Fortnightly, 7 August 2017

Fortnightly, 7 August 2017

August 7, 2017
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FortnightlyReport

7 August 2017
15 Av 5777
15 Dhul Qadah 1438

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TABLE OF CONTENTS:

 1: ISRAEL GOVERNMENT ACTIONS & STATEMENTS

1.1  Canadian Minister Goodale Announces Mutual Recognition Arrangement with Israel
1.2  Lawmakers Back Bill to Raise Legal Smoking Age to 21
1.3  Knesset Enacts Law Limiting After-School Care Prices

2:  ISRAEL MARKET & BUSINESS NEWS

2.1  Foresight Signs a Pilot Agreement with an Additional Leading Chinese Car Manufacturer
2.2  Maniv Mobility Announces Close of First Mobility-Only Fund in Israel
2.3  BrandTotal Raises $2 Million Seed Round
2.4  AXIM Biotech Agrees With Israel-Based CRO for Study for Restless Leg Syndrome Treatment
2.5  Namogoo Raises $8 Million to Help Retailers Win Back Stolen Revenues Hijacked from their Online Stores
2.6  Inception Raises $15 Million Series A Funding Led By RTL Group
2.7  Ferro Acquires Leading Technology for Printing on Glass Substrates
2.8  Nielsen Acquires Artificial Intelligence-Powered Sports Marketing Startup vBrand

 3:  REGIONAL PRIVATE SECTOR NEWS

3.1  Jordan’s Tabuk Pharmaceuticals Signs an Exclusive In-Licensing Agreement with Korea’s Dong A

 4:  CLEAN TECH & ENVIRONMENTAL DEVELOPMENTS

4.1  IAI’s VENUS & OPTSAT-3000 Satellites Successfully Launched into Space
4.2  Green Amman & JEA Partner to Create ‘Engineers Forest’

5:  ARAB STATE DEVELOPMENTS

5.1  Jordan to Follow Up On Donor Countries’ Adherence to Their Pledges
5.2  Jordan & US Discuss Cooperation in Countering Nuclear Smuggling
5.3  Amman’s Budget Deficit Drops by JD111 Million in First Half
5.4  Jordan Signs €107.5 Million Agreement with Germany

♦♦Arabian Gulf

5.5  President Announces New UAE Tax Procedures Law
5.6  Saudi Arabia Unemployment Continues to Rise, Testing Reform Plans

♦♦North Africa

5.7  Egypt’s Trade Deficit Drops by 43.8% Year-On-Year in May 2017
5.8  Egypt’s External Debt Up by 32% Since July 2016
5.9  Egypt’s FDI Reaches $8.7 Billion in FY 2016-17
5.10  Egypt’s Suez Canal Revenues Fall to $427.2 Million in June

6:  TURKISH, CYPRIOT & GREEK DEVELOPMENTS

6.1  Turkey’s Foreign Trade Deficit Narrows in June
6.2  Foreign Tourist Arrivals to Turkey Rise Sharply In June to Nearly 3.5 Million
6.3  Turkish Biosecurity Council Allows Use of Genetically Modified Animal Food
6.4  Bank of Greece to Adjust 2017 Growth Estimate to 1.7%

7:  GENERAL NEWS AND INTEREST

♦♦REGIONAL

7.1  Jorhttp://atid-edi.com/wp/wp-admin/edit.php?post_type=tribe_eventsdanian House Abolishes Controversial Article 308
7.2  Morocco Baccalaureate Success Rate Reaches 62.5% in 2017, 0.78% Higher than 2016

8:  ISRAEL LIFE SCIENCE NEWS

8.1  Integrity Applications Announces Close of $12 Million Private Placement
8.2  Volcani Center Wins UNESCO Prize for Agriculture Innovation
8.3  Aspect Imaging Announces FDA Clearance of Embrace – Neonatal MRI System for NICU
8.4  NRGene & China’s Genosys Deliver Cotton Genome
8.5  BioLineRx Announces Additional Investment From BVF Partners
8.6  Teva Announces Launch of Generic Epiduo in the United States
8.7  Kitov Submits New Drug Application to FDA for KIT-302
8.8  Laminate Receives IDE Approval from FDA to Initiate Clinical Study of the VasQ Device
8.9  Keystone Heart Accelerates Trials for Device to Protect Brain During Heart Procedures
8.10  DuPont & Evogene Multiyear Collaboration for Development of Corn Bio-Stimulant Products

