More M&A expected

For anyone interested in mergers and acquisitions (M&A), here is a good round up of what's going on. I followed the ups and downs of the M&A market for years, when I was head of a newswire service, Mergermarket, looking at M&A in the middle East. Ernst & Young produce a good round up every year. 

The digital transformation race and rising economic confidence to drive more M&A

- Near-record number of companies (56%) plan to acquire in the next 12 months

- 51% of executives expecting increased M&A competition see PE as biggest competitive threat  

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What next for the Lebanon and Saudi Arabia?

I’ve been following the government changes in Saudi with much interest, having lived in the region and covered it journalistically for 8.5 years. It is no surprise that there are changes in the Saudi ruling family; those changes are rumoured to have been happening for years.

However, this time is different. The changes are swift and dramatic and several events have combined at the same time. While not directly linked, they could bring more instability to an already volatile region.

But whether it is a purge against corruption or a move by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to consolidate his power is another matter.  

First, there is the resignation of Lebanon’s Sunni Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, who is also the son of the Syrian-murdered former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Saad Hariri, who has joint Lebanese and Saudi citzenship, evidently feared for his life and had just had a meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayotollah Ali Khamenei.

Evidently, he was summoned from Beirut and sacked by his Saudi “allies”. I’ve also been told by my source in Saudi Arabia that Hariri’s bodyguard was told to leave Saudi Arabia Monday night. What will happen to him?

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The Balfour Declaration: how 100 years was marked

There's been a lot of talk recently about the Balfour Declaration since November 2 was the centenary of that document.  This date was when Israel obtained land in Palestianian territory. The outcome depends on whether you are an Israeli or a Palestianian. Here 's what was written in the Arab Digest.

Summary: debate in Parliament produces nothing new. Among many comments on the centenary a new Balfour Centenary Declaration supported by MPs from all parties and many others.

As expected (our posting of 20 October) the approach to the centenary of the Balfour declaration, today 2 November 2017, has produced much comment. The British and Israeli prime ministers are expected to speak at a commemoration banquet tonight. The Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson made a statement in Parliament on 30 October which was followed by a brief debate. Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary, argued that “With the empty vessel that is the American President making lots of noise but being utterly directionless, the need for Britain to show leadership on this issue [Palestine] is ever more pressing”. Johnson stuck to the well worn position of using the USA as a human shield: “the US Administration have shown their commitment to breaking the deadlock, and a new American envoy, Jason Greenblatt, has made repeated visits to the region. The Government will of course support these efforts in whatever way we can… we need them to be in the lead… we see the most fertile prospects now in the new push coming from America… ”

All parties represented in Parliament are now committed to recognition of Palestine as a state except the governing Conservative party (and presumably their coalition partner the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party), whose intention is clearly to wait for America.

On 31 October a Balfour Centenary Declaration, see below, was launched in Parliament by Richard Burden MP (Labour), Lord Cope of Berkeley (Conservative), Dr Philippa Whitford MP (Scottish National party), and Rt Hon Tom Brake MP (Lib Dem), signed by over 60 distinguished people including members of Parliament from the four main parties. We are grateful to Vincent Fean, former British ambassador and former consul-general in Jerusalem, for the text from which he spoke to an audience of over 1000 at Westminster Central Hall.

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Built on sand

There is so much happening in Saudi Arabia right now, and not just the meetings with Donald Trump and his clan. Oil, the Saudi ruling family and Islam are all showing signs of cracks. Certainly, Saudi Arabia is not how it used to be. Explaining this is Andrew Critchlow, who spent a long time in the Middle East, (when I was there). He went to the UK and was working with Thomson Reuters.

Three main pillars bind Saudi Arabia together: oil, the ruling Al Saud family and Islam. Reforms are preparing the Middle East’s largest economy for the end of a reliance on the first. But they could have a destabilising knock-on effect on the other two.

Saudi as a modern nation was founded in 1932 by a powerful regional overlord known as Ibn Saud. Since then the family has monopolised power by doling out its vast petroleum wealth in the form of handouts and preferential business deals while maintaining an uneasy pact with an ultra-conservative domestic religious establishment. But a 62 percent slide in the price of crude since 2012 has forced the kingdom to cut benefits such as energy subsidies for the average Saudi. Buying support is about to get tougher.

