Houthi Attacks on Ships in Red Sea Threaten Global Trade

The Red Sea connects Africa and Asia and is a vital corridor for maritime shipping. (Photo: Reuters)
The Red Sea connects Africa and Asia and is a vital corridor for maritime shipping. (Photo: Reuters)
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Houthi Attacks on Ships in Red Sea Threaten Global Trade

The Red Sea connects Africa and Asia and is a vital corridor for maritime shipping. (Photo: Reuters)
The Red Sea connects Africa and Asia and is a vital corridor for maritime shipping. (Photo: Reuters)

Tension escalated in the Red Sea after ships were attacked while crossing the vital path that links Europe to the Arabian Gulf and Sea, all the way to East Asia, raising fears of new disruptions in global trade, including energy supplies.

On Sunday, the Pentagon said a US warship and three commercial ships were attacked off the coast of Yemen, raising concerns that the Houthis, who targeted Israeli ships last month, are expanding their campaign in response to the war in Gaza.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Monday that the attacks were “totally unacceptable,” adding that the United States was in talks with other countries about forming a naval task force to ensure the safe passage of ships in the Red Sea.

US Central Command said it was studying “appropriate responses” to the attacks that endangered the lives of crews from several countries, as well as threatening international trade and maritime security. It added that although the attacks were carried out by the Houthis, they were “fully enabled by Iran.”

This new threat to shipping - which could affect trade from crude oil to vehicles - comes following major pressures on supply chains due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian war in Ukraine, which increased inflation and led to a global economic slowdown.

“The Red Sea route matters,” Henning Gloystein at consultancy Eurasia Group told the Financial Times.

“It matters even more for the Europeans, who get all their Middle Eastern oil and LNG through the Red Sea,” he added.

Since 2019, the Houthis and other suspected Iranian proxies have attacked multiple ships in the Middle East, seized oil tankers and launched attacks using limpet mines attached to their hulls, according to a report by the Financial Times.

“The oil market has become too complacent about risks that the Gaza conflict will expand regionally and threaten oil and gas infrastructure and shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf,” Bob McNally, founder of Rapidan Energy and a former adviser to the George W Bush White House, was quoted as saying.

McNally added that material interruption in regional energy flows could reach 30 percent.

Ship-owners are now exploring safer, but more expensive, alternative routes and are demanding greater protection in Middle Eastern waters. An alternative route involves going around the Cape of Good Hope, near Cape Town, and sailing along West Africa, a much longer and more expensive path.

According to the Financial Times report, ship-owners are already having to pay more for insurance, as well as diverting vessels and investing in additional security measures.

Marcus Baker, head of marine at insurance broker Marsh, said that some insurers had already increased rates during the week before Sunday’s Red Sea attacks, in one case by as much as 300 per cent. He added that the market “is going to have to react” to the latest incidents.



Türkiye's Feb Exports to Russia Down 34% from Year Earlier

Russian-flagged bulk carrier SV Nikolay is unloaded at Izmir port in Türkiye June 25, 2022. REUTERS/Yoruk Isik/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
Russian-flagged bulk carrier SV Nikolay is unloaded at Izmir port in Türkiye June 25, 2022. REUTERS/Yoruk Isik/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
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Türkiye's Feb Exports to Russia Down 34% from Year Earlier

Russian-flagged bulk carrier SV Nikolay is unloaded at Izmir port in Türkiye June 25, 2022. REUTERS/Yoruk Isik/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
Russian-flagged bulk carrier SV Nikolay is unloaded at Izmir port in Türkiye June 25, 2022. REUTERS/Yoruk Isik/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights

Türkiye's exports to Russia in February fell 33% year on year to $670 million, trade ministry data showed on Saturday.

That was down from $1.1 billion in February 2023.

Imports from Russia fell 36.65% to $1.3 billion from $2 billion a year earlier, Reuters reported.

A US threat to impose sanctions on financial firms doing business with Russia has chilled Turkish-Russian trade, disrupting or slowing some payments for both imported oil and Turkish exports, Reuters reported this week.


Türkiye Focuses on Industry, Digital Transformation to Improve Investment Environment

Yilmaz speaks during the summit in London. (From his account on the X platform)
Yilmaz speaks during the summit in London. (From his account on the X platform)
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Türkiye Focuses on Industry, Digital Transformation to Improve Investment Environment

Yilmaz speaks during the summit in London. (From his account on the X platform)
Yilmaz speaks during the summit in London. (From his account on the X platform)

Türkiye has finalized a plan to improve the investment environment, with the aim to simplify legislation and administrative procedures and accelerate digital and green transformation in industry. The country has also pledged to continue working to reduce inflation and achieve permanent price stability.