9:  ISRAEL PRODUCT & TECHNOLOGY NEWS

9.1  Votiro Introduces New Version of Secure Data Sanitization Platform
9.2  My Size Beta-Testing New “Room Dimension” App to Support Home Improvement Markets
9.3  MySize Wins “Most Promising Startup” in the eCommerce Field at the “Go eCommerce” Summit
9.4  MyHeritage Acquires the Legacy Family Tree Software and Webinar Platform
9.5  Redkix Introduces First Team Messaging Platform Powered by Email
9.6  CloudAlly’s Education Backup Package Prevents Data Loss at Universities

10:  ISRAEL ECONOMIC STATISTICS

10.1  Israel Ranked World’s 8th Largest Defense Supplier

11:  IN DEPTH

11.1  ISRAEL: Private Equity Invested $807 Million in First Half – Lowest Amount in Three Years
11.2  IRAQ: IMF Second Review of Iraq’s Stand-By Arrangement & 2017 Article IV Consultation
11.3  OMAN: Moody’s Downgrades Oman to Baa2, Outlook Negative
11.4  TUNISIA: New Tunisian Law Takes Long Stride Toward Gender Equality
11.5  TUNISIA: IMF Statement on Tunisia
11.6  MOROCCO: IMF Concludes the Second Review under the Precautionary and Liquidity Line Arrangement
11.7  MOROCCO: Morocco Announces New Set of Urgent Measures to Save Education
11.8  TURKEY: Automotive Industry in Turkey – Why Exports are Surging
11.9  CYPRUS: Moody’s Upgrades Government Bond Ratings of Cyprus to Ba3

1:  ISRAEL GOVERNMENT ACTIONS & STATEMENTS

1.1  Canadian Minister Goodale Announces Mutual Recognition Arrangement with Israel

Hon. Ralph Goodale, Canadian Federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, following his meeting with Israeli Public Security Minister Erdan, formally announced the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) with the Israel Tax Authority (ITA) regarding their respective Trusted Trader programs.  Trusted Trader programs enhance the security and integrity of the global supply chain through the establishment of customs to business partnerships and by providing streamlined border processes to pre-approved, low-risk traders.  This MRA signifies that the CBSA’s Partners in Protection program members will be recognized by, and receive trade facilitation benefits from, the ITA.  The CBSA will reciprocate by providing similar benefits to members of Israel’s Authorized Economic Operator program.  (CNW 31.07)

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1.2  Lawmakers Back Bill to Raise Legal Smoking Age to 21

On 26 July, Israeli lawmakers introduced a new bill intended to protect youth from the health hazards of smoking by outlawing the sale, advertising and marketing of cigarettes to people under age 21.  Currently, Israelis aged 18 and over can legally buy cigarettes.  About 20 MKs from all factions have already signed the bill.  The bill aims to curtail the health problems caused by smoking and government expenditures to treat those health issues.

Current assessments put the annual death toll in Israel from smoking at some 8,000, including 800 who die from health problems caused by passive smoking.  A recent study by the IDF Medical Corps showed that smoking jumps by 40% in the 18- to 21-year old age group.  The study showed that while 26% of IDF recruits are smokers when they join the military, but that number jumps to 36.5% by the time they finish their service.  In addition, the study showed that 56% of recruits who had quit smoking before enlisting resumed the habit while in the military.  The bill comes on the heels of a recent campaign announced by the IDF Chief of Staff called “A Smoke-Free IDF.”  The military has promised that in the next few months, cigarettes will no longer be sold at base shops.  The IDF has also decided to outlaw smoking on bases in places other than designated areas, and outlaw smoking in military vehicles.  (IH 28.07)

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1.3  Knesset Enacts Law Limiting After-School Care Prices

The Knesset has enacted a new law to limit the prices of afternoon after-school care.  The bill, introduced by Kulanu MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, which passed its second and third reading, empowers the Minister of Education to set maximum prices for after-school afternoon care prices for children up to third grade in institutions operated under the auspices of local authorities.  Institutions that exceed the stipulated prices can be fined up to NIS 50,000.  In each reading 65 MKs voted in favor, none voted against, while one MK abstained.  This legislation is an important component in Minister of Finance Kahlon’s “family net” program to ease expenditures and the cost of living for working families.  Maximum prices that can be charged for afternoon after-school care will be NIS 935 per month with families in lower socioeconomic brackets paying no more than NIS 780.  There will also be subsidies for outlying and disadvantaged areas.

