A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘economics’ Category

taking the “advertising cake”: today’s Arab satellite channels

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 15, 2009

I’m not a big television watcher: I don’t even own a television. But I do watch the television industry – particularly that in the Arab world. This weekend, The National, Abu Dhabi’s well-funded English-language newspaper, published a very interesting piece on the current state of the Arab satellite television industry.

Here’s the article, with commentary:

ABU DHABI // Despite losing billions of dollars every year, many Arab satellite television channels continue to operate because their purpose is to push political agendas, a recent report says.

[I’m not sure about the idea that each of these channels is meant to advocate a political agenda. There are all kinds of channels on air: real estate channels, “environment” channels, children’s channels, music video/sms channels, movie channels, etc. I agree that most are not economically viable – but this doesn’t mean that all are operated for political reasons. Some seem to be more vanity channels than anything else – a sign of the owner’s wealth, or philanthropic outlook, or cultural orientation, or technological hipness, or … the list is endless. After all, who knows what someone rich enough to bankroll a satellite channel might want out of it – the delightful variety of buying something other than another sports car?]

There are 510 Arab satellite channels operating at a cost of nearly US$6 billion (Dh22bn) a year, according to the report from the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.

[Wow. in 2007, if I remember correctly, there were just over 300 channels. That’s a growth of 100 channels per year in the past two years – two years dominated by a major economic crisis. It might also help to think of this comparatively. The Arab world has an estimated 2009 population of nearly 340 million – which means that there is one channel for approximately 670,000 viewers. The United States has an estimated 2009 population of 304 million, which would mean by extension that we would under the Arab model have more than 450 channels. But our channels are meant to be profitable – and profits for them require viewerships in the millions.]

The combined annual revenue of those channels is less than $700 million, the report said.

[Wow, again. Operating costs: $6 billion. Revenues: $700 million. That’s an annual operating deficit of $5.3 billion. Even taking out the operating costs borne by state channels, think of how many sports cars and other luxury items that money could buy for these stations’ owners. The intangible benefits of station ownership must be very, very compelling.]

“That clearly means there are a number of satellite channels that are able to continue broadcasting despite their losses for more than 18 years,” said Ali Jaber, the dean of the Mohammed Bin Rashid School For Communication in Dubai.

“It also means that those who fund those channels despite their losses are governments and businessmen who have political pursuits.”

[Ummm. Here’s where we differ. I do agree that the clear non-viability of these channels means that they are being bankrolled by people who are indifferent to the cost – including governments running national channels. But I do not agree that all the private channels must be run for political gain – and I don’t think that Jaber has made his case for this argument.]

However, many of the channels have been unable to achieve the social and political change they had hoped for, researchers found.

“It’s true the number of channels has doubled and the quality of programmes has developed,” said Dr Mohammed Ayesh, a communications professor at Sharjah University.

“But the bigger question is how much they have contributed to political progress and cultural development. That is something that is still far out of reach.”

[Is that the standard by which television channels should be judged? I think there has been an elision here, between American and European ideas of public, non-profit channels and Arab-world channels that de facto bleed money. We do not ask whether NBC or HBO aid Americans’ political progress, or enhance our cultural development. I’m not sure that this is a fair standard to put on Arab-world channels.]

He said many channels were a source of cultural confusion because their programmes were not in harmony with the social norms of the Arab community.

[This is an interesting, but somewhat different issue.]

The report, which was published in the latest issue of Future Horizons magazine, found that Arab satellite channels account for two per cent of global advertising spending.

Most of that revenue, 95 per cent, is collected by fewer than 10 per cent of the channels.

[Advertising rates are incredibly low throughout the region, including print as well as broadcast media. I think these statistics show two things: that there are some highly viable channels broadcasting today, and that the others either have too few viewers to attract advertisers or do not make an effort to attract them.]

But the goal of many satellite channels is not to earn revenue, but to attract viewers to serve political agendas, Mr Jaber said.

“The advertising cake is known and its value is, at most, US$700 million annually, which is shared among the main networks, with small amounts left for small channels that revolve around the main ones,” he said.

