Saudi Arabia’s Veering Vexed Vision

2017 November 10 by

Saudi stocks struggled to stay positive on the MSCI frontier index, where they remain after graduation refusal both there and by rival FTSE, as officials zigzagged on Aramco offering plans and other Vision 2030 elements during the annual Bretton Woods institutions’ gathering and so-called “desert Davos” at a 2-day global investor event in Riyadh. Hundreds of portfolio managers converged on the latter in the hope of securing mandates and insight into the strategy of the $200 billion Public Investment Fund, which plans to double its assets over the medium term through leveraging state enterprise stakes and startup and acquisition deals at home and abroad. It is an anchor in the $100 billion Softbank technology vehicle, the world’s largest, and also revealed ambitions for a $500 billion next decade new commercial and residential zone along the Red Sea called Noem. At the appearances oil diversification was the mantra even with price rebound above $50/barrel and geopolitics was downplayed as a boycott continues against Qatar for allegedly supporting terrorism and Iran, and Yemen civil war intervention results in tens of thousands of deaths from air bombardment and disease and famine. The rejiggering of National Transformation Program deliverables and timetables prepared with assistance from international management consultants was presented as more realistic, despite simultaneous fiscal discipline slippage with the reinstatement of civil servant allowances. The Aramco IPO timetable was extended from next year into 2019, and a local listing now seems preferred over meeting the disclosure and liquidity standards in Asia, Europe and North America after exchanges there plumbed for the business. A private placement cannot be ruled out either to a strategic or financial buyer, with Chinese firms a natural fit under the infrastructure-led Belt and Road initiative. The head of the Capital Markets Authority touted interest in qualified foreign investor and new banking licenses, with respectively 100 applications in for limited stock exchange access and Citibank recently awarded full approval. International activity is only 2 % of the total, but another entry round for smaller institutions is foreseen as development of a second-tier equity market slowly evolves alongside the main Tadawul index. He tried to reassure audiences that the dollar peg will remain indefinitely, while acknowledging interruption in Gulf Cooperation Council banking and monetary union the past decade further stymied by the Qatar split.

Since the Saudi cutoff joined by Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt stocks there plunged double-digits on the MSCI index and the government has drawn on an estimated one-tenth of its $350 billion reserves including the sovereign wealth pool to sustain trade and banking. Cross-border commerce with Iran is up 50 percent in a perverse effect from criticizing previous relations, and Dubai as the regional offshore center has also suffered from suspended contracts and capital and credit flows. Benchmark bond yields stabilized at 3.5 percent after an initial spike on the fallout, as normal reserve assets were roughly doubled to $40 billion using updated IMF methodology. Egypt has benefited from its geopolitical and economic reform choices under a Fund program by comparison, as the central bank  hosted a well-attended reception at the Washington meetings and investment strategists added local Treasury bills to their recommendations, after  long post-Arab spring consideration as an eyesore under the old currency construct.


Saudi Arabia’s Dulled Driving Ambitions

2017 October 2 by

Saudis shares stayed mildly positive on the MSCI index, as another big sovereign bond issue was prepared to avoid dipping into reserves and Vision 2030 economic overhaul targets were pared back amid reports of political purges within the ruling royal family. A modernizing wing could claim traction as women finally won the right to drive autos after years of protest, although it will not take effect until next year as religious conservatives vow to scuttle the decision. Aramco is still plodding ahead on its IPO as oil reserves are audited and balance sheet information may then dribble out once international listing locations are finalized. Only a 5% stake will be offered, but the megadeal has spawned a raft of other Gulf state energy company taps as over 30 IPOs worth $1.5 billion were completed through September, more than in 2015 and 2016 together. By contrast Moody’s estimates another $30 billion in external bond sales after last year’s debuts. Even with petroleum prices at $50/barrel to moderate the fiscal deficit, it will come in around $50 billion on 1-2% GDP growth, as the National Transformation Program Prince Mohammed bin Salman introduced in 2016 with global management consultant advice was forced to “adjust and adapt” after state employee allowances were reinstated. Domestic energy subsidies were to be cut further in July, but officials have turned wary with unemployment at 12.5 percent and opted instead to concentrate on promoting private sector-led industrial projects. Privatization deadlines have also slipped to the end of the plan period although a dedicated agency was created, and foreign ownership was liberalized for the education and health sectors while curbs remain on stock exchange access. MSCI dashed core roster graduation hopes in its last review, when it urged authorities to lift quotas and also modernize law and regulation for investor protection.