Many local authorities have been charging far higher monthly fees and have attempted to persuade parents that their educational enrichment programs contained superior content than those being outlined by the government.  However, Kahlon was determined that Kulanu’s bill should pass before the Knesset broke for the summer recess.  (Globes 27.07)

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2:  ISRAEL MARKET & BUSINESS NEWS

2.1  Foresight Signs a Pilot Agreement with an Additional Leading Chinese Car Manufacturer

Foresight Autonomous Holdings has signed an agreement with a leading Chinese car manufacturer, for a pilot project to test Foresight’s Eyes-On advanced driver assistance system.  The Chinese manufacturer has an annual manufacturing capacity of over one million vehicles.  This pilot agreement follows a successful pilot with another leading Chinese car manufacturer, with whom Foresight is negotiating commercial cooperation.

Pursuant to the agreement, the Chinese manufacturer will provide Foresight a vehicle to be equipped with the company’s Eyes-On system in order to test its performance.  The pilot test will be financed by the manufacturer, except for production, shipping, installation and de-installation costs of the system.  The objectives of the test are to demonstrate the performance of Foresight’s accident prevention systems, which is based on 3D technology, and to gain deeper understanding of Chinese drivers’ requirements for driver assistance systems, taking into consideration local weather, infrastructure and common driving conduct.  Eyes-On will be tested in controlled and uncontrolled environments.  The parties have mutually agreed on pre-determined specific terms, conditions and specifications for the pilot test performance, as well as key performance indicators, requirements and criteria for the assessment of the pilot’s success.  The parties will consider entering into a future commercial agreement based on the results of the pilot test.

Ness Ziona’s Foresight, founded in 2015, is a technology company engaged in the design, development and commercialization of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) based on 3D video analysis, advanced algorithms for image processing and artificial intelligence.  The company, through its wholly owned subsidiary, develops advanced systems for accident prevention, which are designed to provide real-time information about the vehicle’s surroundings while in motion.  The systems are designed to alert drivers to threats that might cause accidents, resulting from traffic violations, driver fatigue or lack of concentration, etc., and to enable highly accurate and reliable threat detection while ensuring the lowest rates of false alerts.  The company estimates that its systems will revolutionize ADAS by providing an automotive grade, cost-effective platform, and advanced technology.  (Foresight 31.07)

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2.2  Maniv Mobility Announces Close of First Mobility-Only Fund in Israel

Maniv Mobility has raised its first fund, in excess of $40 million, twice its target.  Limited Partners in Maniv include equity crowdfunding pioneer OurCrowd, InMotion Ventures, a subsidiary of Jaguar Land Rover, and the $14 billion French Tier One supplier, Valeo, as well as hedge funds and family offices.  An affiliate of the 20-year-old Maniv Investments, Maniv Mobility invests primarily at the seed and Series A stage and already boasts a portfolio of 15 mobility technology startups, mostly in Israel with some in the US.  Over the last several years, and especially since Intel announced the acquisition of Mobileye for over $15 billion in March, the global automotive industry has increasingly been looking to Israel for the technology building-blocks that will be the center of its future value chain.

Tel Aviv’s Maniv Mobility invests in innovative early stage companies in the New Mobility sector – including advanced vehicle systems, enabling technology for vehicle autonomy, business model innovation and more.  Maniv’s portfolio includes companies in Israel and the United States that share the goal of enabling shared, connected, electric, autonomous transportation.  (Maniv Mobility 26.07)

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2.3  BrandTotal Raises $2 Million Seed Round

BrandTotal recently secured funding of $2 million in their seed round through two prominent Israeli investment groups.  The round included KDC Media Fund, the investment arm of Keshet, Israel’s leading television broadcaster, and Dick Clark Productions, the world’s largest producer and proprietor of live televised entertainment events.  It was led by Glilot Capital Partners, a venture capital fund specializing in enterprise software that was recently ranked as the third best performing VC fund in the world (according to Preqin).  BrandTotal’s solution helps marketers and brands gain valuable insight into their competitors’ dark marketing campaigns.  Using cyber and machine learning methodologies in the form of a proprietary algorithm that accurately models all online consumer activity and identifies competitive plans, BrandTotal’s platform is able to deliver actionable opportunities in real-time.  This allows brands to reverse engineer their competition’s marketing strategy and finally go agile – adjusting their marketing strategy on the fly.