[Um. First, I love the translation of “pie” as “cake”. Second: $700 million was the amount listed above as the total channel revenues. If this is the same number, I would like to know why other revenue streams – including mid-2000s revenue darling sms scrolls – have been excluded.]

Ahmad Abdul Malik, a Qatari writer and a founder of Sharjah TV, said many Arab satellite channels failed to attract large audiences because they lacked quality programming and were seen as propaganda outlets for governments and other groups. “I think the Arab official satellite channels have been obsolete,” he said. “And I can list more than 16 official satellite channels that no one in the Arab World would want to watch because they lack the basics of television operation, and they were established for political propaganda.”

Mr Malik said only a few private channels attracted large audiences because they “deviate from the ways of the official propagandistic channels”.

The rest, he said, either claimed to be independent when they were really official “to the very core” or called for sectarianism and indecency.

[This man says quite a lot. There is a quality issue: many channels simply buy older, already-broadcast content, generally from the U.S.. People still refer to Friends, for example. There is also an issue of blatantly propagandistic channels, often also sporting poor-quality productions – like Al Hurra :D. I think his statement about what channels people choose not to watch needs to be parsed a bit further: channels people do not watch because their content is bad or not interesting, and channels people do not watch because they disagree with their political line.]

Mohammed al Mashnooq, another media expert, said channels had fallen into the “hands of governments” because they lacked clear media strategies. TV channels that met the demands of genuine democratic change, transparency and freedom were the ones that would flourish, he said.

[I like Al Mashnooq’s optimistic viewpoint, but again, I’m not sure that television channels should be expected to do all this.]

The report found that despite current losses, some advertising experts were predicting an increase in spending in this sector, because of the growing number of channels and a larger, more active advertising market.

Between 2004 and 2007, according to Arab Consultants Group, the number of Arab satellite channels grew by 270 per cent.

The number of channels owned by the private sector increased by 56, music channels increased by 54 and channels owned by governments increased by 38.

There are now 1,100 satellite channels registered in the Arab world, but only 510 are operational, broadcasting from three satellites: ArabSat, NileSat and NourSat.

[Goodness. 1,100 channels? I can’t even imagine.]

Some of the more popular channels are Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar; and Al Arabiya and MBC, which are based in Saudi Arabia but broadcast from Dubai.

[These are popular channels – actually, networks, with each having one flagship and several subsidiary channels. But Al Jazeera has historically had a very difficult time getting advertising – other than ads from Qatari state companies, that is. And I’m not sure that Arabiya does all that much better. MBC is the only network I see with a fully articulated economic model that pushes for a sizable advertising revenue stream.]

The UAE hosts 22 per cent of Arab satellite channels, the most of any country in the region.

[And most of these are Saudi-owned. Again – a very, very interesting article, about a complex, engaging topic.]

You can read the article, sans commentary, here.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Arabic, economics, television | Leave a Comment »

bar by consensus

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 14, 2009

Now that Lebanon has a government, its time to celebrate. But where to go to toast the new cabinet?

In honor of the consensus government, how about a consensus bar?

how about … mybar?

LOGO

Of course, there’s a catch: mybar doesn’t exist yet. That’s where all of you come in. And as with many things, all it takes is money.

Here’s what mybar’s board of directors has to say:

mybar is an innovative and exciting approach to bar ownership that provides you with a unique opportunity to fulfill your dream of owning a bar. You can choose to invest in one of four different levels of ownership. You decide how much you want to invest, and you benefit from all the perks of being a mybar owner. As a Barnote owner you receive a percentage of voting rights, weekly sales reports, and an annual dividend distribution. Simply put, mybar lets you… Own it. Live it. Profit.

I’ve actually never dreamed of owning a bar. And the main “perks” of ownership, at least at the low-end $2,000 “owner” investment level, seem limited to “access to weekly sales and cost reports” and “name engraved on plaque entrance”. (Let’s gloss over the weird grammar of this latter perk – I assume it means: “name engraved on plaque at mybar’s entrance”.) In any case, the fusty investor in me would like to point out that $2,000 would put you almost 60% of the way to a nice Berkshire Hathaway Class B share. Perks of that investment include an invitation to the annual shareholders’ meeting, which is not only a total hoot (and a real slice of midwestern Americana) but itself a pretty good provider of access to some very interesting, if old-school, investment thinking.

