UGH gets Approval to buy stake in Bank of Baghdad

By John Lee.

Bahrain-listed United Gulf Holding (UGH) has received approval from the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) to buy a 51.8 percent stake in Bank of Baghdad.

According to The National, the company will acquire the stake from Kuwait-based Burgan Bank.

The stock-market announcement can be found here.

(Sources: UGH, The National)


Source: Iraq News

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Tabaqchali: US Sanctions and the Illusion of Power

By Ahmed Tabaqchali, CIO of Asia Frontier Capital (AFC) Iraq Fund. This article was originally published by the LSE Middle East Center .

Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Demands for the expulsion of US troops following the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, have scaled down considerably since the initial strident calls. What started as high theatrics in parliament demanding an end to US presence, ended with a typical Iraqi fudge in that parliament passed a resolution requiring the government to cancel the request for global coalition support made in 2014, and for it to work towards ending the presence of all foreign troops.

These were further rolled back as reports emerged that the government’s vision of implementing the withdrawal of foreign forces was for the withdrawal of combat forces only and did not include those conducting training and logistical support. Threats of US sanctions have undoubtedly played a role in deflating the illusions of power, especially by those in the axis of resistance, and contributed to this climbdown.

Iraq’s economy is not only vulnerable to US sanctions, but to any disengagement from the US dollar-based global financial and economic system. In fact, the US could affect far worse damage to Iraq than it did to Iran without the need to implement sanctions, let alone sanctions that would ‘make Iranian sanctions seem somewhat tame’. This vulnerability stems from the failures of successive Iraqi administrations from 2003 to reconstruct the country following decades of conflict, or to create the foundations for a diversified economy driven by the private sector, and not by the state.

Instead, successive administrations have deepened the country’s dependence on oil, pursued policies that fostered a structural imbalance between the government’s current and investment expenditures, in which the public sector consumed an ever-increasing share of government revenues. The sole dependence on oil income for these revenues, and the dreadful twins of a dominant public sector and stunted private sector, are the primary reasons why the country is vulnerable to external shocks.[1]

The extent of the damage to the Iraqi economy would depend on the three broad categories of a US response to a hostile Iraq. The first category would be the imposition of primary US sanctions, and secondary sanctions on non-US entities that conduct commercial or financial dealings with Iraq. Their effects would be along the lines to those suffered by Iran due to the imposition in 2018 of similar US sanctions.

For Iran, these included a major drop in oil exports, a severe economic contraction, a significant drop in the value of the currency, a substantial rise in inflation, a lowering of living standards, and a rise in unemployment especially among the youth and the most vulnerable segments of society.

However, the consequences for Iraq would be on a much worse scale than those suffered by Iran. Firstly, because oil exports constitute the bulk of the Iraqi budget’s revenues (about 90 percent of the 2019 budget) unlike those for Iran’s budget (about 30 percent of its fiscal 2019–20 budget). The loss of this income for Iraq would severely restrict the government’s ability to pay for salaries and pensions, social security, goods and services, in addition to reducing any funds available for the reconstruction of the country, the development of its oil sector or the development of its power generation.

Secondly, Iraq depends almost completely on imports for its consumption of goods and services, unlike Iran which has a well-diversified economy, and a more developed industrial, agricultural and financial sectors. Iraq’s small industrial and agricultural sectors cannot meet even a small percentage of its domestic demand, while its under-developed financial sector cannot provide the financing for the development of these two sectors.

Thirdly, Iraq’s cash-reliant economy depends on access to physical USD notes for it to function. Such a disruption in the supply of USD notes would raise the price of the USD against the IQD, and with it a rise in the value of imported goods. In 2015 the country felt some of these effects due to a restriction in the supply of USD notes from the US Federal Reserve as a result of the US Treasury’s concerns that sanctioned entities (Iran & Daesh) had access to these notes. Any effects of a sizeable loss of access to USD notes would be significantly worse than in 2015. Making things worse is that Iraq cannot access USD notes from a third country, unlike Iran, whose need for notes is met through Iraq.

The second category of US responses would be the loss of waivers for the purchase of Iranian gas, which presents Iraq with a Sophie’s choice. Continue with the purchase of Iranian gas and suffer the consequences of US secondary sanctions, which would be only marginally less painful than any possible imposition of full sanctions, discussed earlier. Or, discontinue buying Iranian gas, lose about a third of Iraq’s domestic power supply and enrage a population that is already incensed over a chronic inadequate supply of power.

A less discussed point is that these waivers were granted on the conditions that Iraq develops a credible plan to reduce its dependence on Iranian gas, and in the long term end those imports. The US could still grant these waivers, but impose more stringent conditions on plans to reduce dependence and a tougher monitoring regime with associated penalties for failures in making progress.

The third category, and the most likely US reaction, would be to gradually end its treatment of Iraq as a close ally and therefore subject to increased US treasury scrutiny its financial system, which would negatively affect the functioning of the Iraqi Central Bank and the banking system. The most obvious result would be a disruption of Iraq’s cash-heavy economy, which relies on the access of physical USD notes for the conduct of commercial and financial transactions as discussed earlier.

Unlike the fictional Duchy of Grand Fenwick, in Leonard Wibberley’s satirical cold war novel The Mouse That Roared, Iraq cannot expect any sort of victory from a conflict or strained relationship with the US.

