The Weekly Circuit
👋 Hello from the Middle East!
Saudi Arabia’s ambitious blueprint for diversifying its economy and reducing its dependence on oil – showcased by dazzling megaprojects like NEOM’s carbon-neutral city of the future – has a long way to go before making a dent, a report by the International Monetary Fund shows. Measured against its peers in the G-20 of developed nations, the kingdom’s 1.1% economic contraction last year put it in last place alongside inflation-mired Argentina.
What a change from 2022 when Saudi growth jumped 8.7% and led the G-20 on the IMF’s annual World Economic Outlook. Powering the economy was Saudi Aramco’s record output of crude oil, which accounts for some 40% of GDP. A broad cut in oil production levels agreed upon in 2023 by the OPEC+ bloc showed how sensitive the Saudi economy is to fluctuations in the petroleum market.
From turning its Red Sea coast into a magnet for high-spending European tourists to nurturing new industries such as electric vehicles, hydroponic agriculture and green energy, Saudi Arabia is cautiously anticipating a long-term decline in demand for its historically lucrative oil resources.
Last year’s slowdown, however, has made the kingdom’s planners more cautious, leading to a decision this week to postpone lifting a production cap at 12 million barrels a day and preventing a predicted drop in oil prices. Preliminary data released today indicated that the production cuts are working and the economy may be back on a path to growth.
Also in the kingdom, there are plans to open the first liquor shop since prohibition was introduced in 1952, as the rolling back of social restrictions continues. The licensed store will open in the next few weeks in Riyadh and sell only to non-Muslim diplomatic staff. Successful bids for Riyadh to host Expo 2030 and the men’s World Cup in 2034 are expected to spur further reforms.
Meanwhile, the number of tankers making the long and expensive detour around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope to avoid threats of attack in the Red Sea rose to 100 last week from 69 the previous week, Bloomberg reports, citing an Oil Brokerage report. Circumnavigating the African continent adds about 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers) and between 10 and 20 days to sailing time, requiring as much as $1 million in extra fuel. An estimated 12% of global trade is shipped through the Red Sea every year, carrying cargo worth more than $1 trillion.
And in Dubai, affordability is a growing concern as property values continue to climb, expected to increase as much as 12% this year, according to real estate consultancy Cushman & Wakefield Core. Home prices surged 20% on average in 2023, despite nearly 40,000 new units helping to ease pent-up demand.
Welcome to The Weekly Circuit. Read on for the stories, deals and players at the top of the news across the MENA business landscape. Please send comments and story tips to [email protected].
BILL OF HEALTH
Catching up with Ashish Koshy, the M42 executive leading the UAE’s push for personalized medicine
M42 Health is overseeing the Emirati Genome Program, which has mapped the genetic code of more than 500,000 people in the UAE, representing one of the largest initiatives of its kind in the world, The Circuit’s Kelsey Warner reports.
Global ambitions: Mapping Abu Dhabi Department of Health Chairman Mansoor Ibrahim Al Mansoori has called the project “a contribution to Arabs and to the world,” a key to improving health outcomes, tailoring personalized medicine and preventing disease. To date, only 1% of the world’s genomes that have been mapped are of Arab descent.
Strategy driver: The national program is shaping practically everything at healthtech behemoth M42 Health, created less than two years ago when Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Health and G42 Healthcare merged, bringing labs, technology, hospitals and clinics under one brand. The Circuit caught up with Group Chief Operating Officer Ashish Koshy on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this month.
Public Investment Fund: The PGA Tour is nearing a deal with Strategic Sports Group, a consortium made up of a who’s who of sports investors, for about $3 billion, with an additional tranche of investment expected from the PIF, Bloomberg reports, citing sources. The group includes Boston Red Sox and Liverpool owner John Henry, New York Mets owner and hedge funder Steve Cohen and Arthur Blank, who owns the Atlanta Falcons and co-founded Home Depot. The deal could value PGA Tour Enterprises — the for-profit entity created for the PGA Tour’s commercial interests — at $12 billion. Talks are ongoing over how to incorporate rival league LIV Golf into a new for-profit entity. Halal Products Development Co., a unit of the PIF, signed agreements with Sinad Holdings and the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Development to expand its reach in the global market for meat slaughtered according to Islamic ritual law.