The radical restructuring of the economy now being managed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – one of Ibn Saud’s many grandsons – is ambitious and not before time. The prince, widely known as ‘MbS’, last month presented the details of his Vision 2030 and short-term National Transformation Plan, with the aim of weaning Saudi off oil, which still accounts for over 70 percent of budget revenues. But although it’s a financial necessity for Riyadh to rein in a record budget deficit, politically the strategy is risky – it could prove unpopular in poorer rural tribal areas of the desert kingdom.

That would be okay if the 1000-plus princes of the Al Saud family were a unified bunch. But they are not immune to disagreements. After the death of the incumbent King Salman bin Abdulaziz, power will pass for the first time outside the direct line of Ibn Saud’s sons, which itself implies a less harmonious succession. The sudden elevation of the 31-year-old MbS, the current king’s son, looks a threat to his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef, who as crown prince is the official heir to the throne. It could also kindle resentment among the sons of previous rulers who were passed over, including those who don’t descend from the offspring of Ibn Saud’s most influential wife, Hassa bint Ahmed al-Sudairi.

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The challenges that face Ethiopians in New Zealand

Ethiopians living in New Zealand face a number of challenges.  These will be discussed at a community meeting to be held at 474 Great North Road, Auckland. on November 4.

The guest speaker will be Mr Abebe Gellaw, an international journalist who is executive director of Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio (ESAT TV) and will be available for interview until November 8. Please contact Nestanet Kassa  on 0278054332 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Gellaw works at Stanford University where, in 2008-09, he was the John S. Knight Fellow for Professional Journalists and Yahoo International Fellow. He is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and visiting scholar at the Centre on Democracy Development and Rule of Law. He is working on a book project, Ethiopia under Meles: Why the transition from military rule to democracy failed.

He began his career in journalism in 1993 as a freelance writer focusing on human rights and political issues. He worked for various print and online publications including the Ethiopian Herald, the only English daily in the country. Gellaw is also a founding editor of Addisvoice.com, a bilingual online journal focusing on Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa

The meeting will present a perspective on Ethiopia different from how it is often perceived, which is of a booming economy and adventure tourism.

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The Qatar dispute blunders on; no end in sight

The Gulf Co-Operation Council (GCC) dispute over Qatar is going on and on. Neither side-  four countries- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt, versus Qatar, are willing to give in.

The dispute has certainly highlighted the issue of food security- something that GCC countries are trying to resolve by reducing their dependency on imported food. Qatar has not achieved this (no one has) and is throwing money at the problem by bringing into the country 4,000 Irish dairy cows with reportedly 10,000 more to follow. The country can then feed all its population. Is this an attempt to destroy Qatar by starvation?

There are also reports that the GCC Summit due to take place in Kuwait in December is likely to be postponed to mid 2018 and that the US is pulling out of some military exercises planned with GCC countries. Qatar has also taken formal steps in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to escalate a compliant it lodged in July against the UAE.

Also, in some comments made to Arab Digest, it seems that the GCC is now more receptive to some approaches from Israeli countries. It seems that being Israeli is no longer a hindrance to doing business in the GCC.

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Gaw Capital enters agreement to acquire Shanghai development

October 23, 2017, Shanghai – Real estate private equity firm Gaw Capital Partners announced that it has entered into a framework agreement to acquire SKY SOHO (Lingkong SOHO), a group of iconic Class A office buildings in Shanghai, China, from SOHO China (410: Hong Kong) through one of the funds under its management.

Located in the heart of Linkong Economic Park and designed by world-famous architect Zaha Hadid, the development has a 128,175 sqm total gross floor area with 103,014 sqm of office and 25,161 sqm of retail. The property is comprised of office towers with retail podiums underneath, and has excellent transport links via its close proximity to Hongqiao Transportation Hub and the Songhong Road metro station, which connects directly with Hongqiao International Airport and Hongqiao Railway Station via Metro Line 2. Since its opening, the complex’s surreal, dynamic and futuristic design has left a significant impression on Shanghai, and made it a striking and iconic landmark in the city.

Shanghai Hongqiao Transportation Hub is one of the world’s largest transportation and business hubs which integrates the city’s second international airport, the Hongqiao high-speed railway station, the Shanghai Metro, the inter-city railway system, and local and long-distance passenger transportation all in one location. Gaw Capital has closely observed the exponential development in Hongqiao as a result of the Hub, which was a strategic project under the Eleventh Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development (2006 – 2010), and has monitored the opportunities in the area to engage in the right project at the right time.

