Summit Notebook

Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders

Is investor confidence returning to the Middle East?

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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES/A recovery in the Middle East and the prospects for investment are on the agenda at the Reuters Middle East and Investment Summit, taking place in Dubai, Riyadh, Cairo, Kuwait, Beirut, Bagdad, Abu Dhabi and London.

In the wake of Dubai’s debt crisis, which rocked financial markets globally and dented confidence in the region, top executives and officials will discuss whether the investment climate in the region is improving and confidence returning. 2011 will be a year of more restructurings, but the region’s capital needs will lead to a surge in debt issues and even a possible revival of the IPO market.

Reuters Middle East Investment Summit will generate exclusive stories, investable insights, online videos and blog postings. Check back here for more over the course of this week.

Kuwait’s Noor bullish on Pakistan

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Pakistan’s foreign reserves are dwindling fast and many worry about the country descending into chaos.
But Naser Al-Marri, managing director of Noor Financial Investment Co. is taking a longer view of the country.
“I love Pakistan,” he told a Reuters summit. “For me Pakistan is a mini-China.”
The country’s potential lies in its agricultural resources and its potential as a bridge for ferrying energy into fast-growing China.
Marri’s Noor, a major shareholder in Karachi Electric Supply Company, urged Gulf Arab desert countries to invest more in growing crops in Pakistan. Gas could also flow from the Gulf to China through Pakistan, he said.
As Pakistani president Asif Zardari visits Saudi Arabia seeking aid, he would be heartened by some long-term optimism.
“Many people don’t like Pakistan, but I am sure in five years, Pakistan will be the place to be,” Marri said.

Boeing may see benefit from strike as demand slows

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An eight-week strike by machinist workers at commercial aircraft maker Boeing delayed production and may cut profit by hundreds of millions of dollars.
But a major aircraft leasing company in the Gulf Arab state of Kuwait – and a Boeing client – sees one possible benefit to the company.
A global industry downturn is forcing manufacturers to slow down growth plans and control capacity, Ahmad A. Alzabin, chairman of Kuwait-based Alafco Aviation Lease and Finance Co. told a Reuters summit.
“Probably with Boeing they’ve been somehow more fortunate with the strike that was going on for two months. This absorbed some of the excess capacity that had happened.”

Is the financial crisis the impetus Kuwait needs for reform?

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If there is a silver lining to the impact of the credit crisis in Kuwait, it could be highlighting the poor transparency – even by Gulf Arab standards – in the desert country.
Other Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia have taken steps to crack down on corruption or boost transparency in a region where stock prices often move sharply before major company announcements. Most – but not Kuwait — have independent stock market regulators.
Once a regional leader in developing financial markets, Kuwait has fallen behind its neighbours. It would have been almost impossible for investors to discern problems at Kuwait’s Gulf Bank before its rescue last month, economists say.
Lack of transparency can often hide corruption, said Amani Bouresli, finance professor at Kuwait University.
“In terms of corruption, there is the perception of corruption index and every year we have a worse location than the year before,” she said.
The global crisis may add pressure on Kuwait to act, Bouresli said.
“When the index is red you see the government acting,” she said. “I hope if the index goes up again the government won’t stop acting.”
But more decisive measures on disclosure might be too bold a step to expect from Kuwait’s current government. Some have suggested that battles between the government and parliament in Kuwait, perhaps the most democratic of the Gulf Arab states, could hinder the type of action that would be necessary.
“The government knows there is a lot of corruption, but it is weak and unserious,” Kuwaiti economist Naser Alnafisi said.

Kuwait banks on luxury with third airline launch

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As airlines around the world cut capacity and ground planes, the tiny Gulf state of Kuwait is stepping boldly into the global aviation crisis with the launch of a third carrier.
Kuwait National Airways hasn’t even taken delivery of its first plane yet, but when it does, it will be fitted with Recaro luxury leather seats.
Kuwaiti executives will be offered the lowest seat density Airbus A320 in the world, enjoy in-seat entertainment, and be able to use their mobiles phones and Blackberrys on board – at least for data — the airline’s CEO George Cooper told a Reuters summit.
Cooper is betting that the world’s seventh-largest oil exporter will remain an island of prosperity in the midst of a global financial crisis.
“Creating this airline is something that will work in Kuwait,” he said. “I can’t think of many other places in the world where it would.”
With only a business plan, the airline raised nearly $200 million in a 2006 initial public offering. Cooper, a former pilot who worked for many years at British Airways, said it will focus on ferrying businessmen around the region, with the first flight expected sometime in January.
The carrier, which will operate under the brand name Wataniya, is benefiting from the plight of airlines around the world as fears of a global recession loom.
It can now snap up pilots from around the world and capitalise on a glut of fuel as planes are grounded in the United States and Europe, Cooper said.
And high fuel costs that have plagued the industry are finally coming down – but that may not be entirely good news for Wataniya.
“Kuwait is a petrodollar economy, so there is a minimal oil price we want to see,” Cooper said.
But as the fate of recently-rescued Kuwaiti lender Gulf Bank shows, the country of 3.2 million isn’t entirely immune from the global crisis.
But even as its economy slows next year and prices for its main export drop, flying around the Gulf in plush leather seats may be too much for some Kuwaitis to resist.

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