Etihad Rail chief launches construction of stage 2 of UAE-wide railway

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Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chairman of Etihad Rail, has launched the construction works of Package A of stage two of the pan-UAE railway network.

Package A will run for 139km from Ghuweifat on the UAE border with Saudi Arabia to Ruwais, where it connects with stage one of the network.

He said: “As 2020, the year of preparing for the next 50 years, begins, we launch the construction works for this pivotal national project that will generate a paradigm shift in the country’s transport sector, consolidating the UAE’s position at both regional and global levels.

“With this launch, we are witnessing a remarkable day for Etihad Rail as we witness the transition from planning and design to actual implementation of the project on the ground, following in the footsteps of our founding fathers as we implement one of the nation’s most strategic projects, one that contributes to the economic development of the country by providing a safe, reliable and integrated alternative mode of transport.”

Package A will utilise 700,000 cubic metres of ballast, involve 30,000,000 tons of earthwork and the installation of over 450,000 concrete sleepers provided by Etihad Rail’s own manufacturing plant, which produces up to 45,000 railway sleepers each month.

A contract between Etihad Rail and a joint venture of Larson and Toubro Limited and Power China International has also been signed to construct freight facilities for the railway network at a total cost of AED1.87 billion.

Etihad Rail is building a series of freight facilities in Ruwais, Industrial City of Abu Dhabi (ICAD), Khalifa Port, Dubai Industrial City (DIC), Jebel Ali Port, Al Ghayl and Siji, Fujairah Port and Khorfakkan Port capable of undertaking all loading and unloading operations, in addition to providing container storage and maintenance.

The planned port facilities will provide a full service to Etihad Rail customers, including direct access to trains on the dock, easing container movements between ships and trains.

With this award, Etihad Rail said it has completed the contract-awarding process of stage two of the national network which will connect Fujairah and Khorfakkan on the UAE’s east coast to the UAE’s Saudi border at Ghuweifat.


Qatar Industrial Manufacturing profit drops 2.7% in 2018; dividends proposed

Qatar Industrial Manufacturing Company (QIMC) reported a 30.3% year-on-year profit decline in the fourth quarter of 2018.

During the October-December period of 2018, QIMC’s profits amounted to QAR 29.7 million ($8.2 million), compared to QAR 42.6 million ($11.7 million) in the corresponding period in 2017, according to the Qatar-based firm’s statement to the Qatar Stock Exchange (QSE) on Sunday.

For the full-year 2018, the Qatari firm’s profits retreated 2.7% to QAR 200.28 million, against QAR 206.18 million in the prior year.

Earnings per share (EPS) amounted to QAR 4.21 in 2018, versus QAR 4.34 in 2017.

Meanwhile, QIMC’s board of directors proposed distributing cash dividends of 25% of the share’s nominal value, or QAR 2.5 per share.

QIMC’s ordinary general meeting (OGM) will be convened on 10 March to discuss the financial results and approve the cash dividend for 2018.

During the first nine months of 2018, QIMC reported a 4.2% profit increase to QAR 170.5 million, from QAR 163.5 million in the year-ago period.


Lulu Hypermarket opens new venue at Dubai Festival City

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A new concept Lulu Hypermarket has opened in Dubai’s Festival City, it was announced on Tuesday.

The new outlet includes 56,000 square feet of space, of which 85 percent is allocated to groceries and fresh foods.

The Festival Plaza hypermarket also marks the first time that Lulu customers can sit and eat their freshly prepared food at live stations that offer items including sushi, pasta and pizza.

The new store forms part of a larger local lifestyle destination that includes 120 stores – including IKEA and Marks & Spencer – in addition to a 500-seat food court and an upcoming 40 dining and eating options.

“We are excited to welcome the new Lulu Hypermarket to our newest mall offering today, Festival Plaza. This new concept outlet from the Lulu Group is the first of its kind concept Lulu Hypermarket,” said Timothy Earnest, group director at Al-Futtaim Malls. “This is another milestone on our journey as we position ourselves as the leading malls and retail experience developer in MENA.”

The valuable addition of Lulu Hypermarket with all it has to offer strengthens our mall offering and reiterates our position as retail pioneers in the region,” he added.

The store is the group’s 186th branch worldwide.

“We are glad to launch another beautiful hypermarket that will provide a world-class shopping experience not only to the residents living within the area, but also to the tourists and business enthusiasts coming to the UAE for Expo 2020, the biggest event in the Arab world,” said Lulu Group managing director Yusuff Ali M.A.