With their headquarters in Tel Aviv, BrandTotal enables marketing managers to go agile and win over their KPI’s by providing them with unique and actionable business insights that uncover their competitors’ dark marketing efforts.  BrandTotal’s technology is able to collect data on ‘dark marketing’ from all digital channels, and alleviate marketers’ frustrations by providing them with insight and real-time action items to help them finally go agile and compete more effectively.  (BrandTotal 26.07)

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2.4  AXIM Biotech Agrees With Israel-Based CRO for Study for Restless Leg Syndrome Treatment

Poway, California’s Medical Marijuana announced that its major investment AXIM Biotechnologies has entered into a Services Agreement with an Israel-based contract research organization (CRO) to begin a clinical proof of concept study (POC) with its cannabidiol (CBD) and Gabapentin chewing gum product to treat restless leg syndrome (RLS) in patients.  The PK and double blind, randomized, single-center phase 2 trial will demonstrate the efficacy of AXIM’s chewing gum product composed of Gabapentin and CBD on around 30 study participants to treat RLS.  The CRO is conducting the trial in Israel.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis–Ekbom Disorder (WED), is a condition associated with nocturnal sensorimotor symptoms, or nocturnal spasms of the muscles of the lower extremities, that can result in significant sleep disruption and severe pain.  Medical Marijuana seeks to be the premier cannabis and hemp industry innovators, leveraging our team of professionals to source, evaluate and purchase value-added companies and products, while allowing them to keep their integrity and entrepreneurial spirit.  New York’s AXIM Biotechnologies, Inc. (AXIM) focuses on the research, development and production of cannabis-based pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and cosmetic products.  (Medical Marijuana 27.07)

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2.5  Namogoo Raises $8 Million to Help Retailers Win Back Stolen Revenues Hijacked from their Online Stores

Namogoo announced that it has raised $8 million in a Series A round led by GreatPoint Ventures with Blumberg Capital and Inimiti Capital also participating in the round.  The funds will primarily be used to open the company’s U.S. headquarters in Boston and to accelerate growth in the U.S. market through product development and marketing.  This brings the company’s total funding to $14 million.

Often undetected, ecommerce sites are being hijacked by online “hawkers” – outside merchants who nest shady product advertisements and deceptive links that lure shoppers in or drive them away.  Namogoo is pioneering the market of Journey-Hijack Prevention with the only technology platform designed to identify and block these unauthorized product ads.  By eliminating these invasive promotions, Namogoo consistently recovers up to 90 percent of stolen revenues for retailers’ online stores.  Namogoo uses cloud-based software and proprietary analytics to detect and block the evasive content spread across ecommerce sites.  Rather than being installed on the server, Namogoo tracks and analyzes billions of web sessions from the server all the way to customers’ browsers.

Ra’anana’s Namogoo is pioneering the market of Journey-Hijack Prevention.  The company’s disruptive technology is designed to identify and block unauthorized product ads injected into web sessions that are diverting the customer journey and hurting conversion rates.  The world’s largest retailers rely on Namogoo to eliminate invasive promotions and consistently recover revenue for online stores.  (Namogoo 01.08)

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2.6  Inception Raises $15 Million Series A Funding Led By RTL Group

Inception announced a $15 million Series A funding round led by RTL Group, a global leader across broadcast, content and digital.  This investment helps Inception expand its content catalogue, enhance its technology platform and accelerate growth.  Inception‘s unique combination of proprietary technology and exclusive content formats delivers the most engaging interactive VR experiences via a world-class app.  Consumers discover and experience the world’s best VR content on Inception’s app – original programming created with publishers and rights owners, channels of serialized interactive content and curated 3rd party content.  Launched in October 2016, Inception has apps for Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear, iOS, Android, Google Daydream and HTC Vive, with Microsoft Windows Mixed Reality & Sony PSVR coming soon.  Inception caters to the VR market, which is growing strongly, from 2.1 million head-mounted displays (HMDs) in 2016 to nearly 83 million in 2021, according to Future Source.