Oh, but wait. This mybar perk might truly tip the scales for some of you: If you invest now, before the first $1,000,000 has been raised, you will be eligible to vote on the three options being considered for mybar’s theme.

Actually, the three options are really more like two, plus a blank space.
Here’s option one:

Think of a London or New York loft with large windows, high ceilings and wooden floorboards styled for a sophisticated drinking and dining experience. A long bar crafted to host a selection of the finest cocktails. The sound of urban modern jazz playing in the background keeps your feet tapping but conversations going. You can choose to sit on the large plush leather couches and enjoy that whiskey on the rocks or a dry Martini, or choose the high chairs and bar tables for a round of shots.

Here’s option two:

Inspired by Las Vegas and Miami night clubs, this concept boasts large spaces that allow you to let loose and absorb the lights and sounds of upbeat progressive music.  Whether you are on the dance floor or chilling out on the surrounding bed sized couches this concept will provide the perfect venue for a night of debauchery.

Excellent. The last time I went out to bars on a regular basis was around 2004, which means that I will feel right at home in either theme. In other words: yawn.

Which brings us to option three:

mybar – 1344 Park Avenue,  Beirut, is situated in the heart of the Beirut Central District. If you have a concept or an idea of what the next trendiest bar in Beirut should look like then start a thread on the wall describing it and see if your fellow Barnote owners agree with you. If so, your idea might be chosen as one of the three final concepts that Barnote owners vote on.

Please save mybar from being invaded by people who think that lychee martinis are hip. If you invest, please help your fellow barnote’rs and submit a new theme along with your investment application. Think of it as working toward a new consensus :).

Posted in advertising, Beirut, economics, nightlife | Leave a Comment »

“Call me back”: Alfa’s $.09

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 3, 2009

This morning, H sent me the link to a new service that Alfa, or rather “Alfa Active Light“, is offering its pre-paid customers. Called “Ehkineh“, its basically a missed-call service for those with balances too low to send a SMS, who think that a missed call won’t send the right message.

It sounds like a joke: an April Fool’s Day gag, or a Qnion piece. But it isn’t – and that’s the beauty of it for me: its yet another workaround that helps people navigate the country’s many dysfunctional telecomm issues.

Here’s what Alfa has to say:

About the service

Out of credit or you have less than $0.09 in your balance, and your line is still in the active period? Now you can use “Ehkineh” a free service from Alfa, to send up to 40 Free predefined “Ehkineh” SMS per month asking an Alfa user, whether Prepaid or Postpaid, to call you back for urgent matters.

How to use the service

In a text message, compose the letter “E”, followed by the 8 digits Alfa number of the person you wish to send the SMS to, & send the SMS to 1339 for free.

Alfa in return, sends “Ehkineh from Alfa: Please Call me Back” request through SMS on your behalf to the person you are trying to reach.

Note: Once the SMS is sent, you will receive a confirmation message & the remaining number of free SMS you can benefit from.

Useful tips

  • You can only benefit from the service when you are out of credits or you have less than $0.09 in your balance, and your line is still active.
  • Ehkineh” Service is:
    • Automatically renewed and absolutely free of charge
    • Available exclusively for Alfa Prepaid subscribers,
    • Every month you get 40 Free new “Ehkineh” SMS, which you cannot accumulate from one month to another.
    • Not functional outside Lebanon. However, if the destination number is abroad and subscribed to Roam-In service, he will be able to receive the SMS.
  • Happy haka’ing, Alfa pre-paid users :).

    Posted in advertising, Arab world, economics, Lebanon | 2 Comments »

    window-shopping the want ads

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 21, 2009

    Most days I love my current job – just like I love each and every pair of shoes in my closet. But just like with my beloved shoes, I’m always on the lookout for a new pair of heels – er, job – to love.