On that front with specific application to Islamic finance, the showdown between UAE-based Dana Gas and its bondholders on the fate of a $700 million sukuk is under close scrutiny. The company missed payments in the past on contract arrears in Iraq’s Kurdish province, which recently voted for independence in a referendum, and seeks to unilaterally restructure the instrument on the basis of retroactive noncompliance with Shariah code. Attorneys and religious scholars have waded into the fight waged at London’s Royal Court, with global houses like BlackRock maintaining big positions. The saga has cast a market pall with an issuance halt and higher yields, and after the London battle a UAE tribunal will pass judgment in December. The imbroglio has a diplomatic equivalent with the Gulf Cooperation Council member boycott against Qatar for alleged Iran and terrorist sympathies. Both sides have waged aggressive international media campaigns, and Moody’s calculates a 25 percent of GDP cost since embargo launch in June, with $30 billion in capital outflows including 10 percent banking system deposit withdrawal. Trade dropped 40 percent, with two-thirds of construction materials routed through Saudi Arabia and the UAE for offshore gas and football World Cup projects. US and Kuwait mediation attempts failed, and the sovereign rating outlook turned negative as the agency report cited an indefinite pause in regional infrastructure and capital market development drivers.


Iraq’s Unreconstructed Conflict Model

2017 August 23 by

Iraq’s first $1 billion stand-alone bond was oversubscribed at an almost 7% yield as security forces were poised to retake Mosul from ISIS control and the IMF released another $800 million under its $5 billion multi-year program. In February it issued for the same amount with a US government guarantee at 2%, and a decade ago a $2.7 billion restructuring operation was completed for the post-Saddam era. During July global oil prices also rose $10/barrel, but local investors stayed bearish on equities despite the average P/E ratio at 8 times as the Rabee Securities index slipped 10% in June. State banks are main listings and offer high dividends, with only one-fifth the population having accounts, and fees rather than lending driving income with assets concentrated in Treasury bills amid flush liquidity. The IMF’s review noted fragility and missed targets, with millions displaced by military campaigns and billions of dollars in infrastructure destroyed. The budget deficit was 15 percent of GDP last year, but it is to be eliminated through end-decade to stabilize public debt as the current account also returns to surplus over the period with passage of the defense and humanitarian emergencies. One third of the country, including 250,000 Syrian refugees current receive aid, but internal and external repatriation is unlikely to increase in the near-term even with liberation of Mosul and other cities pending credible rebuilding plans. Elections are due next year and the Finance Minister was replaced after losing parliament’s confidence with the Prime Minister assuming the post. Official debt doubled to near 70% of GDP since 2013, and bond yields spiked to 15 percent before the latest standby agreement was reached. The current account hole was over 8.5 percent of GDP in 2016 and covered chiefly by donor flows, as international reserves dipped to $45 billion or six months imports. The currency appreciated in line with the dollar peg, and credit to the economy was flat with banks’ undercapitalization and double-digit NPLs. Non-oil growth should pick up after ISIS’ defeat, while inflation remains low at 2 percent.

Fund conditions will preserve the dollar-linked exchange rate, as devaluation would aggravate inflation and fail to help exports, but simplify foreign currency allocation and trading procedures to shrink the official-parallel level disparity.  The central bank law will be strengthened with prudential rules to reflect prevailing international standards with outside technical assistance. Along with long-delayed bank restructuring the private business climate is in need of overhaul especially on electricity access and anti-corruption. Program risks are high, the report concludes, with a $7 billion financing gap identified for 2018-19 even under positive direction. Gulf, Asian and Western donors have been approached for additional pledges but regional supporters like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are under pressure to get their own houses in order, as reflected in flat stock market performance while the main core and frontier indices are ahead 15-25 percent. Jordan and Lebanon are also down for the year, with large refugee populations, political infighting and security threats, as “frailty” remains the watchword in the IMF’s view almost fifteen years after the international community’s first Iraq attack rumblings.