“Over the years of catering to different nationalities, we have seen the growing demand for internationally sourced products,” he added. “This is why it will be our continuous commitment to offer high-quality products at the most affordable prices in the market.”


Bahrain to pilot toolkit for central bank digital currency

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Bahrain Central Bank governor says it will trial a new toolkit developed by the World Economic Forum

Bahrain’s Central Bank is to pilot a new toolkit developed by the World Economic Forum to evaluate the impact of digital currencies on the economy.

Blockchain and academic experts from around the world have contributed to the design and content of the toolkit to help policy-makers within central banks confidently evaluate whether central bank digital currency (CBDC) is the right fit for their economy and guide them through the evaluation, design and deployment process.

“We will pilot the new toolkit developed by the World Economic Forum, said Rasheed Al Maraj, governor, Central Bank of Bahrain.
“We hope that it will be an opportunity to learn, grow and to adapt to the changes in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

The past six months have been a wake-up call for some central bank policy-makers. CBDC has risen to prominence as a potential solution to multiple challenges such as financial inclusion and payment-system efficiency.

But due in part to the market-moving nature of central bank announcements, the majority of research and experimentation is done independently, behind closed doors.

For the first time, the World Economic Forum has gathered insights from central bank researchers, global policy makers, international organizations and experts from over 40 institutions to create the CBDC Policy-Maker Toolkit.

“Given the critical roles central banks play in the global economy, any central bank digital currency implementation, including potentially with blockchain technology, will have a profound impact domestically and internationally,” said Sheila Warren, head of Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology at the World Economic Forum. “It is imperative that central banks proceed cautiously, with a rigorous analysis of the opportunities and challenges posed.”

“We worked with almost a dozen central banks as well as prominent economists and financial industry leaders to create a common approach for evaluating and designing CBDC around the world,” added Ashley Lannquist, project lead at the World Economic Forum. “The toolkit is the first of its kind to provide a concise summary of the key issues for policy-makers considering general-purpose or wholesale CBDC.”

The CBDC Policy-Maker Toolkit provides high-level guidance and information for retail, wholesale, cross-border and private-sector issued “hybrid CBDC” as well as for large, small, emerging and developed countries.


Which industries in the Middle East are recruiting

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Top candidates looking to move jobs are commanding double digit salary increases, according to the Michael Page Salary & Skills Guide 2020.

Pierre-Emmanuel Dupil, senior managing director, PageGroup, Middle East & Africa, said: “High demand in the Saudi market and competition between major projects to attract talent obviously triggers that trend.”

The report revealed the top reasons people are living and working in the Middle East are career prospects, salary and standard of living; while the top three aspects of their job people are most satisfied with are the current industry/sector, level of responsibility and their manager.

It found that 42 percent of job seekers would consider leaving a company lacking professional growth opportunities, but overall, 80 percent of candidates are positive about the future job market situation.

Dupil said: “Based on a relatively stable oil price, the Middle East market has been active overall. Obviously, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been the steering economic engine, while the UAE picked up slightly. While the hiring activity has been supported by consistent public investments, mainly in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, we also noted positive signs from the private sector in both markets.”

Growing demand
Dupil revealed that there was growing demand for national candidates in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the public and private sectors, including multinationals.

According to the report, there was a slowdown in the financial services sector as a result of “major consolidations”.

However, it was the opposite for retail, FMCG and luxury, which showed signed of pick-up after three years of slow activity. “Probably in preparation for Expo 2020,” Dupil said.

Classic support functions, such as finance, procurement and supply chain were seen as stable in terms of recruitment activity but more oriented towards junior and mid-manager profiles. Demand for IT talent, especially data and digital experts, “increased significantly”, supporting companies in their quest for new revenue streams.

“On another note, due to regional specificities and challenges, a demand for legal and consultancy experts was observed,” said Dupil.

While last year saw continued recruitment in the property and construction sectors, given the vast number of projects announced across the region, particularly those satisfying the Saudi Vision 2030.


Bahrain slashes visa fees in bid to attract more foreign visitors

Bahrain is to cut the fee for pre-entry visas to the kingdom by more than half from January 2020, in a bid to encourage more foreign visitors to visit the Gulf state.

According to a report by the Gulf Daily News (GDN) website, the fee will be 40 Bahraini dinars ($106.38) for a one-year visa, down from the current fee of BD85.

The fee on five-year visas have also been reduced from BD170 to BD60. The move is part of Bahrain’s push to increase the number of foreign visitors to the country.