Humbert Pang, Managing Principal and Head of China at Gaw Capital Partners, said, “We have been eyeing the Hongqiao Transportation Hub, because it is an unique integrated business district in the world connecting to both the airport and the high-speed railway station. We are extremely pleased to have the opportunity to acquire this top-grade development in such an ideal location close to the Hub and within the broad catchment area of the new cluster of cities in Jiangsu province. As Shanghai continues to prosper, there will be continued demand for prime office and retail space, boosted by policy support from the government and superior links to a vast transportation network across the Yangtze River delta region and beyond.”

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Should ethics be taught with social media?

Should journalism be taught along with ethics? The argument put forth below is that the two disciplines must be taught together. With the rise of social media, both should probably be taught but until now they have not been. I know that when I was at post-grad journalism school in the 1980s, ethics was not taught. It was assumed that we would all act ethically and consequently we would make the right decision.

 In many cases, that philosophy has been the right one and journalists often made the ethically correct decision. The rise in fake news and social media appears to have changed that, especially among the younger generation of journalists.

 I know the subject of ethics is taught in many schools across the Middle East. But I haven’t met anyone who was taught ethics in the UK or New Zealand. Is that about to change?

 This article came from Mediashift and EducationShift respectively.

Remix: Teaching #EthicalReporting in 140 Characters

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NZ Superannuation Fund- Annual Report 2017

The New Zealand Superannuation Fund is performing remarkably well, at 14.6 per cent, in a low interest environment, globally. As outlined in its annual report the fund has invested heavily in New Zealand, which is not a large market. This report, and foreword by Adrian Orr, CEO, explains the basis of the fund's performance.

Kia ora,

I'm delighted to present the 2017 Annual Report of the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation and the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.

This year's Annual Report has the theme "Invested in New Zealand and the world – Kaingākau ana ki Aotearoa me te ao".

The Fund is a significant investor in New Zealand with nearly $5 billion invested locally. We also invest around the world in order to diversify the Fund and get the best long-term investment returns for New Zealanders.

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The future of the Middle East

This is the final chapter in the forthcoming e-book which considers what will happen when the Saudi and Egyptian regimes fall and the West’s struggle against Jihad.

The Future of the Middle East

We are pleased to announce today the publication of the final chapter in our forthcoming new e-book ‘The Future of the Middle East’, co-produced by Global Policy and Arab Digest and edited by Hugh Miles and Alastair Newton.

Global Policy is an interdisciplinary peer reviewed journal and online platform which aims to bring together academics and practitioners to analyse public and private solutions to global issues. Established in 2010, Global Policy is based at Durham University and edited by David Held and Dani Rodrik.

We would like to thank again all the experts who so kindly contributed to this project and made it a success. The completed e-book will be published on October 23rd. We will provide more information about this closer to the time. Meanwhile all previous chapters are freely available here.

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Insurtech- the latest.

Insurance Technology, known as Insurtech, is a subset of financial technology (fintech) and is increasing, according to InsurTech Insider, a podcast by Deloitte (UK), the management consultant.

I listened to the first three episodes of the podcast, July August, September, which is produced monthly. I learnt a lot from the episodes I listened to. Go to https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/financial-services/articles/tune-in-insurtech-podcasts.html

The points I learned from the podcasts were:

(Episode 1)          

-       That it’s possible to buy car insurance by the hour, which means you can borrow a friend’s supercar.

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An outrageous prosecution

Turkey is proving to be increasingly authoritarian. Another journalist, of dual Turkish and Finnish nationality, is convicted of terrorism charges. She is in New York.

Turkey has one of the worst records for detaining journalists. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), more than 100 journalists and media contributors are now in Turkish jails. “RSF has to date been able to establish a direct link between the arrest and the victim’s journalistic activities in 41 of these cases, and the organisation continues to verify others. President Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism is being reflected in raids on media outlets that are designed to silence his critics,” the 2016 report states.

he report also shows that the number of detained professional journalists in Turkey has risen 22% after quadrupling in the wake of the failed coup d’état in July.

“Hundreds of Turkish journalist have been taken to court on charges of “insulting the president” or “terrorism.” Some have even been jailed without any charges brought against them. The number of cases of arbitrary imprisonment continues to rise.

“Aside from Turkey, the three other biggest jailers of journalists are China, Iran and Egypt. They alone account for more than two thirds of the world’s detained journalists.”