Iran’s Certified Share Momentum Doubts

2017 August 10 by

The Tehran Stock Exchange rebounded slightly for a 3% gain through July as the Trump administration, after putting Iran “on notice” for possible cheating, certified short-term compliance with the six-nation anti-nuclear agreement at the same time new congressional sanctions were passed to punish companies and individuals involved in its ballistic missile program and Syrian Assad regime support. Earlier the Treasury Department had ordered asset freezes against leaders and organizations accused of “malign influence” in the region. Washington’s actions came against the background of hardliner backlash by the Revolutionary Guard ( IRGC) and religious conservatives against President Hassan Rouhani’s easy re-election win. His brother was arrested on corruption allegations which he vehemently denied, after the President blasted the IRGC’s economic and political dominance as “government with a gun.” Its leadership in turn savaged a breakthrough $5 billion gas deal with France’s Total and China’s CNPC as a “conspiracy” against domestic competitors. The Guard also viewed another waiver in June of Financial Action Task Force anti-money laundering measures as infringing on foreign policy and security as officials pass laws and rules to ensure bank adherence. The country remains on the blacklist but smaller European and Asian lenders have resumed correspondent relationships as they try to puzzle out growth and policy trends into Rouhani’s next reform act, thus far offering confused signals.

GDP growth was a torrid 11% for the fiscal year ended in March with oil export reopening and the non-oil sector up half that pace. according to official statistics. The IMF had estimated real growth rebound over 6%, and to further promote non-commodity sales the government  earmarked a $500 million credit line and signed agreements with Korea’s and Turkey’s state trade banks. EU exports were five times higher than last year from January-April at EUR 3.5 billion, concentrated in iron and steel products with Germany as the leading buyer. China remains the main energy importer and Iran is an infrastructure project target and crossroads under Beijing’s Silk-Road straddling Belt and Road scheme. Chinese state companies are active in mining and transport, and its cars and goods flood Tehran and other cities. The Export-Import Bank extended a $1.5 billion railway loan for fast service between the capital and Mashad, and national network electrification is set by 2025. The country has forged new bilateral commercial pacts with France, India, Australia, Pakistan and South Africa and a port deal with Afghanistan to diversify and deepen traditional ties.

Next fiscal year growth projections are in the 4-5% range, but the expansion will still be unable to overcome lengthy recession from the UN sanctions period and crack double-digit unemployment. Inflation fell below 10% but crept up again to that level in June, on money printing to aid ailing banks, higher energy cost with subsidy reduction and real estate price recovery after years of doldrums. Modest exchange rate depreciation is another factor, and the government continues to delay unification between the controlled and parallel rates for fear of further inflationary fallout. The central bank benchmark interest or return rate under the Islamic system is steep at 15%, reflecting tight monetary policy but also choking industrial investment, which has prompted a business community outcry.

However cuts could trigger another inflation spike when the 40% memory of the early Rouhani Administration is not too distant, and will not unclog the lending spigots as banks grapple with a 12% understated nonperforming ratio. Central bank head Valiollah Seif warned executives before the election that a banking crisis could stymie economic integration and modernization progress since sanctions relief. The March bad loan total was almost $35 billion and will swell as international accounting standards enter into force as of July. The government is debating cleanup alternatives, and may first opt for consolidating leading state-controlled banks as in previous troubles. The stock exchange should see additional offerings with this strategy, such as with the recent $25 million flotation of a Bank Mellat subsidiary. Both local and foreign investors tend to shun this lagging sector, despite bargain valuations against the average six times price-earnings ratio. New London-based funds emphasize consumer goods and e-commerce listings with the well-educated young 50 million population, but a share stumble may be unavoidable without certified management and policy changes in second Rouhani term financial system foundations.