    Hence I eagerly scroll through the job postings that AME Info sends my way. I’ve never seen a job that I would actually 1) qualify for and 2) be interested in, but I do love reading the descriptions.

    The latest featured position – that of general manager of a Saudi Arabian radio station – caught my eye at once:

    Our Client in KSA is urgently looking for a General Manager for their radio station. The general manager would be reporting directly to the CEO of the Media Group. Salary will not be a bar for the right candidate.

    “Salary will not be a bar for the right candidate”? Since when did radio become such a lucrative field?

    At least with that job, the applicant knows the industry. Here’s a more mysterious want ad:

    CEO
    Location : Kabul – Afghanistan
    Salary:  $100,000 – $150,000 per year
    Applicants should have over 15 years experience and be prepared to be based in Afghanistan. This is a challenging yet rewarding role for a senior candidate.

    “Challenging yet rewarding” – I bet. Challenge number one: identifying just what you will be the CEO of.

    Finally, I took a peek at all the jobs currently listed with a “Lebanon” location. There were three:

    Finance Analyst – Dubai

    Senior Business Planning Analyst – Dubai

    Human Resources Manager – Lebanon.

    Um. Just to recap: I chose the “narrow by location” option and selected “Lebanon”. Guess the sour economy hasn’t soured the Lebanese on the Emirati exodus.

    Posted in advertising, Afghanistan, Arab world, Dubai, economics, Lebanon, radio | Leave a Comment »

    Banking on Syria

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 20, 2009

    No love stories today, I’m afraid – but I do have a fairly interesting article on money to share (and we all know how closely connected love and money can be. Oxford Business Group’s latest report on Syria focuses on its banking sector, which has been slowly but steadily liberalizing, and which still has great potential for continued expansion.

    I remember when the first banks began to appear in Damascus – the first banks other than the various branches of the Syrian commercial bank, I mean. And I remember when the first ATMs appeared – or at least, the first ATMs that would accept a foreign bank card. They reminded me of my attempts to use the local ATMs when living in Morocco in the late 1990s. I would stop by the ATM every day – not because I was so desperate for cash, but because the ATMs response to my US bank card varied so dramatically. One day I would be able to take out 400 dirhams; on another, I would be able to take out 10. And on a third, the ATM would reject foreign cards altogether.

    The Syrian ATMs weren’t quite that erratic – with them it was all or nothing: either I could take out money, or I couldn’t. And when I couldn’t take out money, it was often because the ATM had run out of money. This was often heralded by a literal snowfall of white papers on the ground around the ATM: evidently, the restocking took place fairly infrequently, and would-be customers had no interest in taking the paper receipts that the cashless machine faithfully printed out. Lots of litter, not so much cash.

    At any rate, I think that a liberalized banking sector is a benefit to Syria, although the tightened Syrianization law and the banks’ excess liquidity to me are signs of its fragility. It will be interesting to see how banks develop in the next few years.

    Less than a decade into Syria’s financial liberalisation efforts, banking is proving to be one of Syria’s fastest-growing sectors and an increasingly important pillar in the overall transformation of the economy.

    Since the government began issuing licences in 2001, 11 private conventional and three private Islamic banks have set up in the country, with another two planning their initial public offerings (IPOs) and expected to be operational by year-end. Current legislation limits foreign ownership to 49%, and all of the private banks established to date are subsidiaries of either Lebanese, Jordanian or Gulf-backed institutions. While private banks account for just under 20% of the market, they are experiencing impressive growth (86.2% in 2008), and most have been able to turn a profit within their first two years of operation.

    While the sector has liberalised dramatically in a relatively short period of time, and boasts some of the most advanced legislative frameworks for Islamic banking, microfinance and anti-money laundering in the region, it remains tightly regulated in comparison to neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon. Although this strict oversight has been credited with helping to insulate the country from the volatility that has plagued other markets. Further reform is needed to strengthen the sector’s maturation and performance.