Mubadala: The Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund’s Head of Ventures, Ibrahim Ajami, was quoted in a Financial Times story on Tuesday about the growing amount of unspent cash accumulated by U.S. venture capital firms as investors have become more cautious. “There is dry powder for sure, but it’s not like the world is going to be flooded with VC money again,” he said. Churchill Asset Management announced the closing of a $400 million collateralized loan obligation structured in connection with the New York firm’s $1 billion-plus co-investment partnership with Mubadala. Khaled Al Shamlan Al Marri has been appointed CEO of the Real Estate & Infrastructure Investments platform and a member of the Mubadala Investment Committee. He has been with the sovereign wealth fund since 2005, most recently as Deputy CEO of the Disruptive Investments platform.
Abu Dhabi Investment Authority: ADIA and Massachusetts private equity firm HarbourVest are reportedly in talks to acquire a minority stake in Cohance Lifesciences, a pharmaceuticals platform based in Hyperabad, India and owned by Advent International. The investors plan to invest up to $400 million, valuing Cohance Lifesciences at $1.5 billion, The Economic Times reports.
ADQ: PureHealth, the UAE’s No. 1 hospital operator, in which ADQ is the largest shareholder, said it will acquire the Mayo Clinic’s stake in Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City. The acquisition will be made through PureHealth’s Abu Dhabi Health Services Co. subsidiary.
Sovereign Fund of Egypt: CEO Ayman Mohamed Soliman discussed the Egyptian fund’s cooperation with ADQ and other UAE sovereign wealth funds in investments ranging from infrastructure and logistics to renewable energy and water desalination, speaking in an interview with the Emirates News Agency.
🚗 Charge It: Schneider Electric, a French energy management company, and Abu Dhabi-based telecom e&’s Charge&Go signed an agreement to work together on developing charging infrastructure for electric vehicles in the UAE.
📰 No News: Britain on Tuesday issued a legal order preventing RedBird IMI from making additional changes to its proposed takeover of the Telegraph newspaper, Reuters reports. The Abu Dhabi media company is backed by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed and led by former CNN executive Jeff Zucker.
🚄Steel Express: The Oman & Etihad Rail Co. signed a preliminary agreement with Al Jazeera Steel Product Co. to collaborate on logistics for transporting material to and from Al Jazeera factories.
⚖️ Risk Factors: Moody’s changed its future outlook assessment for five top Egyptian banks from stable to negative citing the rising risk of investing in Egypt’s economy.
🏛️ Dispute Resolution: The new Abu Dhabi International Arbitration Centre, known as arbitrateAD, will start operations Feb. 1, conducting arbitration proceedings, offering facilities to hold hearings and appointing arbitrators.
📱 Communications Bridge: Egypt and Jordan have laid a cable across the Gulf of Aqaba to create a maritime communications bridge that will power AI applications and growing data center demands for both countries.
⚡Energy Center: Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology signed a deal to establish a research center for clean energy and desalination.
🕋 Mecca Investors: The Federation of Saudi Chambers and the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Development signed an agreement to promote the holy cities of Mecca and Medina as hubs for global investment and business conferences.
⛽ Green Fuel: Abu Dhabi green energy company Masdar signed an agreement with Germany’s Daimler Truck AG to develop options for exporting liquid hydrogen to Europe to fuel trucks and buses.
🌏 Finance Partners: Hong Kong’s Financial Services Development Council signed a cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Financial Sector Development Program on Wednesday at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong.
📈 Dual Trader: Dubai-based Aster DM Healthcare plans a dual-listing on Emirati and Saudi stock exchanges within the next three to five years and the opening some 250 pharmacies, founder and Chairman Azad Moopen said in a CNBC interview.
