Iraq Still Shows Promise
|June 27, 2014||Filled under Iraqi Economy|
Iraqi Economy –
The vice-chairman of Kuwait Projects Co (KIPCO), one of the largest-listed investment holding companies in the Middle East, remains positive on the longer-term outlook for Iraq — in spite of the continuing violence in the vital oil exporter.
“Nobody’s comfortable” about Iraq, Faisal Al Ayyar said in an exclusive interview with CNBC’s “Access: Middle East”.
“We always calculate the risk. But I’m saying that Iraq had huge potential,great potential.”
KIPCO is majority-owned by the ruling family of Kuwait and the company holds $30 billion in assets across 24 countries, from Iraq to Algeria. It took on a controlling stake in the Bank of Baghdad in 2010, which today is one of the largest private commercial lenders in the country.
The Kuwait-Iraqi border, reinforced by a high-security barrier, is just over an hour’s drive from the capital Kuwait City. Still, only two percent of KIPCO’s total revenues were generated from Iraq in 2013, compared with seven percent in Egypt and 12 percent in Jordan. Al Ayyar denied the low exposure to Iraq’s growth story compared to industry peers was intentional.
“When we see opportunity that arises, we will be happy to do so,” he explained.
In April, shortly before the fighting in Iraq intensified, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stood by its outlook that Iraq’s economy would expand by 5.9 percent in 2014, the highest rate of growth in the region.
KIPCO does business in some of the most volatile MENA areas. Even on its home turf in Kuwait, one of the world’s top 10 oil exporters, protests have flared sporadically since the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011. For Al Ayyar, who is one of the wealthiest Arab businessmen according to Forbes, there remains no need to diversify away from this part of the world.
“With all the trouble that happened in the region, our effect on us is very limited. Very limited. It’s a great opportunity in our region. We believe in that.”
One of KIPCO’s most prized assets is its 60.5 percent share of OSN, the largest pay-TV provider in the Middle East. After repeated delays, investment bank Rothschild was chosen to advise on an initial public offering for the unit.
“We raise our value of OSN to $4.4 billion after continuous strong momentum with very high operating leverage (revenue growth translates into 60% additional EBITDA)” Dubai-based Arqaam Capital said in a research note in February. “We only expect a potential IPO of OSN in 2-3 years given option value in 24 markets”.
The firm was targeting to complete the process before the end of the year.
“We are checking our options right now, we are discussing with our shareholder. Number one choice will be MENA listing, and London Stock Exchange,” Al Ayyar maintained.
Earlier in May, KIPCO reported a 20 percent rise in first-quarter profit with revenues reaching $486 million.
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