In early December the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA) held a roadshow in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, in a bid to promote Bahrain as a tourist destination to Russian travellers.

This week, BTEA also announced that it will be launching the new identity and logo. The launch coincides with the selection of Manama as the ‘Capital of Arab Tourism for 2020’ during the recent 22nd Session of the Arab Ministerial Council for Tourism.

“In the first nine months of 2019, total nights spent by tourists reached 10.7 million nights, an increase of 8.8 percent compared to the same period the previous year, while the average length of stay reached 3.4 nights per tourist, an increase of 20.5 percent,” the Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism and chairman of BTEA, Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani, was quoted as saying.

According to the recent passport Index, Bahrain allows 71 nationalities enter the kingdom visa-free, placing it 64th on the global list. By comparison, Bahrainis can enter 91 countries without a visa, placing it as the 53rd most powerful passport in the world. The UAE passport topped the list for the second year in a row with Emiratis able to enter 179 countries around the world without a visa.


Profits of QSE industrial sector hike 22% in Q3 – Survey

Mubasher: Profits of the industrial companies listed on the Qatar Stock Exchange (QSE) increased by 22.04% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2018, according to Mubasher’s statistics.

The industrial sector’s profits hiked to QAR 2.29 billion ($630.1 million) in Q3-18, up from QAR 1.88 billion ($517.3 million) in Q3-17.

The industrial sector consists of nine companies; namely Industries Qatar, Qatari Investors Group, Qatar Electricity and Water Company, Aamal Company, Gulf International Services, Mesaieed Petrochemical Holding, Investment Holding Group, Qatar Industrial Manufacturing, and Qatar National Cement.

During the three-month period ended September, Industries Qatar’s profits jumped 76.20% to QAR 1.3 billion, followed by Mesaieed Petrochemical Holding, which recorded a profit of QAR 361.4 million.

None of the sector’s companies turned to loss during Q3-18, but only six companies witnessed a drop in their profits over the quarter.
For the first nine months of 2018, profits of the nine industrial firms went up 27.4% to QAR 5.98 billion, from QAR 5.48 billion in the same period of the prior year.

Assets also increased by 3.7% to QAR 99.8 billion for the nine-month period ended September, versus QAR 96.2 billion in the same period the year before.

Industries Qatar acquired the majority of profits with QAR 3.8 billion, followed by Qatar Electricity and Water Company and Mesaieed Petrochemical Holding with QAR 1.2 billion and QAR 1.02 billion, respectively.


Mubasher’s survey showed that revenues of the nine industrial companies listed on the Qatari bourse rose 7.2% to QAR 12.2 billion during the period between January and September of this year, from QAR 11.3 billion in the same period of the previous year.


Kuwait reveals $3.2bn direct investment over four-year period

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Kuwait attracted around $3.2 billion in direct investment between January 2015 and the end of March 2019.

In its annual report for the fiscal year, between April 2019 and March 2019, the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority (KDIPA) revealed investment over the period totalled almost KD156 million ($514m).

According to the report, the investments were concentrated in the services sector, including information technology, oil and gas, construction, training, health, energy, consultancy, market research and entertainment services, and came from 37 global companies representing 16 foreign and Arab countries from developed and emerging economies.

KDIPA director general, Dr Meshaal Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah, said: “The expected economic impact of these investments is extensive as it encourages direct and indirect job creation for Kuwaiti nationals, at various administrative and technical levels.

“It also allows for the execution of highly specialized training programmes, which, in turn, support local research activities and the local economy by generating viable linkages with suppliers and producers’ networks in the sectors associated with these projects.”


Jeddah’s new airport set to be fully operational by Ramadan

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Jeddah’s new King Abdulaziz International Airport is likely to become fully operational by Ramadan, according to local media reports.

According to an Okaz report that quoted General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) spokesman Ibrahim Al-Ruasa, the number of departing and arriving flights has reached 4,900, with 654,000 passengers on board.

Since the airport’s Terminal One began operations in May 2018, over 2.5 million passengers have been transported on board 30,000 flights.

Additionally, Al-Ruasa revealed that the customers will now receive a 50 percent discount on parking tickets if they are paid through self-service machines. The move follows a wave of complaints over the SAR 10 per hour price of parking at the airport, compared to SAR 3 at Jeddah’s old airport.

Three necessary bridges remain to be built at the facility, he added.

To date, Saudia is the only carrier operating from the airport, and a SAR 1 billion contract for ground services has been signed with Flynas to provide ground handling services with the airline.