Turkish Vice President Cevdet Yilmaz said that within the scope of studies of the Coordination Council for Improving the Investment Environment, an action plan consisting of 57 items was prepared in cooperation with non-governmental organizations, the private sector and public institutions, to facilitate and simplify legislation and administrative and judicial processes related to investments in the country.

The plan also seeks to develop locations for investment opportunities, especially for industry, provide target-oriented financing, accelerate the digital and green transformation of industry, and meet the needs of vocational training and labor markets.

On the other hand, Yilmaz stressed the Turkish government’s commitment to reduce inflation to achieve permanent price stability.

Addressing a meeting with international investors in London on the sidelines of the Global Soft Power Summit 2024, the minister said that the medium-term economic program announced by the Turkish government last September was achieving its desired goals.

He noted that although inflation has reached its peak at about 65 percent, the Turkish government is confident that anti-inflation policies will lead to a sharp downward trend in the second half of 2024. He expected inflation to reach about 15 percent in 2025, with a goal of reaching single-digit numbers in 2026.

Yilmaz pointed to the quality and diversity of investments in Türkiye, with its strategic location at the crossroads of three continents, in addition to its wide network of free trade agreements, which makes it a center for commercial and economic activities.


Gas Exporting Countries Meet in Algeria to 'Strengthen Sovereignty' over Resources

The Algerian Minister of Energy welcomes delegations participating in the Gas Summit. (Ministry of Energy)
The Algerian Minister of Energy welcomes delegations participating in the Gas Summit. (Ministry of Energy)
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Gas Exporting Countries Meet in Algeria to 'Strengthen Sovereignty' over Resources

The Algerian Minister of Energy welcomes delegations participating in the Gas Summit. (Ministry of Energy)
The Algerian Minister of Energy welcomes delegations participating in the Gas Summit. (Ministry of Energy)

Leaders of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum will gather on Saturday in the Algerian capital to discuss stabilizing energy prices and meeting the growing demand for gas, especially since the outbreak of war in Ukraine in February 2022, as well as defending gas as a clean source of energy, in the context of ongoing talks on reducing carbon emissions.

In remarks on Friday, Algerian Minister of Energy and Mines Mohamed Arkab said that the summit constitutes an important opportunity for promoting dialogue and constructive cooperation among member states.

He added that Algeria is “a leading country in the natural gas industry, investing greatly in the areas of exploration, development, processing, transportation and marketing of natural gas.”

The Algerian minister underlined that the country was also working to strengthen its position as a historical and reliable supplier of natural gas, continue to fulfill its obligations, and conduct a continuous dialogue with its partners to find appropriate solutions to confront the challenges facing the natural gas industry.

On the eve of the launch of the experts’ preparatory sessions on Thursday, Arkab said that joint cooperation between gas-producing countries will be on top of the talks of the 7th Summit of Gas Exporting Countries.

He stressed that the discussions will address “cooperation to ensure global energy security, serve the common interest through long-term commercial contracts, and enhance joint efforts in the field of investment and financing future projects.”

Sources in the Algerian government told Asharq Al-Awsat that the meeting would mainly discuss the increasing demand for energy and the role of gas in contributing “positively to the energy transition,” in addition to the issue of removing carbon from natural gas, by employing advanced technology to make energy cleaner, especially with regard to electricity production and industries that have large gas emissions, such as steel, cement, and chemicals.

The Gas Exporting Countries Forum is an international governmental organization founded in Tehran in 2001, and includes the world’s major natural gas producers. The political and economic bloc seeks to strengthen the sovereignty of its members over their natural gas resources, and to intensify cooperation and dialogue on energy-related issues.

The Forum includes 12 permanent member states (Russia, Iran, Qatar, which are the largest producers, Venezuela, Nigeria, the Emirates, Trinidad, Tobago, Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, and Libya), and 7 members with an “observer” status (Angola, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mozambique and Peru).


Why Did 630 Int’l Companies Choose Saudi Arabia as Regional Headquarters?

An aerial view of the Saudi capital, Riyadh (AFP)
An aerial view of the Saudi capital, Riyadh (AFP)
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Why Did 630 Int’l Companies Choose Saudi Arabia as Regional Headquarters?