🇲🇦 Anti-Competitive: Morocco’s Competition Council fined France’s Veolia Environnement $10 million as part of a settlement for violating rules governing its control of water and gas prices in Casablanca, Rabat and several other cities.
👪 Fertile Investment: Dubai Investments said it will buy a $60 million stake in Global Fertility Partners to expand its network of fertility and women’s health clinics.
🚢 Canceled Cruises: Aida, MSC and Royal Carribean are among the cruise lines that have canceled trips through the Red Sea because of the threat of Houthi attacks.
📈 Top IPO: Saudi Arabia’s MBC broadcasting company carried out the world’s best-performing IPO this year as its share price has more than doubled since it began trading in Riyadh’s Tadawul stock exchange on Jan. 8, Bloomberg reports.
🇭🇰 Fly HK: Kuwait-owned Menzies Aviation acquired a 50% stake in Hong Kong’s Jardine Aviation Services Group, enabling Menzies to expand in Asia. Terms were not disclosed.
💊 Daily Dose: Saudi Arabia’s Avalon Pharma set the final offer price for its upcoming IPO at 82 riyals, or $21.86, a share, implying a market capitalization of $437 million when the company starts trading on the Tadawul stock exchange next month.
🔒 AI Guardian: Prompt Security, an Israeli startup that safeguards generative AI data, raised $5 million in a seed-financing round led by Hetz Ventures.
The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber, met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday on his first official visit to Riyadh since assuming the throne last month upon the death of his predecessor, Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
UAE Vice President Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, who is also Chairman of the Central Bank of the UAE, initiated the first Digital Dirham cross-border payment on Tuesday. The 50 million dirham ($13.6 million) payment to China marked the bank’s 50th anniversary.
Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., posted a rebuttal on X to tennis greats Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who wrote in the Washington Post that the Women’s Tennis Association Finals should not be staged in the kingdom because of its laws discriminating against women.
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the emirate’s Executive Council, gave his approval to expanding the “Dubai Schools” project with a $144 million budget aimed at creating a world-class educational system.
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, received a written message from UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, inviting him to the World Governments Summit in Abu Dhabi starting Feb. 12, according to a Qatari statement.
Crown Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed rolled out a $136 million initiative to help Dubai-based small and medium-size enterprises expand to international markets.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani traveled to Lebanon on an unannounced visit as part of an international effort to end the country’s 15-month presidential vacuum, The National reports. The exact dates of the visit were not made public.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a new National Biotechnology Strategy, setting a course to manufacture vaccines locally and nurture other biotech industries that are projected to produce 3% of non-oil revenue by 2040.
Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, met with Marc Rowan, Co-Founder and CEO of Apollo Global Management last Friday to talk about current investment partnerships and future cooperative ventures. Among those attending the meeting were Mubadala’s Waleed Al Muhairi, Deputy Group CEO and Meera Al Suwaidi, Head of Value Creation.
On the CIrcuit
Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris said the government should devalue the pound to the black-market exchange rate, calling the delay in economic reforms a growing disaster, in a post for his 8.3 million followers on X.
Samer Haj-Yehia, former Chairman of Bank Leumi, Israel’s largest lender, was named Chairman of the Strategic Advisory Board for Vintage Investment Partners. Andy Walter, former Senior Vice President for Global Commercial Services at Procter & Gamble Company also joined Vintage as an advisory board member.
Abeer Al Akel has been named the acting CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla, after her predecessor Amr Al-Madani was arrested on corruption charges earlier this week. Al Akel’s most recent role was as Chief of Special Initiatives and Partnerships with the development organization.
Affinity Partners Founder Jared Kushner said he was “net-net very bullish on the region and what’s possible” in the Gulf at the Global Alts 2024 conference in Miami.
Wyatt Roy, a former Australian Member of Parliament and Managing Director of AI firm Afiniti, has joined NEOM as Head of Innovation.