    A decree issued by the Ministry of Labour in July, stating that financial service firms (including banks and insurance companies) must reduce their volume of expatriate staff from 10 to 3%, has also prompted some reflection by local institutions, given that foreigners often hold key management and technical positions.

    Khalid Wazani, the chairman of Arab Bank – Syria, told OBG “Our bank, even prior to the announcement, has been working hard on training in order to lower our dependency on foreign staff. In every country we operate, we would like to employ as many nationals as possible. Even so, staffing decisions should not be based on meeting percentages, but about having the right mix of required experience and expertise. Even in Amman, where we have our head office and have operated for over 79 years, we have to hire expats to fulfil certain technical areas of expertise.”

    The impressive growth of private banks has been generated largely by deposits, rather than lending, resulting in excess liquidity in the market. World Bank’s “Doing Business 2010” report ranks Syria as 181st of out 183 countries in terms of access to credit, and according to the IMF, credit to the private sector has stood at around 15% of GDP since 2005, versus figures of 75% for Lebanon and around 100% for Jordan.

    This can partly be attributed to the fact that the more established state banks are better positioned to service government clients, forcing private banks’ to rely on smaller business borrowers for whom financial records are harder to come by. Strict regulations and a lack of financial infrastructure also inhibit the expansion of credit, as an absence of a treasury-bill market or certificate of deposit system means that money deposited at the Central Bank accrues no interest.

    The government, on their part, is proactively working to accelerate financial reforms, with Abdullah Dardari, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, telling OBG, “We realise that access to funding is a major issue and the central bank is undertaking a number of measures to ease banks’ willingness to lend.”

    Adib Mayaleh, the governor of the Central Bank, echoed this sentiment in an interview with OBG, “We want private banks to start financing big projects, whether public or private, and will introduce a certificate of deposit guarantee that should encourage them to do so.”

    The government is also working on introducing treasury bills by year-end, as well as a new mortgage and leasing law that is expected to make easier the foreclosure and recovery of assets for non-performing loans. “We are also setting up a mortgage finance corporation to supervise mortgage lending as this is an area that needs more support,” said Dardari.

    A positive offshoot of the increased returns on deposits will be a greater willingness to spend internally, with the expansion of bank branch networks a major focus. As banks are already constrained by qualified staffing shortages and complicated zoning laws that make finding a suitable location difficult, investing in new branches is a challenge. Bassel Hamwi, the deputy chairman and general manager for Bank Audi, told OBG, “Without the issuing of treasury bills, we as banks cannot invest and make money on our deposits. And if a bank cannot make money on its deposits, why should they bother aggressively expanding their branch network?”

    As of June 2009 there were 414 branches in the country, up from 374 at the end of 2008. While branch penetration is growing, at an estimated one branch per 47,700 people, Syria has far fewer branches per head than its regional neighbours; a figure that is compounded when considering that most branches are concentrated in the major urban centres.

    The Central Bank is preparing a new requirement for private banks to increase their paid-up capital to $200m-$300m, up from a current minimum of $30m. While banks will have a three-year window of preparation, some have expressed concern that this measure would place even further pressures on shareholders. Governor Mayaleh, however, explained the move to OBG, stating that, “We are raising minimum capital requirements to encourage bigger banks to operate in the market. We want our banks to be of international size and standards. Bigger banks sustain the economy.”

    Overall, while the past 10 years have seen major advances in banking services and infrastructure, the country is still considered under-banked, and there remains much to do before achieving full sector modernisation. Add to this some uncertainty from the banking community over the future direction of government reforms, and banking presents itself as one of the more challenging, if opportunistic, areas of the Syrian market.

    Posted in Damascus, economics, Syria | Leave a Comment »

    Tycoon Diamond

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 14, 2009

    Another morning, another sad email from a Hong Kong banker. These Arab investors seem to be – pardon me – dying like flies, and their bankers all seem to think that I should be the one to profit from their families’ loss. But this is the first email to delve into my psyche and my – heretofore unknown to me – financial acumen.