Syrian Refugees’ Turkey Turnkey Track

2017 August 3 by

A three month study of Syrian refugee entrepreneurs in Turkey, conducted by nonprofit research groups with Canadian support and titled “another side to the story,” estimates over 10000 formal and informal startups the past five years with the former accounting for almost $350 million in investment. Three-quarters are “micro” with fewer than ten employees, with average annual revenue close to half  a million dollars dominated by retail and wholesale trade. Owners are well educated with 70 percent holding at least university degrees, and the same portion intends to keep existing operations after the war ends. Language and inability to access credit or official procurement bids are major barriers, but most of the 250 companies surveyed are positive about the future with asset purchase and expansion plans. Almost two million refugees are working age and 90 percent are in urban areas, with the paper focused on Istanbul and the border town of Gaziantep. Public spending for the crisis, mostly funded internally, has been under 1 percent of GDP, and the influx spurred offsetting consumption and infrastructure contributions. Humanitarian exports quadrupled Gaziantep’s trade to $400 million from 2011-15, as prices fell due to increased immigration providing underground labor. While Turkey’s economy is almost ten times the size of other refugee hosts Jordan and Lebanon combined, integration has been “challenging” with Syrians getting only round 15 percent of  75000 authorized foreigner work permits in 2016, with the remaining hundreds of thousands in informal jobs with minimal pay and protection. From January-April 2017 675 new companies started and the Syrian share is 40 percent of all non-resident control, with the southeast and western cities emerging as hubs, according to the leading association of business executives. Owners overwhelmingly found registration “easy” even though only 10 percent have Turkish partners. One-quarter are in manufacturing where the country is competitive in food, machinery and textile exports. Female entrepreneurs concentrate in services including catering, tourism and translation. The typical stay before launch was almost two and a half years, and 70 percent previously ran operations in Syria where they reported three times more staff.

Over 80 percent have home country passports instead of “temporary protection” status that facilitates internal and external travel.  One third of owners speak no Turkish, and three-quarters use the internet for marketing. Almost all respondents had bank accounts but they reported difficulties securing guarantees and credit cards and few took out loans, as compared with 40 percent of all small and midsize firms in national statistics. The vast majority do not receive development or training help from outside organizations, despite initiatives by chambers of commerce, the UN and World Bank. Legal-accounting and technology advice are priorities, but skilled employee availability is sufficient although 15 percent worry about retention with resettlement often shifting personnel. Joint arrangements are increasingly considered permanent as firms envision a long-term presence should peace and reconstruction loom anytime soon. The report urges higher formalization, work permits and  company refugee quotas and a dedicated network of language and professional instruction. It recommends a senior executive mentor program and outreach to the Syrian diaspora in the region and overseas to stimulate venture capital relationships despite frayed diplomatic ones.


Tunisia’s Nascent Neighborly Nod

2017 July 21 by

Tunisian shares turned slightly positive on the MSCI Index at the half-year on the second anniversary of a bloody beachside tourist attack, as the IMF praised the new unity government’s “corrective action” intent in its first checkup on its 4-year $3 billion facility, and strengthened security internally and along the Libya border preempted further incidents. Officials traveled  to Washington to thank the US Defense and Treasury Secretaries for support, with the message that Libyan reconstruction may also be in the frame in selected areas with civil war and ISIS presence waning. At the same time the Fund report underscored the advanced political transition despite economic lethargy and social discontent, with all coalition parties including the labor-union dominated wing pledging reform  and stability to redress budget and current account deficits, state bank dysfunction and runaway youth unemployment amid high university and training qualifications. This year’s GDP growth forecast was reduced to 2.5 percent from the original 3 percent due to fiscal and monetary tightening countering better phosphate exports and tourism. The medium-term aim is to reprise the 5 percent level existing under the previous authoritarian regime, which followed competitive policies tinged with insider corruption now under investigation and subject to asset recovery efforts. A controversial amnesty law would allow reported billions of dollars to be returned at minimum penalty and separate deals have already been negotiated with business executives close to ousted President Ben Ali allowing them to resume local activities. The legislation could be a major issue in upcoming municipal elections, which will also focus on the rural-urban and interior-coast income divide. The budget gap will again be 6 percent of GDP as wage increases in the bloated public sector overtake lower energy subsidies and a one-time 7.5 percent corporate profit charge. Pension fund arrears continue to mount, and financial transactions have also been hit by a special tax.