Tel Aviv’s Inception is fast becoming the leading 360 & VR destination of choice for premium content for millennials.  Inception launched in October 2016, and has top apps for all leading platforms.  Inception has produced notable art, music and lifestyle content, such as ‘Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick’, and experiences from the world of Salvador Dali, music experiences with DJs Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, and a steady content creation with publisher partners including Time Out and Pitchfork.  (Inception 01.08)

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2.7  Ferro Acquires Leading Technology for Printing on Glass Substrates

Ohio’s Ferro Corporation, a leading global provider of functional coatings and color solutions, has acquired Dip Tech, a leading provider of digital printing solutions for glass coatings.  Ferro paid $60 million, excluding customary adjustments and fees for Dip-Tech, which is a privately held company headquartered in Kfar Saba, Israel.  The Company expects the transaction to be accretive to earnings in 2018 based on year-one synergy-adjusted EBITDA, which is forecasted to be in a range of $6 million to $7 million.  Ferro expects a Return on Invested Capital of more than 15% within the first five years of the acquisition.  The transaction was funded through excess cash and borrowings under Ferro’s existing revolving credit facility.

Ferro’s strong commercial presence in the global appliance, architectural and automotive glass markets provides opportunities for introducing Dip-Tech’s digital technology and for expanding sales.  Ferro believes that its strength in developing inks and related raw materials, together with Dip-Tech’s technology, IP and established global success, provide numerous operating and commercial synergies.

Kfar Saba’s Dip-Tech is a pioneer in digital glass printing and is the leading supplier of digital glass printers, software and digital inks for the flat glass market.  It complements its technology with complete global technical, graphic, marketing and business support.  With a strong history of business with the world’s top glass designers and processors, and over 200 global equipment installations, Dip-Tech’s digital glass printers are used to produce millions of square meters of printed glass every year.  (Ferro Corporation 02.08)

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2.8  Nielsen Acquires Artificial Intelligence-Powered Sports Marketing Startup vBrand

Nielsen announced it has acquired vBrand, an Israel-based technology startup that has developed a machine learning-enabled platform to measure brand exposure and impact in sports programming.  vBrand and its technology will be fully integrated into Nielsen Sports, bringing increased delivery speed and scale to the company’s existing flagship sports products, Sport24 and Social24.  Financial terms were not disclosed.

The acquisition of vBrand’s advanced technology supercharges Nielsen Sports’ already industry-leading sponsorship measurement capabilities and methodologies, considered among the most robust in sports.  vBrand’s machine learning will significantly accelerate the speed at which Nielsen Sports’ logo recognition and media monitoring technologies locate and calculate brand positions on screen.  Specifically, the vBrand technology could allow brands and rights holders to monitor and track sponsorship visibility within hours of an event and adjust digital signage and social campaigns within a tournament, competition weekend or season.

The Nielsen acquisition is the latest milestone in an already well-established relationship between the two companies, as the Tel Aviv-based vBrand is a graduate of Nielsen Innovate—Nielsen’s early-stage technology incubator licensed by the Israel Innovation Authority (previously known as the Office of the Chief Scientist of Israel).

Tel Aviv’s vBrand is the leading provider of real-time sports sponsorship measurement, planning and maximizing data analytics across all platforms.  vBrand’s platform utilizes advanced image recognition technology, along with proprietary AI, and deep learning applications, to determine sports sponsorship exposure valuations across linear TV, digital TV, the web and social media.  The platform automatically and accurately detects on a frame-by-frame basis whenever a sponsor’s logo is visible to the human eye, while simultaneously weighing factors impacting each sponsor exposure such as duration, size, and image clarity.  vBrand’s platform then analyzes all of that cross-platform data in real time.  (Nielsen 03.08)

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3:  REGIONAL PRIVATE SECTOR NEWS

3.1  Jordan’s Tabuk Pharmaceuticals Signs an Exclusive In-Licensing Agreement with Korea’s Dong A

Jordan’s Tabuk Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Company, one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in the Middle East and North Africa region, has entered into an in-licensing agreement with Dong A, a Korean leading company, to in-license Zydena “Udenafil Tabs” exclusively for Tabuk in KSA & the Arabian Gulf area.  Under this agreement, Dong A will grant Tabuk exclusive rights to carry out the manufacturing processes under license, commercialize and distribute Zydena in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia & the Gulf area.  This project demonstrates Tabuk’s continued commitment to patients and to offering new medicines within an ongoing collaboration with global partners to deliver on its mission to help improve the lives of patients.  (Tabuk Pharmaceuticals 31.07)

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4:  CLEAN TECH & ENVIRONMENTAL DEVELOPMENTS

4.1  IAI’s VENUS & OPTSAT-3000 Satellites Successfully Launched into Space

Two IAI-made satellites were successfully launched on board the Arianespace’s Vega launcher early on 2 August at the Guiana Space Center’s Kourou site.  Israel’s first environmental research satellite, Venus, is a major project of the Israel Space Agency and the French space agency CNES.  It was launched together with the OPTSAT-3000, an advanced observation satellite designed for use by the Italian Defense Ministry.