    FROM: Liu Yan Bank of China Ltd. 13/F. Bank of China Tower 1 Garden Road Hong Kong,

    I sincerely ask for forgiveness for I know this may seem like a complete intrusion to your privacy but right about now this is my best option of communication. This mail might come to you as a surprise and the temptation to ignore it as frivolous could come into your mind; but please consider it a divine wish and accept it with a deep sense of humility.

    [A divine wish? Are you sure that God gets personally involved in these types of things?]

    This letter must surprise you because we have never meet before neither in person nor by correspondence,but I believe that it takes just one day to meet or know someone either physically or through correspondence.

    [Ah: the love-at-first-sight-or-email approach to financial illegality. Super.]

    I got your contact through my personal search, you were revealed as being quite astute in private entrepreneurship,and one has no doubt in your ability to handle a financial business transaction.

    [Well – I don’t like to brag, but I do indeed know my way around a credit card purchase. And I’ve been very successful in selling off excess furniture and personal effects whenever I move.]

    I am Liu Yan a transfer supervisor operations in investment section in Bank of China Ltd. Secretariat of the BOCHK Charitable Foundation 13/F. Bank of China Tower, 1 Garden Road, Hong Kong. I have an obscured business suggestion for you. Before the U.S and Iraqi war our client General Mohammed Jassim Ali who work with the Iraqi forces and also business man made a numbered fixed deposit for 18 calendar months, with a value of (I will disclose amount upon your reply) in my branch.

    [There are two things I particularly like about this paragraph: First, the idea that this is an “obscured” business proposal – meaning what, exactly? – and second, that Mr. Liu is keeping the precise amount of General Ali’s deposit to himself until I demonstrate interest.]

    Upon maturity several notices was sent to him, even early in the war,again after the war another notification was sent and still no response came from him,We later find out that General Mohammed Jassim Ali and his family had been killed during the war in a bomb blast that hit their home.

    After further investigation it was also discovered that General Mohammed Jassim Ali did not declare any next of kin in his official papers including the paper work of his bank deposit. And he also confided in me the last time he was at my office that no one except me knew of his deposit in my bank. So, (I will disclose amount upon your reply) is still lying in my bank and no one will ever come forward to claim it. What bothers me most is that, according to the laws of my country at the expiration 3 years the funds will revert to the ownership of the Hong Kong Government if nobody applies to claim the funds.

    [Um, I can think of a number of things in this story that bother me most. Just FYI.]

    Against this backdrop, my suggestion to you is that I will like you as a foreigner to stand as the next of kin to General Mohammed Jassim Ali so that you will be able to receive his funds. I want you to know that I have had everything planned out so that we shall come out successful.

    [Oh yes – as with the last Hong Kong email, I think this sounds like a great idea. Baathist Iraqi general killed by U.S. forces somehow declared a non-Arab American women his next-of-kin. Who on earth would doubt this?]

    I have contacted an attorney who will prepare the legal documents that will back you up as the next of kin to General Mohammed Jassim Ali, all what is required from you at this stage is for you to provide me with your Full Names, private phone number and Address so that the attorney can commence his job. After you have been made the next of kin, the attorney will also fill in for claims on your behalf and secure the necessary approval and letter of probate in your favor for the transfer of the funds to an account that will be provided by you with my guidance.There is no risk involved at all in the matter as we are going adopt a legalized method and the attorney will prepare all the necessary documents.

    [A “legalized method” for an illegal activity? Suddenly I have a new image of Hong Kong … ]

    Please endeavor to observe utmost discretion in all matters concerning this issue. Once the funds have been transferred to your nominated bank account we shall discuss the percentage issue on your reply.

    [Hunh. This whole proposal seems a little low in the numbers department. No disclosure of the deposit, and no disclosure of the percentages? I think I’ll go with the dead Saudi.]

    If you are interested please send me your full names and current residential address, and I will prefer you to reach me on my private and secure email address below and finally after that I shall provide you with more details of this operation.

    Best Regards Liu Yan

    [And my regards to you, Mr. Liu. You’ve made my day. I’m not taking you up on your offer, but I definitely plan to put my “ability to handle a financial business transaction” to use by doing a little online shopping!]