Inflation should stay under 4 percent despite near 25 percent currency depreciation since the end of 2015 amid double digit current account holes. The benchmark interest rate was lifted 75 basis points to 5 percent, and the central bank reintroduced foreign exchange auctions to bolster market determination. Civil service cutbacks are in store, and new performance contracts should pare state enterprise contingent liabilities. The three big government banks have been recapitalized with fresh management but the bad loan ratio is still 15 percent and resolution procedures are outdated, according to the IMF. An inclusion strategy embraces micro-finance, credit bureaus, digital services and small business access, and bond markets are a priority with yield curve development. The revised investment code will create a one-stop shop for international projects and public-private partnerships, but commercial climate rankings are “poor” on the World Bank and World Economic Forum surveys. Official debt is to settle at 70 percent of GDP by end-decade, but “slippages” have already endangered the goal and “unsustainable” government spending and “inefficient” legal and regulatory regimes impede overall transformation. After a EUR 850 million Eurobond, Qatar loan rollover, and donor pledges external financing is in place until early 2018 when additional sovereign issuance is scheduled which may no longer carry a third part guarantee if revolutionary progress can be consolidated, the findings suggest.


The GCC’s Family Fight Fractures

2017 July 21 by

Qatar shares were down 12 percent on the MSCI index in the first half with banks abandoned in particular as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE suspended commercial and diplomatic ties with a US nod due to alleged terrorist and Iran sympathies. The Gulf neighbors issued a list of demands to reverse course, including shutdown of the Al-Jazeera TV network, as royal family members scrambled abroad to press their cases in world capitals. Kuwait, which earlier had pulled out of the joint dollar peg, offered to mediate the dispute as economic and monetary union progress remained on hold with hydrocarbon export price slippage. Sovereign bond yields rose 50 basis points on the rupture as the Al-Thani family moved to reassure the 2 million population that the wealth fund with $300 billion in assets would maintain normal trade and public services and World Cup 2022 infrastructure projects. However essential imports have come by Saudi Arabia’s land bridge and Dubai’s Jebel Ali port as Qatar Airways was banned in the region. The investment authority previously had taken over equity stakes in a half dozen major conventional and Islamic banks, which now may be sold if the crisis lingers, along with flagship real estate holdings in Europe including London’s Shard tower. The 2009 lifeline to Barclays Bank in the UK has also come under scrutiny as its top executives may have misrepresented the deal, according to fraud investigators. They may also consider local misconduct signs in the transaction, after the corruption cloud was finally lifted over the World Cup bid following years of FIFA probes which resulted in mass resignations. US Secretary of State Tillerson, with close personal connections to leaders from his Exxon-Mobil CEO tenure, has also tried to bridge the divide which may extend beyond the short term and place GCC integration in indefinite “limbo,” in the words of UAE’s foreign minister. Tiny Oman has also been put in the crossfire, with its MSCI component off almost 20 percent, as it allies with neither camp in the wake of a Fitch Ratings outlook downgrade to negative with a forecast budget deficit at 12 percent of GDP this year with recession. New taxes and energy ventures should support the “A” rating, but it will follow OPEC supply restraint as bank liquidity is squeezed, the agency noted.

Saudi Arabia in contrast was up 5 percent at mid-year after MSCI mooted a chance for core universe entry in a future review on greater non-GCC institutional investor access. Enthusiasm also accompanied the King’s formal announcement of Prince Mohamed bin Salman, architect of the 2030 reform plan and Aramco proposed IPO, as heir. He is younger generation but a conservative foreign policy advocate who has backed Qatar’s isolation and the Yemen civil war intervention against Iran-aided Houthi forces. Aramco underwriters have already been tapped and foreign listing venues could include New York, London and Hong Kong. A 5 percent chunk will be floated and the Prince estimates capitalization at $2 trillion, although experts believe valuation will turn out to be $500 billion lower if full accounts are disclosed. The frenzy will be at the opposite extreme of syndicated loans, which have fallen 65 percent to under $20 billion, a 4-year low, as external bond issuance tries to crack the traditional fold.


