EBM sponsors animated movie ‘3-Bahadur’

KARACHI (NNI): English Biscuit Manufacturers  Limited (EBM), is the lead sponsor of Pakistan’s first-ever feature length animated film, ‘3-Bahadur’, produced by Waadi Animations. 3-Bahadur, energized by Peek Freans Gluco, is set for release in the summer of 2015. The concept of this pioneering movie has a very close connection with the company’s values. EBM believes in the importance of energizing children to be more productive contributors to society and be able to achieve their dreams. It promotes the concept of ‘edutainment’, whereby the healthy physical and mental growth of children is seen as a combination of education and entertainment.

This is also exactly what the film ‘3-Bahadur’ depicts through the story of three young superheroes. EBM will be introducing exciting activities around the movie; for instance, movie branded packaging for Gluco and a themed web based interactive activity by RIO.

Thailand looking to Japan for railways revamp

BANGKOK (Reuters): Thailand is talking to Japan with a view to building three rail routes in the Southeast Asian country, a Thai minister said on Saturday, the latest move by its military government to kick-start long-delayed plans to modernise its aging rail network. Thailand wants three new lines connecting the capital, Bangkok, with cities in the east, west, north and northeast and Japan had expressed interest in undertaking the work, said Thai Transport Minister Air Chief Marshal Prajin Junthong. His announcement comes a day after Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding with China to construct two separate lines of 867 km (542 miles) in the kingdom, starting in 2016.

“We’re still in the process of talks (with Japan). It will be clearer after the Japanese government has finished its election and discussion will be made with both sides,” Prajin told reporters on the sidelines of a regional summit in Bangkok.

An overhaul of Thailand’s rail network was proposed long ago but has yet to materialise. The junta wants to start the ball rolling as part of its big infrastructure plans to try to revive an economy blighted by weak spending and exports.

Thailand has proposed Japan builds two separate east-west lines, one from Mae Sot at the Myanmar border to Mukdahan near the border with Laos and another connecting Kanchanaburi with the industrialised province of Rayong. A third route would run from Bangkok to the northern city of Chiang Mai, Prajin said.

The three routes combined would cover roughly 1,500 km, according to Reuters calculations.

Thailand agreed to use Chinese firms and technology to build a 734-km standard-gauge dual track railway from Nong Khai on Thailand’s border with Laos, to its ports and industrial zones in the east. Another line would link Bangkok with the central province of Saraburi about 108 km away.

A modern rail network would boost Thai trade and tourism and strengthen China’s strategic foothold in a country with traditionally strong ties with Japan and the United States. Relations with Washington have soured since a coup in May.

Japan has long been Thailand’s biggest investor, mainly in car manufacturing and high-tech industries. Like China, Japan has substantial economic interests in the region, in particular, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand.

Iran’s support for Syria tested by oil price drop

AMMAN (Reuters): Syrian businessmen and trade officials say they are worried the economic lifeline provided by Iran is under strain from plunging oil prices, despite public messages of support from Syria’s strongest regional ally. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has relied on oil-producing Iran to help him fight insurgents in a nearly four-year-old civil war and also prop up a currency under pressure. “If it had not been for Iranian support we could not have survived the crisis,” a senior Syrian trade official said from Damascus, requesting anonymity. “It was Iranian support that has been the most important. In return, we are promising them more and more, and opening more and more doors for them to invest in Syria.”

Oil production in Syria, which is under U.S. and European sanctions, has dropped sharply since the start of the conflict and as insurgents have taken over energy installations.

In July last year, Iran granted Syria a $3.6 billion credit facility to buy oil products, according to officials and bankers at the time. Another $1 billion went for non-oil products.

But with the global oil price down 50 percent since June, Syria - where rebels have seized up to a third of the country - has sought reassurances Tehran will maintain the status quo.

The public message has been an overwhelming “yes”.

Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi visited Tehran this week to boost Iranian support for Syria, in particular ensuring Iranian petroleum products reach the Syrian market, Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

“Iran’s economic support for Syria will continue incessantly,” Iranian Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri said on Tuesday after meeting Halqi, according to Iran’s state news agency IRNA.

But there were no detailed announcements of joint ventures or oil deals as followed previous such visits in the past.

A senior Iranian official told Reuters that support for Assad would never flag despite the fall in oil prices. “We are going through a very difficult phase and the drop in oil prices is a plot by our enemies. They want to bring us to our knees to abandon our pillars and to break our resistance,” he said.

“But I can assure you that Iran’s support to Syria will continue. Iran has been through worse situations and has never changed its foreign policy.”

CURRENCY FALLS

The Syrian pound, which has fallen around 70 percent since the civil war began in 2011, lost another 10 percent over the past two weeks alone.

Dealers said the slide was driven by several factors, including a realisation that U.S. strikes on Islamic State insurgents were not helping Assad as much as had been expected. But a major one was that a falling oil price had made them fear Iran would be less able to help shore up its ally’s economy.

Shi’ite Iran has deep ties with Syria. Assad is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shi’ism, and Tehran sees him as a bulwark against Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia’s influence in the region.