An aerial view of the Saudi capital, Riyadh (AFP)
An aerial view of the Saudi capital, Riyadh (AFP)

While Saudi Arabia is preparing to host 450 new regional headquarters for a number of international companies, in addition to issuing 180 licenses, Asharq Al-Awsat interviewed experts about the factors that attract companies to the Kingdom.

Saudi Minister of Investment Eng. Khaled Al-Falih has recently announced an agreement to grant 450 foreign investors licenses to establish their regional headquarters in Saudi Arabia, mainly in Riyadh.

Giant projects

Experts confirmed that the Kingdom offers giant investment opportunities and projects that are attractive to international companies, in addition to the country’s strategic location that connects three continents and allows reaching 40 rapidly growing markets within four hours by plane.

Experts say the Kingdom is the ideal place for multinational companies to establish their regional headquarters. The country is witnessing economic transformations and has an attractive investment environment, as the government has worked on regulatory and legislative reforms that facilitate the process of foreign companies accessing the Saudi market.

Geographical location

The head of the Saudi Governance Center, Nasser Al-Sahli, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Saudi Arabia was the largest economy in the Middle East and North Africa, and occupied the 18th place among the largest economies in the world, in addition to its distinguished geographical location that makes it the focus of attention of major international companies.

Al-Sahli stated that Saudi Arabia was currently working on several giant projects, in addition to having all the capabilities and incentives that attract the private sector.

In return, many foreign firms are looking for opportunities to expand their business and access these projects, he remarked, noting that not having a regional office in the Kingdom will deprive them of these promising opportunities.

For his part, economic expert Ahmed Al-Shehri told Asharq Al-Awsat that international companies are choosing Saudi Arabia as the headquarters for their regional offices, based on the country’s economic prosperity and tangible progress in all international indicators.

He added that the government has implemented legislative and regulatory amendments, in addition to providing incentives to facilitate entry procedures for foreign companies.

Al-Shehri stated that Saudi Arabia currently represents an attractive investment destination due to its geographical location that connects three continents, making it an ideal place for multinational companies to establish their regional offices.

In February 2021, Saudi Arabia announced plans to cease contracting with companies whose regional headquarters are not in the Kingdom by Jan. 1, 2024, to help create local jobs, boost investment, and ensure economic diversification within Vision 2030 and the strategic plan for Riyadh.


Oil Affected by Chinese, US Demand Indicators

Oil prices are mixed amid different demand indicators  - AFP
Oil prices are mixed amid different demand indicators - AFP
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Oil Affected by Chinese, US Demand Indicators

Oil prices are mixed amid different demand indicators  - AFP
Oil prices are mixed amid different demand indicators - AFP

Oil prices are mixed amid different demand indicators as China's latest data point to a fifth straight month of contraction in the manufacturing sector, while the US PCE index showed inflation in line with economists' expectations.

"Brent crude prices continued to trade sideways this week," analysts at commodities research firm BMI said in a note.

"However, timespreads for Brent futures contracts have widened. The move to stronger backwardation will be supportive of a more bullish stance for prices as markets are pricing in tightening in the months ahead." they added.

Meanwhile, uncertainty over a potential ceasefire in Gaza and expectations that OPEC+ will extend its production cuts into the second quarter continue to weigh on sentiment.

Brent crude was flat at $81.94 a barrel, while WTI was down 0.1% at $78.18 a barrel.


Aramco Completes Acquisition of Esmax

The transaction represents Aramco’s first downstream retail investment in South America. Photo: Aramco
The transaction represents Aramco’s first downstream retail investment in South America. Photo: Aramco
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Aramco Completes Acquisition of Esmax

The transaction represents Aramco’s first downstream retail investment in South America. Photo: Aramco
The transaction represents Aramco’s first downstream retail investment in South America. Photo: Aramco

Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s top integrated energy and chemicals companies, successfully completed the acquisition of a 100% equity stake in Esmax Distribución SpA, a leading diversified downstream fuels and lubricants retailer in Chile.
Esmax has a national presence that includes retail fuel stations, airport operations, fuel distribution terminals and a lubricant blending plant.
The transaction, which was first announced in September, represents Aramco’s first downstream retail investment in South America, illustrates the attractiveness of this market, and supports the company’s strategic goal to strengthen its downstream value chain.
“We are delighted to conclude the acquisition of Esmax and look forward to working with the outstanding team on the ground in Chile to achieve our shared ambitions,” said Aramco Executive Vice President of Products & Customers Yasser Mufti.