The Arab Spring’s Seasonal Exam Markdown

2017 June 10 by

The IMF completed reviews on the second post-Arab Spring round of programs with Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco, as Egypt awaited a turn after signing its agreement six months ago with stock markets flat to negative reflecting the lackluster reports. Jordan’s economic plight remained “challenging” with 2 percent growth, 4 percent inflation and over 15 percent decade-high unemployment. The fiscal deficit fell to 4 percent of GDP last year, with state utility company losses down, but public debt rose to 95 percent and the current account gap swelled above 9 percent. Geopolitical and security tensions still “impinge” on the medium-term investment outlook, despite additional donor support for refugee hosting, now able to be channeled through a World Bank-led $1 billion concessional platform. The Fund urged further moves against tax exemption and evasion and toward public-private partnerships to reduce budget costs and strengthen infrastructure efficiency. The central bank has hiked rates with foreign reserves slipping below target, as work continues on deposit protection, insurance, bankruptcy and other rules to bolster the business climate. Tunisia also was scolded for its runaway government wage bill elevating debt/GDP to 65 percent as growth doubles to a meager 2.5 percent, “too low” to attack youth joblessness and interior region poverty. The 5-year development plan aims to restore stability and tackle structural barriers through corruption and state bank and enterprise cleanups. Exchange rate flexibility and pension overhaul are on the agenda, and the country could benefit from the G-20 Compact for Africa initiative under outgoing host Germany. At home protests have erupted over proposed “economic reconciliation” legislation that would grant amnesty to illegal fund holders in return for declaring and investing the proceeds, as a “second revolution” has sparked occupation of key mining sites triggering military protection. The new US-trained Finance Minister has yet to win additional backing from Washington, as preparations for the joint commercial summit inaugurated last year stay on hold under the Trump administration.

For Morocco’s $3.5 billion arrangement risks are to the “downside” despite an expected growth rebound to 4 percent with unfinished fiscal and banking sector consolidation. Inflation is in the 1-2 percent range, and corporate and household deleveraging cut credit expansion to 5 percent, as the bad loan ratio neared double digits. Concentration with leading banks chasing the same state company borrowers and cross-border exposure throughout Sub-Sahara networks are major concerns, as the construction industry also heads into a weak period. The current account deficit should be 2 percent of GDP this year with good phosphate exports and tourism and remittance inflows. After preliminary fuel subsidy rollback, budget efforts have stalled and the Justice and Development party after securing an extended mandate in October elections intends to pursue decentralization, civil service salary caps, and better public enterprise governance. Parliament is set to approve provisions for bank emergency liquidity assistance as formal supervisory understandings are forged in the respective Francophone zones with a Moroccan presence. The currency peg is gradually shifting to a fluctuation band, and “e-regulation” is at the center of a campaign to lift the number 70 ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business publication. Small firm credit access is a priority, and new collateral procedures are designed to unblock traditional financial establishment hesitation, according to the latest Article IV survey.


Iran’s Rouhani Economic Resistance Rut (Asia Times)

2017 May 13 by

After a 5% loss from December to end-March, the Tehran Stock Exchange retraced the previous 79000 point level ahead of May 19 elections pitting the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani against a half dozen approved candidates Hard-liners Ebrahim Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, and Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, the capital’s mayor since 2005 and a contender in the 2012 contest, are positioned as the main rivals after the ruling clerics rejected former President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad’s surprise application for another term. In a televised debate these rivals castigated rising unemployment, officially up 1.5% to 12.5% the past year despite Rouhani’s international nuclear deal for sanctions relief, which restored oil exports to 2 million barrels/ day for estimated 4.5% growth according to the IMF. Their campaign platforms draw on the Supreme Leader’s “resistance economy” concept, spurning Western foreign investment and advocating self-reliance and higher cash transfers to the poor and struggling middle class.

Rouhani has acknowledged slow improvement in living standards since the accord went into effect in early 2016, and lapses in bank and state enterprise restructuring to boost competitiveness. His description at the time of the “golden page” in history was overstated and may be further tarnished should President Trump formally withdraw the US from the six-nation pact, but the stock market is betting he and his team could redouble competitiveness and integration efforts with extended tenure. However even with victory these reform wishes could again be misplaced by populist backlash magnified by the race, as the growing tab to rescue government banks and companies again resuscitates recession fears.

Raisi was appointed to head the country’s biggest charitable foundation, with $15 billion in assets in charge of the holiest shrine in Masshad and close ties to the Revolutionary Guards still under Washington’s commercial and financial prohibitions. An Islamic law scholar, he also spent his career working with the security forces and was a member of the notorious “Death Commission” two decades ago which killed thousands of political prisoners. Supporters tout his experience as head of the religious endowment for charting economic direction that is “pro-people and production” and avoids “social shocks,” according to recent statements. In the past four years of Rouhani’s term the Guards have taken over nominally “privatized” factories and properties, and continue to control large chunks through affiliates of leading stock exchange listings. Analysts attribute their dominance to the “corruption, mismanagement and lack of regulation” which continue to place Iran in the lower tier of the World Bank’s “Doing Business” ranking.