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Media Use in the Middle East 2017

For a comprehensive assessment on what is happening in the media in the Middle East- online and traditional- check out this survey by Northwestern University in Qatar. The findings are enlightening, especially the differences between the Arab countries.

I’ve put the executive summary below. For those who want to read the report more fully go to http://www.mideastmedia.org/survey/2017/uploads/file/NUQ_Media_Use_2017_v18%20FINAL.pdf

Below are the key findings from this study, which are explored in detail in the chapters that follow.

Media Use by Platform

Compared to five years ago, internet penetration rose in all six countries surveyed and most dramatically in Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia.

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Alcohol and Dubai: why they don't mix

Dubai has hit the headlines in the British papers again, and not for a good reason. It was reported that a British guy could be jailed for indecent behaviour for maybe three years. He was in Rock Bottom bar in Tecom (where I used to live) and brushed a Jordanian man on the hips, in a bid not to spill his drink.  The Jordanian man thought his behaviour was indecent. That’s how the incident has been reported by the British media. (See article in the Daily Mail below).

In other media, notably in Dubai, it was reported that the man was drunk so when the police arrived he was arrested.

Few people, apart from those ex-pats who live there, seem to realise that it is illegal to be caught drinking outside a licensed premises such as restaurant or club. That’s why people who live in the emirate get an alcohol license, which entails getting a signature from your employer that you are allowed to drink, among other things. I never got one.

Without a license you can be arrested for drinking at home, or even for having alcohol on the premises. So, if the police found this guy drunk, or even with alcohol in his system, he would be arrested. Indecency wouldn’t even need to be considered.

British father begs people not to visit Dubai

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If only Stephen Paddock were a Muslim

The stories about the horrific shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada, the United States, just keep on coming. Each day there is something new. And among the reports there appears to be no attempt by officialdom to change any legislation, the most obvious being to change the gun laws. Imagine if the shooter had have been a Muslim, and thereby automatically a terrorist. All sorts of legislation would have been enacted, including expanding the Muslim immigration ban. Now the government is faced with the fact that the biggest mass shooting in American history was perpetrated by a home-grown white, male American. An ordinary bloke and a "nice" guy. No need to change any laws since this tragedy could happen anytime, anywhere. it had nothing to do with terrorism. Only 59 people were shot dead.

This opinion piece that appeared in the New York Times by Thomas L Friedman sums up the tragedy well.

If only Stephen Paddock had been a Muslim … If only he had shouted “Allahu akbar” before he opened fire on all those concertgoers in Las Vegas … If only he had been a member of ISIS … If only we had a picture of him posing with a Quran in one hand and his semiautomatic rifle in another …

If all of that had happened, no one would be telling us not to dishonor the victims and “politicize” Paddock’s mass murder by talking about preventive remedies.

No, no, no. Then we know what we’d be doing. We’d be scheduling immediate hearings in Congress about the worst domestic terrorism event since 9/11. Then Donald Trump would be tweeting every hour “I told you so,” as he does minutes after every terror attack in Europe, precisely to immediately politicize them. Then there would be immediate calls for a commission of inquiry to see what new laws we need to put in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Then we’d be “weighing all options” against the country of origin.

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A conference on Ethiopia in Auckland

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS CONFERENCE HAS BEEN POSTPONED. DATE HAS STILL TO BE ARRANGED. COMMUNITY EVENT WILL BE ON 4 NOVEMBER AR SAME LOCATION. IT WILL BE IN AMHARIC ONLY.

Ethiopia is much more than adventure tourism and tourist sights. The politics and economics of the country are fascinating too. For example, some Ethiopians who come to New Zealand as refugees are from the same tribe as the ruling party, (the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF)) and work as undercover spies, keeping tabs on Ethiopians in this country.

To keep abreast of these issues and as well as those regarding social media and telecommunications, which are prohibited in the country, a conference will be held in Auckland on October 27.

It is designed to create awareness among New Zealand officialdom of the issues affecting the Ethiopian community and allow it to share its concern with members of the local community.

The conference will be held between 9am and 11am at the University of Auckland, 74 Epsom Ave, Auckland, Room 6EA-201A.

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NZ Super Fund announces 20.7% return for 2016/17

I've covered a lot of private equity over the years, especially in the Middle East where I was based for 8.5 years. In New Zealand, the private equity market is dominated by a few companies and the country's sovereign wealth fund, NZ Super, has a key place in particular. It has performed well. Here are the latest results.