    Posted in advertising, Arab world, economics, Iraq, vanity | Leave a Comment »

    getting credit where credit is due

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 13, 2009

    Someone in Dubai thinks that I deserve more credit – and he (or she) evidently wants to help.

    I’m not used to this. What happened to the confidential business offers – minus 10% for expenses – that I’ve been getting? Am I now expected to earn my living through – gasp! – hard work?

    Here’s what my latest offer has to say:

    We arrange and assist with Letter of Credits – LCs

    [Great – didn’t know I needed one!]

    Are you a trader, exporter, importer, manufacturer?

    [Um, no. But I’m a very good purchaser, at least on an individual level.]

    General Trading? Trading in commodities? Bulk supplies?

    [Depends what you mean by “general”, “commodities”, and “bulk”. If you are referring to shoes, skincare products, and books, the answer is “YES”.]

    Milk Powder, Sugar, Oil Products, Metals, Fertilizers, etc?

    [What?]

    Trading in Middle East, Africa, Asia, South America?

    [My trading – again, on the “buy side” – has been largely limited to the Middle East, but I’m more than open to branching out :D.]

    We arrange LCs for more than 100+ countries world-wide :

    Discounting of LCs

    Confirmation of LCs

    Back to Back LCs

    Usance LCs

    Conditional LCs

    Sight LCs

    [I have no idea what any of this means. Is that a problem?]

    GCC countries, India, China, Western Europe, Russia, Countries of Africa, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Sudan, Yemen, Brazil, Argentina, etc.

    [Iran, Syria, and Iran? You clearly are not based in the U.S.!]

    Professional service and simple procedures. Lowest rates for foodstuff and medical supplies.

    [Well, I do think of skincare products as a medical necessity … ]

    Pls write us for pricing quote and other details.

    [Absolutely – I’m on it!]

    Posted in advertising, Arab world, economics | 1 Comment »

    Lebanon calling

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 8, 2009

    Over the past couple of months, I’ve been reading about the Lebanese Ministry of Communications’ plans to encourage the establishment of call centers in Lebanon, starting with the ten contracts it signed in late March. Earlier this month, the telecomm industry newsite TMCnet reported that one of these contracted firms, Call Center International, is moving ahead with its plans to open five call centers throughout Lebanon. Although CCI is a California-based firm, it will operate in Lebanon as a local branch (with a largely non-functional website) in partnership with a U.S. firm called InContact, whose software will route calls placed in the U.S. to Lebanese customer service agents.

    The TMCnet articles notes thatThis move [by the Ministry] is part of the Lebanese government’s efforts to try and provide more jobs for its workforce, which is considered to be well educated and highly skilled. In addition to the licenses, the Lebanese government has also pledged to provide full support and encouragement of the new business.”

    I’m all for initiatives to bring more service jobs to Lebanon – especially those located outside of Beirut -, and to diversify its employment sectors. And if this expansion comes with increased education and professional training opportunities, so much the better. (CCI Senior Corporate Advisor William Robertson is quoted in the article as saying, “One of our key focus areas includes the development of online distance education for schools, government agencies, and higher learning institutions.”)

    On the other hand, I’ve had some fairly scarring outsourced call service experiences. Foreign customer service agents seem measurably less interested in customer service, sadly. More importantly, they seem much less willing to take a creative, problem-solving approach to the problems that necessitate calling the service line in the first place.

    I don’t think this latter issue will carry over to Lebanon, but I do worry about the type of problem solving they might suggest. I can just imagine myself calling to contest a credit card charge, or to be rebooked when my scheduled flight is late, and being asked whether I have any relatives or friends who work at the mis-charging store, or at the carrier whose flight I want to switch to. Its better if you know somebody, I can hear my friendly Lebanese helper telling me.

    I’m not sure that this is a problem-solving approach that I want brought to the U.S. :).

    Posted in economics, education, Lebanon | Leave a Comment »

    Cedar Island: still building that treehouse in the sea

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 12, 2009

    At the end of January, many of us began writing about Cedar Island, the planned tree-shaped island luxury housing development taking root (bet you saw that cliche coming!) on the coast down from Damour. Or, as some might know it: a few miles south of Ouzai.