Raisi has seized on the rich-poor gap and 35% youth joblessness to call for a tripling in budget cash handouts, even though fellow conservatives like the parliamentary speaker Ali Larjani remind him no money is available with the chronic deficit and 60% of the population escaping tax. He may turn to the central bank and state-owned lenders as an alternative for resource transfer, but so-called quasi-fiscal activities are already high and explain the 20 percent annual rise in the monetary base jeopardizing the single-digit inflation target. President Rouhani managed to slash the rate from 40% to just over 10% with relatively tight policies, and hailed such achievements as “actions not slogans” in re-election rhetoric. Diversification from hydrocarbon dependence has been another hallmark, and the non-oil current account is now roughly in balance with almost $90 billion in exports for the end-March fiscal year, the Economy Ministry reported.

However bank bad loans following local classification rules remain over one-tenth of portfolios, and proposed cleanup legislation that would stiffen guidelines and grant more independent enforcement and resolution powers are stuck in political limbo. The next government may face an outright crisis with “difficult to address” issues including recapitalization and rollback of targeted lending schemes, according to the Industry and Trade Minister. The overdue reckoning coincides with Iranian bank reconnection to the external SWIFT payments network and applications to reopen branches in Europe in Asia, as smaller counterparts beneath the radar of lingering US sanctions forge correspondent relationships. These ties inject new cross-border risk as the dual exchange rate system also awaits modernization, with such obstacles potentially resistant to near-term change by the surviving reform constituency.





Refugee Compacts’ Salient Solution Crush

2017 April 28 by

A year-long joint global displacement study group by the Center for Global Development and International Rescue Committee cast the issue as a “protracted crisis” and lauded the new aid compact approach with host countries, while urging comprehensive revamp of supporting economic data and policies. Low and middle-income economies host 90 percent of the 20 million refugees fleeing conflict, who are away on average a decade. Only 25 percent are in camps, and humanitarian and development funding and tools have not matched the duration and severity in a “fractured system.” In 2016 governments, bilateral and multilateral agencies and civil society and private sector representatives met at consecutive conferences to channel billions of dollars to Jordan and Lebanon in initial compact pilots, with a separate pledging session for Syria and the region in London and launch of a concessional loan facility led by the World Bank, allocating $700 million to date, with an associated $2 billion poor country refugee influx window. These pacts work with the UN Commission and other performance based deals kike the EU’s EUR 3 billion to Turkey for Syrian repatriation from Greece and select onward resettlement. Education and job creation have been the main goals and the track record is early but standardized methods and outcome measurement are lacking.

The model of a public-private sector implementation board combining political and technical expertise, as adopted for the US Millennium Challenge anti-poverty program, is absent and impedes shared analysis and planning and rapid negotiation and disbursement timeframes can frustrate lasting results. Social service provision must take into account their scarcity for the existing local population, which typically also has steep joblessness. Refugees are often pushed to the labor market “shadows” and children denied school entry. In Lebanon classes are run in shift for citizens and newcomers, with quality suffering for both amid overcrowding. Jordan committed to issuing tens of thousands of migrant work permits in exchange for World Bank cash and EU duty free import access, but the number has not been reached and only 5 percent are to women. The process is bureaucratic and business startup is also “difficult” with minimum local partner and capital criteria, according to the report. The “right actors” have not been at the table, with limited local non-government input and private sector mobilization at home and abroad. They could be instrumental in putting rigorous assessment and procedure in place and creating an inclusive stakeholder mechanism. Basic information gaps endure across the board, from refugee numbers to job and school enrollment, and cost and impact evidence of integration steps is scant and far from the authors’ ideal of an umbrella policy index. The private sector can inject knowhow, resources  and innovation, but collective action like the Partnership for Refugees started under the Obama administration is nascent, with no cross-border coordination capacity. Business and financial firms are equipped to take long-term risk and crisis fundraising could extend beyond philanthropy to commercial sources. Donors could join in sponsoring ventures such as practiced by USAID’s ideas lab. Skills training and infrastructure building are two areas of competitive advantage where compacts could better deliver on promise with enlarged vision scrapping the humanitarian-development divide, the two study backers argue.