[1] An upcoming piece by the author examines the structural imbalances in the economy as a inevitable consequence of successive post-2003 political system, i.e, the “Muhasasa Ta’ifia”. This imbalance was first explored in: https://auis.edu.krd/iris/latest-iris-publications/iraqs-investment-spending-deficit-analysis-chronic-failures and subsequently in a series of tweets: https://twitter.com/AMTabaqchali/status/1181559159453564928?s=20 and https://twitter.com/AMTabaqchali/status/1182253543144771584?s=20

 


Source: Iraq News

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IBBC hold Council Meeting, Sector roundtables, Reception & Dinner for Members on 28 and 29 January

The Iraq Britain Business Council (IBCC) held its Council Meeting, Dinner & Reception for IBBC Members and distinguished guests on 28 January. The Council Meeting, hosted by Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, President of IBBC and the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Iraq, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan took place in the House of Lords.

Ms Jwan Khioka, Minister Plenipotentiary from the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq greets IBBC Members and distinguished guests

The Council Meeting was followed by a Reception & Dinner hosted by Brigadier James Ellery CBE at the Cavalry & Guards Club, where Ms Jwan Khioka, Minister Plenipotentiary from the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq greeted more than 40 guests.

After dinner, Dr Heike Harmgart, Managing Director for the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean (SEMED) region at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) elaborated EBRD’s strategy and business plan for the SEMED region, especially highlighting the business opportunities in the Republic of Iraq.

Dr Heike Harmgart, Managing Director for the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean region at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), after dinner speaker

The Education, Training and Heritage Sector Table Meeting hosted by IBBC in its London offices on 28th January was attended by representatives from the UK Embassy of the Republic of Iraq, Bath Spa University, the University of Northampton, Stirling Education, UB Holdings, Unihouse Global, the British Council and the IBBC.

The meeting agreed its over-riding objective is to improve education across Iraq, build in-country capacity and facilitate cooperation between Iraq and international, especially UK, universities. The BC confirmed it is continuing to function in Iraq, albeit at a lower activity level with some restrictions to personnel movement. The proposal for senior representatives of UK universities to visit Iraq was well supported, subject to acceptable security, all parties agreed that involvement of relevant ministries in Iraq is essential to  A number of initiatives to encourage Iraq’ entrepreneurs in were presented, including establishing a Tech Hub in Baghdad, run seminars to assist students aiming to study outside Iraq and setting up an alumni network for Iraqi graduates who has studied in UK. It was agreed that the Chevening Programme had been successful and should continue.

A highlight of the meeting was the detailed presentation of Dr Amir Saadati, Strategic Advisor, City & Guilds MENA (Projects) (https://www.cityandguilds.com/) who gave a detailed presentation on the organisations plan to roll out a number of essential training programmes across Iraq in conjunction with IBBC Member Stirling Education.

IBBC Education, Training and Heritage Sector Table Meeting

The Construction and Infrastructure Sector Table met earlier in the day with Jones Lindgren of Perkins and Will in the chair. The main discussion was about current work and opportunities in the water and environment sectors with Brad Moxham of Pell Frischmann and Steve Rowan of Eame, both active in Iraq, leading the discussion.

The IBBC Executive Committee met in the morning of 29th January. The Committee of IBBC Members, reviews IBBCs activities and advises the management of its future planning. After many years of service Alistair Kett of PWC, Hadi Nezir of UB Holding, Hani Akkawi of CCC retired from the committee. The new committee members are John Curtin of EY, Charles Walker of ZHA, Charlie Burbridge of G4S and Sadar Al-Bebany of Sadar Trading Agencies.

IBBC Executive Committee meeting

The Oil & Gas Sector Table Meeting was hosted by IBBC in its London offices On 29th January was attended by representatives from BP, ExxonMobil, SKA, Constellis, Gulftek, Petrofac, Basrah Engineering Group, the UK FCO and the IBBC. There was wide ranging discussion on the current situation in Iraq and its adverse impact on investment in the country, in particular in the oil and gas sector. There was general agreement that more investment is required to maintain current levels of production, and additional investment will be required to increase production and monetise the extensive associated gas reserves currently being flared.

Oil & Gas Sector Table Meeting


Source: Iraq News

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Iraq “Well Positioned” to Service its Debts

By John Lee.

Iraq is well positioned to service its debt obligations, according to an article in Australia’s Investor Daily.

Responding to the question “what’s your view on bonds issued by Iraq’s government?“, Mark Baker writes:

“Iraq is a net external creditor, meaning its external assets are greater than its external liabilities. That means the nation is well positioned to service its debt obligations.”

More here.

(Source: Investor Daily)


Source: Iraq News

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Govt Finance Schemes to Support SMEs, Innovation

Iraqi government’s finance schemes to support SMEs and business innovation

To support small and medium private-sector projects, the Iraqi government, through the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) and with the participation of a number of private and state-owned banks, has made available several types of loans.

The loans are available to all Iraqis.

According to a statement from the Iraqi Government, one of the more innovative finance schemes is the Central Bank’s “1 Trillion Dinars Initiative” which is dedicated to supporting small and medium enterprises, as part of the wider Iraqi government strategy to boost economic growth, create new job opportunities, and the production of local goods and services.

(Source: Iraqi Government)


Source: Iraq News

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US: Iraq Risks Losing Access to Key Bank Account

By John Lee.

The Trump administration has reportedly threatened to block Iraq’s access to its funds in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York if Iraq expels US troops from the country.

The Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed Iraqi officials as saying that the US State Department warning came after the Iraqi parliament voted in favour of a resolution demanding the removal of American forces from Iraq.

Iraq uses the account to deposit its oil sale revenues and pay government salaries and contracts.

According to the most recent financial statement from the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI), the Federal Reserve held about $3 billion in overnight deposits at the end of 2018.

(Source: Wall Street Journal)


Source: Iraq News

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Tracing Iraqi Sovereign Debt

By John Lee.

Simon Hinrichsen, a PhD student at the London School of Economics (LSE), has published an analysis of Iraq’s sovereign debt over the years.

The full 51-page report can be downloaded here.

(Source: LSE)


Source: Iraq News

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