures to resolve US Airline dispute: US officials

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Qatar Airways will commit to greater financial transparency and to not run any indirect flights to the US through other countries as part of an agreement with the Trump administration addressing US carriers’ accusations that their Gulf competitors get unfair government help.

US airlines are hailing the agreement as a victory, if not a complete one, in one of the biggest trade disputes in US history. They’ve estimated that Qatar gave $17 billion or more to Qatar Airways over a 10-year period.

“This would be a landmark milestone for the American airline industry that will protect our workers and ensure that our foreign competitors play by the rules and do not undermine our international agreements,” said Peter Carter, chief legal officer of Delta Air Lines.

“We all support the administration as it holds their feet to the fire to ensure they live up to their commitments.”

Senior State Department officials said that within a year, Qatar Airways will adopt internationally recognised accounting standards, and issue annual reports and audited results, to the extent they’re not already doing so.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will announce the arrangement on January 30, following weeks of negotiation among the State Department, White House and Qatar.

No ‘Fifth Freedom’
Within two years, the airline will disclose any major financial transactions with state enterprises to ensure those are being done on commercial terms, said the officials, who declined to be identified ahead of the official announcement.

Qatar Airways also informed the US that it has no intention, for now, of conducting “Fifth Freedom” flights to the US Under commercial aviation protocols, those flights are ones which start in an airline’s home country and touch down in a different nation before continuing on to a third country — in this case, the US

Tillerson will announce the voluntary agreement when he meets his Qatari counterpart during a US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue, said a senior State Department official who asked not to be identified discussing a deal that hasn’t been publicly announced.

Source :

Saudi Arabia said to be on track to cut budget deficit in 2018


Saudi Arabia is on track to reduce its fiscal deficit this year as oil prices are forecast to steady at around $70 per barrel, according to new research by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Its MENA Economist Jean-Michel Saliba said the deficit stood at SR34.3 billion ($9.1 billion) in the first quarter of 2018, annualising at SR137 billion, below the government target of SR195 billion.

He said that based on $70 oil, the Saudi deficit could narrow to SR195 billion, which represents 6.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

The research said oil revenues were disappointing at SR113 billion in Q1 despite being $12 per barrel higher than the year-earlier period.

It added that non-oil revenues stood at SR52 billion, up 63.1 percent on Q1 2017, reflecting the implementation of VAT, as well as improved Zakat collection.

Taxes on good and services stood at SR22.6 billion, up from SR5.7 billion a year earlier, likely largely driven by VAT proceeds, and the excise tax on soft/energy drinks and tobacco.

Saliba said: “We estimated SR23 billion in annual VAT proceeds and SR9 billion in annual excise taxes. The minor increase in other taxes suggests no major receipts from the introduction of expatriate worker levies. The latter may be bumpy due to collection timing.”

The research said total spending stood at SR201 billion, down 44 percent on the previous quarter but 17.8 percent higher on the year-earlier period.

“This reflects the large burst of spending in Q4, partly on account of seasonality and to shelter the economy from the confidence shock arising from the November 2017 anti-corruption probe. Authorities highlight the pattern of spending may be less seasonal this year in order to support economic activity,” added Saliba.

Compensation of employees and social benefits increased markedly by 20 percent and 184 percent to SR113 billion and SR18.8 billion respectively.

This is likely due to the January 2018 Royal Order as well as the introduction of the Housing Allowance program in December 2017, the research noted.


Iran Pushes for Transparency to deal with Currency Instability

By Bijan Khajehpour for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.

On April 10, Iranian authorities announced a policy of unification of exchange rates — a move that has generated confusion, especially among those economic players who relied on the country’s free currency market.

The fact is that the newly unified rate of 42,000 rials to the US dollar is not yet widely available. At best, it is only available to those importers who had access to the so-called forex chamber rate, which was previously at about 37,000 rials to the greenback.

As such, this equates to an actual devaluation of the national currency. In line with returning calm to the market, one of the most recent steps by the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) has been to expand an already existing online system referred to by its Persian acronym NIMA (Integrated System for Hard Currency Transactions). The question is whether NIMA will succeed in addressing the needs of the Iranian economy.

NIMA was originally put in place in February as a pilot project and gradually took shape during the month of March. In its initial format, NIMA was designed as a central platform to register hard currency needs of importers and other groups “outside the banking sector.”

That system was meant to induce transparency into the dealings of foreign exchange bureaus, which have been an integral part of the country’s hard currency management system alongside other financial institutions.