Hamad Al Marar was named Managing Director and CEO of EDGE Group, a conglomerate of Emirati defense companies. He was previously President of EDGE’s Missiles and Weapons unit.
Tom Nides, the former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and one-time Morgan Stanley executive, will join Blackstone as Vice Chairman, focusing on strategy and client relations, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi appears in an advertising campaign to promote tourism to Saudi Arabia and rebut stereotypes about its conservative society.
Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire and former Chelsea soccer team owner, lost another round in his effort to donate $2.2 million to Israel’s Zaka search and rescue organization, with Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara backing the position of Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, which said transferring the money would violate international sanctions.
Laila Al Suwaidi was appointed Director-General of the UAE’s Federal Authority for Government Human Resources in a decree by President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.
🍿 Arabic Originals: Asharq Discovery has announced a new lineup of seven original shows amid a push to meet demand for high-quality Arabic content.The free streaming platform was launched in 2023 through a strategic partnership between Saudi Arabian media conglomerate SRMG and Warner Bros. Discovery.
♥️ Netflix News: A UAE edition of the hit Netflix reality dating show Love Is Blind will be hosted by Saudi TV personality Elham Ali and her husband Khaled Saqr under the Gulf-adapted title, Love is Blind, Habibi.
🇦🇪 Heritage Preserved: Emirati “nabati,” or vernacular Arabic poetry, along with oral and visual histories, will be preserved under a new Abu Dhabi government body overseeing local heritage. The Abu Dhabi Heritage Authority was established by UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, in his capacity as Ruler of Abu Dhabi, on Wednesday, and will also see the ramp-up of festivals and heritage programs inside and outside the emirate.
⛳ Desert Fairway: Danish golfer Thorbjørn Olese won the UAE’s Ras Al Khaimah Championship on January 28 with a 5-under-par 67, beating countryman Rasmus Hojgaard by six shots and notching his eighth victory on the DP European Tour.
🏅 Jet-Suit Race: Dubai is planning to host the world’s first jet-suit race on Feb. 28 with competitors flying through a downtown course at the foot of the 162-story Burj Khalifa.
Ahead on the Circuit
Jan. 29-Feb. 1, Dubai, UAE: Arab Health. Day 4 of the biggest trade show in the region for medical devices and healthcare. Dubai World Trade Centre.
Jan. 29- Feb. 1. Miami, Fla.: Global Alts 2024. Day 4 of a conference that brings together investors from private equity, venture capital, alternative investment worlds. Fontainebleau Hotel.
Feb. 7-8, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: PIF Private Sector Forum. The gathering will showcase the Public Investment Fund and its portfolio companies’ business opportunities. King Abdul Aziz International Conference Center.
Feb. 9-11, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Middle East Comic Con. Nerds unite for the biggest pop culture gathering in the region. Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Center.
Feb. 21-22, Dubai, UAE: Step Conference. The Dubai edition of the leading tech festival for emerging markets. Internet City.
Feb. 22-23, Miami Beach, FL: FII Priority Miami. A summit on disruptive technology and investment trends hosted by the Future Investment Initiative Institute. Faena Hotel Miami Beach.
Feb. 26-29, Doha, Qatar: Web Summit Qatar. A Middle East edition of the technology crowd mega-event, gathering investors, entrepreneurs and business leaders. Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre.
Feb. 28-29, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Investopia. A gathering of investors hosted by SALT and Investopia, an investment platform launched by the UAE Ministry of Economy and backed by Mubadala and the Department of Economic Development. St. Regis Saadiyat.
March 1, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Abu Dhabi Family Office Summit. One of the largest meetings in the region for family office leaders and investors. Saadiyat Rotana.
March 4-7, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: LEAP. A global technology conference for developers, startups, investors, C-suite and media. King Abdul Aziz International Conference Center.
March 5-6, Doha, Qatar: International LNG Forum. Gathering of industry leaders and key stakeholders to discuss the future of gas in a key export market. InterContinental Doha Beach.