What We Are Reading Today: Business Adventures

What We Are Reading Today: Business Adventures

Author: John Brooks

This business classic written by longtime New Yorker contributor John Brooks is an insightful and engaging look into corporate and financial life in America, says a review published on goodreads.com. 

Stories about Wall Street are infused with drama and adventure and reveal the machinations and volatile nature of the world of finance. 

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Saudi Arabia’s AJEX Logistics Services expands into the US

Saudi Arabia’s AJEX Logistics Services expands into the US

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s economy is poised to benefit from the increasing number of working women as the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 initiative, aimed at enhancing female employment, has begun to demonstrate its potential economic impact, as outlined in a recent report by S&P Global. 

The study showed significant progress in expanding the female workforce in Saudi Arabia, reaching 36 percent of the total human capital in 2022, up from 19 percent in 2016, surpassing Vision 2030’s target of 30 percent by the end of the decade. 

This growth in the participation of women in the labor market can be attributed to various factors, including improved access to education, declining fertility rates, and a more inclusive cultural environment. 

This comes as educational attainment has improved significantly in Saudi Arabia, with nearly 32 percent of women aged 25 and above holding at least a bachelor’s degree in 2020, compared to 26 percent in 2017. 

The increase in female workforce has contributed to raising the overall employment participation rate in Saudi Arabia to a record high of 61.7 percent in March 2022, up from the 54.2 percent recorded in June 2017. 

If the current pace of labor force participation growth continues for the next decade, S&P Global Ratings Economics estimates that the Saudi economy could potentially be $39 billion, larger by 3.5 percent. It made the comparison against a hypothetical scenario with historical labor force participation rate growth recorded during 2000-2022. 
“We calculate that increases in the overall participation rate of just 1 percentage point per year over the next 10 years would boost the country’s annual real GDP (gross domestic product) growth by an average of 0.3 ppt, to 2.4 percent per annum (versus 2.1 percent), assuming that labor force productivity growth for the next 10 years will look the same as the last 20 years,” S&P Global said in the report.  

Women’s wealth transforming region 

Meanwhile, a new study released by the First Abu Dhabi Bank and WealthBriefing has suggested that the rise in women’s wealth is transforming the economies in the Middle East and North Africa region.  

The report, titled “Winning Women in MENA: How Wealth Managers Can Help Further Female Empowerment,” attributed the rise in women’s economic role in the region to advancements in technology and the startup culture. 
It revealed that the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, has seen a surge in women entrepreneurs, with one out of three new businesses in the region now founded by women. 

The report underscored that women are efficient in managing family businesses and often make more diversified and less emotionally driven investment decisions. 
Samira Zakour, managing director at FAB, said: “Over the past 20 years I have seen a lot of women rise to the forefront of large family businesses in the region. There is plenty of research showing that women listen to a variety of opinions before deploying capital and that often leads to less emotional investing and, potentially, to better returns.”   
According to the report, women have the capacity to bring a new point of view to managing a family’s wealth, as they have a different understanding to identify new opportunities, while also possessing ‘soft’ skills to negotiate complex relationships between family members.  

It highlighted that tertiary education among women in the MENA region reached 43 percent in 2019, surpassing the global average of 36 percent and outperforming the male average of 40 percent worldwide. 

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Fed keeps rates unchanged and signals optimism about a potential ‘soft landing’

Fed keeps rates unchanged and signals optimism about a potential ‘soft landing’

Oil Updates — crude falls as US rate hike expectations offset tight supply outlook

RIYADH: Oil prices fell in early Asian trade on Thursday, after posting the largest fall in a month in the previous session, as US interest rate hike expectations offset the impact of drawdowns in US crude stockpiles.

Brent futures for November delivery were down 71 cents, or 0.76 percent, to $92.82 a barrel by 9:08 a.m. Saudi time, while US West Texas Intermediate crude fell 70 cents, or 0.78 percent, to $88.96, the lowest since Sept. 14.

The US Federal Reserve maintained interest rates after its Federal Open Market Committee meeting but stiffened its hawkish stance with a rate increase projected by year-end which could dampen economic growth and overall fuel demand.

“It was still seen as a hawkish pause, which put some pressure on risk assets” such as oil, said ING analysts in a client note.

Fed policymakers still see the bank’s benchmark overnight rate range peaking this year at 5.50 percent to 5.75 percent, a quarter of a percentage point above the current range.

The stance also led to the US dollar surging to its highest since early March, placing downside pressure on oil prices. A stronger dollar typically makes commodities such as oil more expensive for buyers using other currencies.

Energy markets reacted little to data from the US Energy Information Administration on Wednesday showing crude inventories fell in line with expectations last week, with some analysts saying the decline was smaller than they expected.

“EIA data showed US stockpiles fell 2.14 million barrels last week, well short of the 5.25 million barrel drop reported by the American Petroleum Institute. The disappointing inventory drawdown gave impetus for traders to lock in profits following the 10 percent gain since the start of the month,” ANZ analysts said in a note. 

The stock draw was mainly driven by strong oil exports, while gasoline and diesel inventories were drawn down as refiners began annual autumn maintenance, the EIA said in a weekly report. 

However, price falls were limited by continuous concern about tight supply globally entering the fourth quarter, with crude stocks at Cushing — the WTI delivery hub — at their lowest since July 2022 and production cuts continuing by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, together called OPEC+.

Some analysts still expect prices to remain supported in the near term.