As a first step, on March 2, the CBI held a workshop for representatives of foreign exchange bureaus that are affiliated with mainstream banks to introduce NIMA and also prepare the grounds for their connectivity with the integrated system — a system in which merchants were supposed to register their needs for imports that were not allocated currency at the lower forex chamber rate, and currency bureaus meet those needs through transparent and online transactions.

However, this news was buried in the turmoil that the currency market experienced in March. In fact, rumors that the implementation of NIMA would make any unconventional currency transactions impossible may have partly contributed to the rush of many groups to secure hard currency holdings for their future needs.

In the aftermath of the recent currency crisis and the introduction of a unified exchange rate, the government suddenly announced the introduction of NIMA as the single platform to streamline “all hard currency transactions” by establishing the exact volumes of supply and demand for merchants (importers and exporters), corporations and even individuals who may need hard currency for travel and studies, and so forth. In other words, an online system that initially had been designed to provide a platform for marginal hard currency transactions has been elevated to be the main portal for all such transactions.

In brief, NIMA is in place to streamline supply and demand, which should in theory help establish a realistic price for the national currency. However, the past performance of the Iranian authorities suggests that supply will be managed and demand will be filtered, and especially by the CBI. Still missing are all the needed laws and regulations to determine which demands for hard currency have the right to register with the system — and receive their hard currency. The incomplete system is proof that the CBI was forced to accelerate its original process in order to calm the market and push back against those who saw the CBI’s incompetence as a cause of the recent upheavals in the currency market.

Incidentally, CBI Gov. Valiollah Seif has admitted the shortcomings of the new system and has asked all those economic players whose needs have not been integrated into NIMA to be patient. In official communications, Seif presents NIMA as a safe platform for currency transactions and underlines that allocations would be made for exporters and importers in a timely manner.

But this is one of the problems: Exporters and importers are not the only components of a healthy currency market. As such, the system will be overwhelmed for a while, especially as long as NIMA fails to meet the needs of private sector companies and individuals. For now, many economic stakeholders remain skeptical about the availability of hard currency at the unified rate of 42,000 rials against the US dollar, and they continue to purchase foreign notes or transfers at a price of at least 55,000 rials against the greenback on the free market.

Virtually all analysts and observers know that the process of unifying exchange rates will be a difficult one, especially because a number of economic actors used the previous two-tiered foreign exchange system to engage in corrupt dealings. Therefore, the introduction of NIMA is not just based on the country’s economic needs and its international obligations to fight money laundering, but also reflects a desire to undermine corrupt practices that have empowered institutions ingrained in the so-called deep state in Iran.

In fact, money laundering activity in the country is estimated to have been $26 billion in the past Iranian year. One can imagine that powerful players will push back against NIMA and still carve out a space for their illegal activities. That is why at the end of the day, flawless implementation of NIMA should be the top priority.

Evidently, viewed through the political lens, NIMA gains further significance. One can argue that it has the potential to push back against some of the corrupt networks and at the same time to take speculation out of the currency market. Both these factors will help CBI and the government to induce more stability into economic affairs.

However, considering the unconventional nature of many demands for hard currency — by entities using currency as a hedging mechanism, tax-evading companies and currency speculators, for capital outflow by Iranians wishing to migrate abroad and for inflow through remittances and investments by the Iranian diaspora — there will always be a space for a black market where a different rate can be generated.

That would mean a return to a differential between the official and the unofficial rates and a new platform for corrupt practices. Furthermore, as long as a higher rate emerges, exporters will be hesitant to register their supply on NIMA and will look for ways to benefit from the higher parallel exchange rate.

Having experienced the rate fluctuations of the past year, Iranian officials need to acknowledge that they have had severe regulatory weaknesses in managing the financial sector. One can see this in the continued operation of unlicensed financial institutions.

Therefore, any new effort to induce stability into the market needs to be accompanied by clear administrative and supervisory structures, both to prevent new channels of corruption and also to be prepared for sudden demand hikes. In a first assessment, the push for transparency is positive, but NIMA seems ill-prepared to manage the complexities of the Iranian currency market.

That is why the CBI would be best advised to declare a phased approach to the process, allow the free market to operate within clear boundaries and gradually turn NIMA into a powerful and all-encompassing platform. If the phased approach is implemented successfully, NIMA could regulate the currency market, put an end to many rent-seeking activities and stop a number of corrupt practices that have plagued the Iranian economy.