“Aramco aims to be a primary global retail player and this deal combines our high-quality products and services, including Valvoline lubricants, with the experience and quality of an established operator in Chile,” he added.


ACWA Power Signs $738 Million Worth Agreements to Finance Water Desalination Project in the Emirates

The headquarters of ACWA Power
The headquarters of ACWA Power
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ACWA Power Signs $738 Million Worth Agreements to Finance Water Desalination Project in the Emirates

The headquarters of ACWA Power
The headquarters of ACWA Power

Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power announced on Thursday the signing of agreements with a group of local and international banks to secure the funding of the Hassyan Independent Water Producer (IWP) plant in Dubai.
In a statement, the company said it secured SAR 2.76 billion from local and international lenders for a period of 32.5 years.
The banks proving the funding include Standard Chartered, MUFG Bank, Emirates NBD, Korea Development Bank, Commercial Bank of Dubai, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (APICORP), Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Boubyan Bank, and Saudi EXIM Bank.
The loan agreements were signed by Hassyan Water Company, which is owned 20.40 percent by ACWA Power.

For its part, the Saudi Export-Import Bank announced that it had signed a financing agreement with ACWA Power worth $75 million to finance the Hassyan complex project.

The bank said, in a post on X, that the aim of the financing was “to enable Saudi content in international projects, in a way that enhances the development of Saudi non-oil exports, and stimulates projects that are compatible with the principles of sustainability.”


HCI Conference: Preparing a Generation for Tech Challenges

The Human Capability Initiative (HCI) conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Asharq Al-Awsat)
The Human Capability Initiative (HCI) conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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HCI Conference: Preparing a Generation for Tech Challenges

The Human Capability Initiative (HCI) conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Asharq Al-Awsat)
The Human Capability Initiative (HCI) conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The Human Capability Initiative (HCI) conference, held over two days in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, focused on preparing the next generation to tackle modern technologies like artificial intelligence.

Sponsored by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the event aimed to find sustainable funding for education and strengthen public-private partnerships.

During the conference, Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih announced licenses for 450 international investors to set up regional headquarters in the Kingdom.

He highlighted a significant increase in international licenses since the launch of Saudi Arabia’s national transformation plan, “Vision 2030.”

Al-Falih revealed that the number of licenses for international investments in Saudi Arabia has increased from 3,000 at the beginning of the vision to 30,000 business licenses, stressing the Kingdom’s commitment to creating the best conditions for investors to develop skills and learn to enhance innovation and entrepreneurship and to consolidate the growth of the private sector.

Al-Falih also shared plans to double the economy by the end of the decade, with a focus on increasing partnerships with the private sector.

“By the end of this decade, our economy aims to be two and a half times larger than what it was before the beginning of Vision 2030,” said Al-Falih while noting that the private sector’s participation in the economy will jump from 40 % to more than 65 % and the size of the private sector will be four times higher than that of its current size.

He outlined a target of adding over $3 trillion in investments, with a focus on new sectors like digital economy, tourism, finance, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology.

Al-Falih emphasized that these investments will create huge opportunities for skill development.

He pointed out that as new sectors like renewable energy and biotechnology emerge, skill gaps will be filled through training, ensuring the Kingdom has a skilled workforce ready for deployment.

Al-Falih pointed out that Vision 2030 is the most comprehensive transformation in the Kingdom’s history.

“We are transforming and developing our economy into a green economy and enhancing the business environment and our international competitiveness,” said the minister.


Bitcoin’s Strong Comeback: Heading Toward $100,000 Mark?

The logo of the US Securities and Exchange Commission and Bitcoin with the words “Approval of Exchange-Traded Funds” (Reuters)
The logo of the US Securities and Exchange Commission and Bitcoin with the words “Approval of Exchange-Traded Funds” (Reuters)
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Bitcoin’s Strong Comeback: Heading Toward $100,000 Mark?

The logo of the US Securities and Exchange Commission and Bitcoin with the words “Approval of Exchange-Traded Funds” (Reuters)
The logo of the US Securities and Exchange Commission and Bitcoin with the words “Approval of Exchange-Traded Funds” (Reuters)

Bitcoin, the top cryptocurrency, has bounced back strongly, recovering all losses since the crypto market downturn in May 2022. Today, it’s steadily nearing its record high of $64,000, last seen in November 2021.