The NZ Super Fund has enjoyed one of its best annual performances yet, turning in a 20.7% (after costs, before NZ tax) return for the 12 months to 30 June 2017. It finished the year at $35 billion, up $5 billion on the year before.

Chair Catherine Savage said: "The Fund is generating world class returns and creating significant wealth for New Zealanders on a sustained basis. It should not, however, be measured on its short-term returns. We are here to create long-term value for New Zealand taxpayers.  The Fund has now returned 10.2% p.a., more than double the cost to the Government of contributing to it,*  over a period of nearly 14 years."

The 20.7% annual result reflects a sustained rally in global equity markets, and resulted in the Fund paying a record high $1.2 billion in New Zealand income tax for the financial year.

Ms Savage said the Fund's active investment strategies had performed strongly during the year, adding value of 4.4% ($1.3 billion) over the Fund's passive benchmark. "Over the long term we expect to beat the passive benchmark by 1% p.a., so this has been an excellent year."

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Why Saudi has decided to permit women drivers

There is a lot of excitement and talk about the lifting of the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia. Undeniably, it is a move in the right direction but there are a lot of changes that are needed, such as the guardianship rules. These rules mean that a woman must ask the permission of a father, a brother, or even a son, to travel, or even to work.

Also, the right for women to drive must be extended to a younger age group. Even under the new ruling, which comes into effect in June 2018 (plenty of opportunity to put more conditions in place), women under 30 are not allowed to drive, according to my friend in the port city of Jeddah.

My experience with drivers in Riyadh has not been good. It is possible for a woman to take a cab from the airport, which is driven by a man of course, and travel alone with the driver. I did it.

I also took a cab to an ATM in Riyadh, because I had to, even though it was within walking distance from the hotel.  A woman alone with an unknown male at night!

And Uber has lost its licence to operate in London, with one of the reasons cited as lack of security. In the UAE, and Iran for that matter, there are at least women taxi drivers.

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Don’t underestimate Kurdistan’s resilience

The vote for Kurdistan’s, or Northern Iraq’s, independence has been fascinating. The Kurds are expecting a referendum result that overwhelmingly supports  independence- but whatever the outcome it’s unlikely that independence will be granted by the Iraqis, and Turkey, Iran and the US don’t won’t it. The Kurds might have spoken, as they have done in the past, but it makes little difference.

I spent  a few days recently with a Kurdish family in New Zealand- and they were totally passionate about Kurdish independence.

The Kurds are the largest majority in the Middle East who do not have an autonomous state; but countries are ready to use them to fight their cause. Recently,  the US armed the Kurds to fight ISIL. Will this change? These articles by the Brookings Institute in the US explains why.

Don’t underestimate Kurdistan’s resilience

By Ranj Alaaldin- Visiting Fellow - Brookings Doha Center

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Why the Rohingya issue is so complicated

I've been following the Rohingya issue which is becoming increasingly complex. This time, rather than being Muslims versus the West, it is Muslims versus the Buddhists- a group we, in the West, had always been taught is tolerant and caring. Indeed, these are the reasons often cited for people transferring their religious preference from Christianity to Buddhism.

Therefore, I was keen to read this article by Lex Rieffel, non-resident senior fellow, Global Economy and Development, The Brookings Institute. Much of the world has condemned Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor and leader of the National League for Democracy of Myanmar, for not speaking out about the Rohingya killings. Rieffel explains why.

Reporters on the scene are saying that 300,000 or more members of the Rohingya community (of Muslim faith) in Buddhist-majority Myanmar have fled across the border into Muslim-majority Bangladesh in the past two weeks. The refugees have been describing to reporters a litany of human rights abuses: homes burned, women raped, men beheaded, and more.

Editorial writers and columnists around the world have slammed Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor and leader of the National League for Democracy of Myanmar, for allowing the atrocities to occur and have even demanded that the Nobel Committee withdraw the Peace Prize awarded to her in 1991.

As a scholar focusing on Myanmar for the past 10 years, during which I have visited the country more than a dozen times, I know how horrible the situation is. I have been to Rakhine state and have seen the Rohingya confined to a refugee camp on the outskirts of the state capital of Sittwe. At the same time, I believe that much of the media commentary is misdirected. It fails to describe the complex origins of the problem and explain how intractable it is.

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