    Despite the generally negative blogosphere reaction, the project seems to be going strong. This morning I received an invitation to check out Cedar Island and other properties available through Dagpa Iqari, a conglomerate of real estate firms headquartered in Sin al Fil (“Dagpa”? Is this an acronym for something?).

    Here is the Cedar Island advertisement:

    mashrou3a-jazeerat-al-arz

    The text reads: “The Cedar Island Project / in the Land of Cedars”.

    One might think that the current economic climate would have led the developers to rethink this project. If so, may I suggest a “Cedar Stump Island”, or a “Cedar Sapling Island”?

    In any case, its not my business – and I’m too busy penny-pinching to be in the market for an island property, natural or manmade. But if you are, I suggest that you bargain hard to get the lowest possible price. After all, home-buying in the rest of the world is a buyer’s market right now – so buying a home on an as-yet-unbuilt island should be a breeze.

    Update: Lebanon News has a link to and very interesting analysis of a recent Zawya piece on Cedar Island and its financing as well as logistical woes. You can read Jad’s take on the article and the project here.

    Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, cedar, economics | 5 Comments »

    the $18 million Gazan

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 24, 2009

    My aunt is the lucky recipient of a steady stream of “good” scam emails: definite scams, but creative enough to be worth remembering. The ones I receive are usually much less interesting – they tend to be of the ho-hum ‘I am the widow of Eminent Person X and am now dying of cancer in a foreign land’ variety.

    But last night I received a real gem: a request for help from a Gazan refugee with $18 million to his name.

    Here is the email:

    Dear Sir, I am Mr. Hadi Abdoullah originally from Gaza Strip but currently going through asylum process here in Spain . I lost every other thing with my name on during the recent war on Hamas and managed to escape and Due to the situation there at home, those of us in business cannot invest any more.

    Please, why I need your assistance is that I have ($18 .000.000 USD) Eighteen million united states Dollars in a security & volts services company here in Spain but cannot put into investment because of my status as an asylum seeker and I am afraid so that I do not loss this funds because its all that is left of my family after I had lost my entire family in the war. I inherited the money from my late father who was an oil and gas dealer.

    I intend that you assist me and take possession and also help with any investment Overseas that can sustain the funds and yield interest. Please contact me urgently on my private email address Email: hadiabdoullah@xxxx.com, Email: hadiabdoullah001@xxxx.com So that I can give you further information, Thank You as I wait for your reply.

    Let’s go through this treasure, piece by piece.

    First, if you are soliciting money and/or other forms of assistance, don’t start by alienating half your audience. I am hardly about to jump up and aid someone who mis-identifies me as a man.

    Second, his story makes no sense. He is seeking asylum in Spain – which in most countries is a status that does not permit the seeker to work – yet has $18 million in a “security & volts services company”, whatever that is. I understand that Spain’s bureaucracy may be less than assiduous, but surely the government would have noticed an investment that large. And yet he says that he “cannot put [this money] into investment” because of his asylum application. So: is the money invested in the company, or is it liquid?

    Third, think of the economy. I can’t imagine any country that would be less than welcoming to a “refugee” with that much money to his name. Why doesn’t he just come clean and let the Spanish government drool all over him and his economy-boosting funds? Or, why doesn’t he go on the market and see which country will give him the best deal? A man with $18 million to his name should be able to start a green card bidding war these days.

    Fourth, and no offense to the Gazans, but: how many Gazan oil and gas titans do you know? I can’t think of any, perhaps because Gaza is a tiny strip of land ghettoized by both Israel and Egypt and – by the way – with neither oil nor gas.

    In any case, I wish Mr. Abdoullah luck in his asylum case and his desire to find “help with any investment Overseas that can sustain the funds and yield interest”. He’s going to need a great deal of luck when his two email inboxes overflow with replies from desperate investment bankers :D.

    Posted in advertising, Arab world, economics, Israel, Palestine | 1 Comment »