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Thursday, 30 January 2020

What we’re tracking on 30 January 2020

It’s a huge morning for the business community with the largest-ever M&A in the country unfolding after Vodafone Egypt announced it was selling its domestic operation to Saudi Arabia’s STC in a transaction worth just under USD 2.4 bn. It’s a vote of confidence in Egypt by a foreign investor with big ambitions to become a regional player — and an endorsement of the digital dreams of thousands of startups and large corporations alike. We sat down with Vodafone Egypt CEO Alexandre Froment-Curtil, who’s staying on to lead the business, to discuss how it unfolded and what it means.

The world is still digesting the Trump administration’s plan to solve the world’s most intractable conflict. Arab states seem to be leaning towards breaking with their traditional support for the Palestinian Authority, offering words of appreciation to the US and urging Israel and Palestine to consider the offer on the table. For his part, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi spoke on the phone yesterday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Charles Michel — both of whose officials offered guarded responses to the proposals. More on this in Last Night’s Talk Shows below.

Two opposing takes: Time’s editor-at-large Ian Bremmer heaps praise on the Trump plan for recognizing the on-the-ground realities and finally offering a road map to end the decades-old conflict. On the flipside, Middle East Institute senior fellow Khaled El Gindy calls it a “piece of political malware” with ambitions to establish permanent military rule over the Palestinian territories.

Fed leaves rates on hold: The US Federal Reserve yesterday maintained its benchmark interest rate at 1.5-1.75%, saying in a statement that the current rate is “appropriate to support sustained expansion of economic activity” and inflation returning to its 2% target rate.

The yield on US 10-year treasuries fell to its lowest level since October in response to the Fed meeting, Bloomberg reports.

US stocks ended the day largely flat on a day of mixed earnings releases and continued concern over the coronavirus. The S&P 500 closed 0.09% in the red, the Dow Jones rose slightly by 0.04% and the Nasdaq finished 0.06% in the green.


Coronavirus touches down in the Middle East: A Chinese family of four living in the UAE have become the first people in the Middle East to contract the coronavirus, state news agency WAM reported yesterday. The Ministry of Health and Prevention issued a statement breaking the news, adding that the family’s health is stable and the situation under control.

Airliners have begun to suspend flights to China: British Airways and Lufthansa yesterday halted flights to the Chinese mainland as fears of a global contagion grew, the Financial Times says.

There are now more confirmed cases of the virus in China than there were during the SARS outbreak in 2003. Another 1,500 cases were added to the tally between Tuesday and Wednesday alone, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in China to 6,061.

Want to see a global pandemic play out in real-time? Johns Hopkins University has developed an interactive map that updates as cases are confirmed around the world.

In business miscellany:

  • Buffet bails on newspapers: Berkshire Hathaway will sell its BH Media Group to news company Lee Enterprises for USD 140 mn, the Financial Times reports.
  • Italian oil giant Eni’s CEO Claudio Descalzi is facing criminal charges in Italy for allegedly arranging a USD 1.3 bn payment for drilling rights in Nigeria with the knowledge that most of the money would be used for bribes, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Senate Republicans are trying their hardest to prevent John Bolton from sinking the Trump Presidency: President Trump’s defense team and Senate Republicans are pushing to block witnesses from testifying after ex-national security adviser John Bolton revealed he had evidence that Trump had tried to use aid to Ukraine as a means to force a corruption investigation into political rival Joe Biden. The NYT and Wall Street Journal have more.

The US Democratic primary season officially gets underway next week when the Iowa Caucus is held on 3 February. Progressive senator Bernie Sanders has surged into the lead in recent Iowa polls and is the clear frontrunner in New Hampshire, which is next in line to vote on 11 February. Sanders has also narrowed the gap with national frontrunner Joe Biden’s, and concerns are reportedly growing among both establishment Democrats and the Trump camp about the Sanders winning the nomination.

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