“A few more drawdowns could revive talks of tanks reaching their operational minimum … With the production cuts by Saudi Arabia and the broader OPEC+ alliance expected to remain for the rest of the year, inventories will likely touch record lows,” said ANZ analysts.

“Our balance shows a deficit of more than 2 million barrels per day through the fourth quarter of this year,” said ING analyst Warren Patterson.

“This tightness, along with strong refinery margins (largely a result of tightness in middle distillates) suggests that oil prices are likely to see further strength in the short term,” he said.

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Swiss parliament approves ban on full-face coverings like burqas, and sets fine for violators

Swiss parliament approves ban on full-face coverings like burqas, and sets fine for violators

GENEVA: The lower house of Switzerland’s parliament voted Wednesday to give final legislative passage to a ban on face coverings, such as the burqas worn by some Muslim women.
The National Council voted 151-29 for the legislation, which was already approved by the upper house. It was pushed through by the right-wing, populist Swiss People’s Party, easily overcoming reticence expressed by centrists and the Greens.

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‘Horn chamber’ discoveries in AlUla offer clues about beliefs of ancient inhabitants

‘Horn chamber’ discoveries in AlUla offer clues about beliefs of ancient inhabitants

ALULA: Recent archaeological excavations in AlUla uncovered evidence of what appear to be sophisticated rituals carried out by Neolithic inhabitants of northwestern Arabia at the sites of what are known as “mustatils,” Neolithic structures where remains of skulls and horns dating back to the 6th millennium BC have been found.

The discoveries, during digs supported by the Royal Commission for AlUla, help to provide a better understanding of the cultural, social and spiritual beliefs of the ancient peoples who inhabited the area.

Mustatils, which were previously called “gates,” are large, outdoor, rectangular structures characterized by low stone walls. Using aerial surveys, researchers have identified more than 1,600 of them across the northern Arabian Peninsula, and since the 1970s, examples of the monumental stone structures have been documented across Saudi Arabia.

Built more than 7,000 years ago, the function of the enigmatic structures long remained a mystery but excavations since 2018 have revealed clues that suggest they were used in the performing of rituals.

The results of two studies were recently published after peer review. One, led by Wael Abu-Azizeh of the Archeorient Laboratory and Lyon 2 University in France, appears in the book “Revealing Cultural Landscapes in North-West Arabia,” edited by a team of experts led by Rebecca Foote, the director of archaeology at the RCU.

The other, led by Melissa Kennedy of the University of Sydney in Australia, appeared in the journal PLOS One in March.

In 2018, Abu-Azizeh began an excavation on behalf of Oxford Archaeology that unearthed a “horn chamber” at a mustatil site northeast of AlUla dating to around 5300-5000 BC. It measures 3.25 meters by 0.8 meters and is located at the western end of the mustatil, which at 40 meters by 12 meters is smaller than most.

Covering the floor of the chamber, Abu-Azizeh and his team discovered horns and skull fragments densely packed in a layer between 20 and 30 centimeters deep. This, they write, is “a unique and unprecedented assemblage in the context of north Arabian Neolithic.”

About 95 percent of the horns and skull fragments came from domesticated species, including goats, sheep and cattle, and the remainder from wild species, including gazelle, Nubian ibex and auroch, a now-extinct ancestor of cattle.

Under the bones and horns a thin bed of wooden sticks was found, apparently placed on the chamber’s sandstone floor in preparation for the ritual. The researchers concluded that the horns and skull fragments were probably placed there during a single ceremony.

Kennedy, who has been working in AlUla since 2018, initially worked on a project that used remote-sensing equipment to identify heritage assets and archaeological features, using Google Earth satellite imagery and other maps. In 2019, she began excavating a mustatil deep within the dense sandstone canyons east of AlUla.

“We identified around 13,000 sites,” she told Arab News. “We did a program of aerial photography over the key features and sites in the region and, based on a combination of the satellite imagery and the aerial photographs, we then picked sites to ground survey and then excavate. And one of the key findings from the project were the mustatils.”

Just like Abu-Azizeh’s team, Kennedy and her colleagues discovered a chamber containing horns and skull fragments, which were dated to around 5200-5000 BC, though the quantity was smaller. Another difference was that the bones appeared to have been placed there in three or four phases over a generation or two, rather than all at once.

“What was quite interesting when we got on the ground, after flying out there by helicopter and having a walk around, we started to see these really interesting features,” Kennedy said.

“There were these little round structures with standing stones still in them at the front. Then we could see it (the mustatil) had an entranceway, so it wasn’t just a giant rectangle, it had other features to it.”

In the back part of the structure, she said, they found fallen remains in the shape of a structure, with a standing stone in the center and horns placed around the stones.

“The (standing) stone is probably a representation of a deity,” Kennedy added. “We don’t know who but we thought it was quite unique.

“We’ve found others as well and they are consistent in their arrangement, although their quantities vary. But they are all made of horned animals, mainly cattle.”

The discoveries, she said, offer early examples, probably the first in the Arabian Peninsula, of a standing stone being used as a representation of a deity.

The presence of the remains of domesticated species among the animal offerings testifies to the pastoral and nomadic nature of the Neolithic communities of the time, who researchers believe built the mustatils as a form of social bonding and markers of territory.

It is also thought that the probable communal character of the rituals, and the high possibility that people journeyed to these prehistoric stone structures especially to take part in them, suggest that they represented one of the earliest known forms of pilgrimage traditions.

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