With investors rushing into cryptocurrency exchange-traded funds (ETFs), Bitcoin's price is rising rapidly, bringing it back to early 2021 levels.

The value of Bitcoin, the biggest cryptocurrency by market cap, jumped 3.4% to $62,205 after briefly touching $63,933 overnight Thursday, its highest level since late 2021.

This rise shows renewed confidence in the cryptocurrency market, helped by ETFs making crypto trading easier for investors.

US market sentiment towards Bitcoin is shifting positively, with big investors continuing to buy Bitcoin. This suggests long-term optimism and makes Bitcoin more appealing to investors looking for steady gains.

This surge is a big moment for Bitcoin and could lead to more growth in the future. It also shows Bitcoin is gaining acceptance as an investment.

Bitcoin holders expect the price to keep rising, possibly exceeding $69,000.

As Bitcoin hits new highs, 2024 is predicted to be its big year, with expectations reaching $100,000.

Bitcoin surged notably after approval was granted for cryptocurrency exchange-traded funds (ETFs) focused on immediate Bitcoin.

Optimism grew when the US Securities and Exchange Commission greenlit 11 of these funds in mid-January, allowing institutional investors to join the Bitcoin market, leading to increased demand and significant price rises.

These funds allow institutional investors to trade Bitcoin at its current price. Previously, Bitcoin ETFs were limited to trading futures contracts, complex financial tools suitable only for experienced investors.

After the approval of the first Bitcoin ETFs for immediate trading in the US, the world’s oldest cryptocurrency skyrocketed. It surged over 42% since the year began, jumping from under $50,000 at approval time to over $60,000 today.


New Murabba Signs MoU with the Tourism Development Fund

The MoU was signed by New Murabba Development Company CEO Michael Dyke and TDF chief executive Qusai bin Abdullah Al-Fakhri. - SPA
The MoU was signed by New Murabba Development Company CEO Michael Dyke and TDF chief executive Qusai bin Abdullah Al-Fakhri. - SPA
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New Murabba Signs MoU with the Tourism Development Fund

The MoU was signed by New Murabba Development Company CEO Michael Dyke and TDF chief executive Qusai bin Abdullah Al-Fakhri. - SPA
The MoU was signed by New Murabba Development Company CEO Michael Dyke and TDF chief executive Qusai bin Abdullah Al-Fakhri. - SPA

New Murabba Development Company (NMDC) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Tourism Development Fund (TDF) to spearhead the transformation of Riyadh. The agreement will see the two entities work closely together to create New Murabba, the world’s largest modern downtown, serving as a model for future urban development and contributing towards Riyadh city’s evolution, in line with Vision 2030, SPA reported.

The MoU was signed by New Murabba Development Company CEO Michael Dyke and TDF chief executive Qusai bin Abdullah Al-Fakhri.

As part of the agreement, TDF will provide direct financing opportunities in collaboration with its network of partners and contracted investors, solidifying NMDC’s access to TDF’s expertise, networks, and investment capabilities.
The agreement is poised to unlock New Murabba's immense potential, placing Riyadh at the forefront of global destinations and showcasing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's commitment to innovative, sustainable urban development, cultural richness, and unparalleled visitor experiences on the world stage.
“We are pleased to have partnered with the New Murabba Development Company to bring this bold undertaking to life: an innovative undertaking that will enhance Riyadh’s status on the global stage as one of the commercial and financial capitals of the world,” TDF’s Al-Fakhri said. “This is a future-focused partnership that extends our efforts to work in a fully aligned manner with the private sector to create a greater, more prosperous Saudi Arabia.”
“In line with Vision 2030 and the National Tourism Strategy, our agreement with New Murabba Development Company marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Riyadh; one that adds to the richness of the Kingdom’s inspiring story of transformation,” the TDF chief said. “Together, we aim to create a modern downtown in the Saudi capital that provides even greater access to exceptional living, working, and entertainment experiences. Representing the very best of Saudi excellence, we believe New Murabba will attract tourists, as well as investors, to the Kingdom and improve citizens’ and residents’ quality of life.”
“New Murabba will be a gateway to the future,” NMDC’s Dyke said. “We are confident that our partnership with TDF will enable us to play a transformative role in diversifying sources of income for the Saudi economy, aligning seamlessly with the objectives of Vision 2030. Together, we will create groundbreaking opportunities that will not only elevate the Saudi tourism landscape but drive New Murabba to the forefront of global innovation.”