In the past, Assad streamed Iranian support to Shi’ite Hezbollah in neighbouring Lebanon, while now, the militia gets funds directly from Iran to fight Assad’s enemies at the front.

Damascus-based businessmen and bankers say the Syrian Central Bank is worried about the drop in oil prices affecting Iranian support for Syria.

Iran deposited $500-$750 million in Syria’s Central Bank more than a year ago that has been used by the authorities to help stabilise the pound, according to two senior bankers with close ties with central bank officials.

In recent weeks, the bank sold dollars to shore up the pound in some of the largest market interventions since the start of the crisis, the two bankers said.

Syrian officials could not be reached for comment on Thursday or Friday.

There is a general consensus among traders, bankers and businessmen that the drop in Iranian oil earnings will have untold consequences on the level of economic support in the long term despite little discernible impact on business ties so far.

“The 50 percent steep fall in oil prices will break Iran’s back, not just the level of support for Assad,” a prominent member of the Damascus Chamber of Industry said, also requesting anonymity.

OIL DISRUPTIONS

Iranians have delivered turbines for power plants and have been promised contracts to rebuild housing, roads and other infrastructure destroyed by the war on the understanding that Tehran would finance them in return for equity shares.

All this could be jeopardised. Much, however, will depend on how long oil prices will continue to stay depressed, they say.

Two Syrian businessman who sell products including olive oil and garments to Iranian private traders are worried they may defer payments.

A member of the Syrian Chambers of Industry from the city of Aleppo said he understood the main item on Prime Minister Halqi’s shopping list in Tehran was bigger quantities of petroleum product imports.

Growing power cuts have hit government-controlled areas as more gas fields go out of action, forcing Damascus to rely even more on imports of fuel for its power plants.

Islamic State militant control of some of the border crossings with Iraq has disrupted the flow of tens of thousands of barrels of crude from Iraq that were delivered overland by oil tankers, an oil trader based in the region said.

Four Iranian tankers have discharged cargoes of gasoline products in the last two months in Syria’s ports, traders said. But this did not end shortages accentuated by higher demand in the winter season, prompting small protests in Alawite villages near the port of Latakia, the heartland of Assad support.

Fitch raises Egypt’s credit rating to ‘B’

WASHINGTON (AFP): Fitch Ratings upgraded Egypt’s credit rating one rank to “B” with a “stable” outlook Friday, saying the authorities seemed committed to major reforms. “Fuel subsidy cuts and tax hikes have been implemented as part of a clear five-year fiscal consolidation strategy,” Fitch said in upgrading Egypt from a “B-“ rating. “Power shortages are being tackled, overdue payments to oil companies reduced, investment laws revised and disputes with foreign investors settled,” it added, emphasizing that “the measures appear to have strong political backing.” The budget deficit is expected to decrease as a result of the reforms, though it will remain high at 10.2 percent of gross domestic product for the 2015 fiscal year, which runs through June.

The deficit will also benefit from lower than projected wheat prices, Fitch said.

Similarly, the debt level should go down, after several years of deterioration. At the end of 2014, the debt stood at 90.5 percent of GDP, but Fitch said it is set to drop to 85.8 percent of GDP by the end of the 2016 fiscal year.

Economic growth is accelerating, Fitch said, and year-on-year growth reached 6.8 percent in the third trimester of 2014 — the highest since 2008 — up from 3.7 percent the quarter before.

According to Fitch projections, annual GDP growth should hit 4.7 percent in 2016, up from 2.1 percent in 2013.

“Growth is vulnerable to setbacks if reform stalls,” the agency warned, noting, however, that “Political stability has improved under President (Abdel Fattah al-) Sisi.”

The stable outlook reflects Fitch’s opinion that “that upside and downside risks to the rating are currently balanced,” with the main factors that could lead to a downgrade being renewed fiscal problems or security incidents that slow economic activity.

FPCCI VP passes away

ISLAMABAD (NNI): Munawar Mughal Vice President FPCCI passed away on Saturday. The President FPCCI, Zakaria Usman, SVP Shaukat Ahmed, Tariq Sayeed, Senior Business Leader and former President FPCCI & SAARC CCI, S. M. Muneer,  Iftikhar Ali Malik, Mazhar Ali Nasir, Khurram Sayeed, Ismail Suttar, S. M. Naseer, Mian Mahmood, Adnan Jalil, Sheikh Imtiaz, Shakeel Ahmed, Naima Ansari, VP of FPCCI, M. A. Lodhi, Secy Gen and members of FPCCI, Karachi, Capital and Regional offices have expressed their deep sorrow on the said demise and offered condolence and prayed that Allah All Mighty may rest the departed soul in eternal peace and give strength to his family members to bear this irreparable loss.

The business community also mentioned that the services of Munawar Mughal would be long remembered in the hearts of business community and history of FPCCI.

The Namaz-e-Janaza of Munawar Mughal will be offered tomorrow after Nama-e-Zohr at H-8 Graveyard, Islamabad.