Venus will revolve around the Earth 29 times within 48 hours and repeat exact photo angles, making it possible to note differences in conditions – characteristics that make the satellite unique.  Weighing only 265 kg., Venus reached its position of 720 km above Earth within 37 minutes and 18 seconds.  The first sign with preliminary data was received on the ground 5.5 hours after launch, but the initial images will arrive a week later.  Processed images will be sent to users three months after launch.  Venus is due to remain in operation for 4.5 years, after which it will be shifted to a lower trajectory.

Some 110 research areas will be photographed around the world.  When the satellite passes over Israel, Venus will photograph three swaths in the Galilee, the coastal area and the Negev where most national parks, forests, ecological stations and nature areas exist.  The photos will also benefit university, government, and state research institutes.

The second satellite sent up from Guiana Space Center was the OPTSAT-3000, an Earth observation program for the Italian Ministry of Defense.  It comprises a high-resolution optical satellite and a ground segment for in-orbit control, mission planning and the acquisition and processing of images.

The OPTSAT-3000 system is supplied by the prime contractor Telespazio, a joint venture between Leonardo and Thales.  The satellite and ground control systems were built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and selected by the Italian Ministry of Defense.  OHB Italia is responsible for the launch services and related engineering support.  (IAI 03.08)

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4.2  Green Amman & JEA Partner to Create ‘Engineers Forest’

On 30 July, the Green Amman 2020 committee agreed with the Jordan Engineers Association (JEA) to look for a plot of land for the purposes of planting 1 million trees in what will be called “the engineers forest.”  The head of the coordination committee presented plans and projects to be implemented in different regions of the Kingdom to increase the surface of green area and to raise awareness towards the environment.  She cited several upcoming measures including increasing the number of gardens and green spaces, planting trees, and enhancing coordination between all the concerned parties to reach a green Amman by 2020, in cooperation with strategic partners from the public and private sectors.  (JT 31.07)

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5:  ARAB STATE DEVELOPMENTS

5.1  Jordan to Follow Up On Donor Countries’ Adherence to Their Pledges

Jordan is working to secure a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session next month to follow up on countries’ adherence to their London and Brussels conferences’ pledges to the Kingdom.  According to Planning and International Cooperation Minister Fakhoury, Jordan will use the opportunity of the upcoming UN General Assembly session, to be held in New York in September, to “maintain the momentum of assistance extended to Jordan”.  The Kingdom has referred a report to the UN outlining its needs for the years 2017-2019, as part of the Jordan Response Plan, which seeks to cope with the repercussions of accommodating more than 1.4 million Syrian refugees.

In 2016, the total amount of foreign assistance pledged to Jordan reached $3.16 billion, of which $2.55 billion were deemed as development aid to the Kingdom, with grants amounting to $597.2 million and $923.6 million extended in the form of soft loans.  In addition, a total of $1.65 billion was agreed to be extended in 2016 to support the Jordan Response Plan.  The 2017 Brussels conference on Syria approved aid worth $39.7 billion, including six grants for countries hosting Syrian refugees, including Jordan.  The conference was co-chaired by the UN, the EU, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, Qatar and the UK, with the participation of 70 countries.

During the 2016 London conference to support Syrian refugees, donor countries pledged to extend $2.1 billion in additional grants over the next three years to help Jordan cope with the consequences of the influx of Syrian refugees and create jobs in the country.  (JT 05.08)

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5.2  Jordan & US Discuss Cooperation in Countering Nuclear Smuggling

Representatives of the United States and Jordan discussed perspectives on the threat of nuclear and radioactive smuggling and to review their governments’ cooperation to counter that threat.  Discussions during the meeting, tackled ongoing bilateral cooperation under a January 2016 Joint Action Plan that identifies steps for the governments to work together to prevent, detect, and respond to smuggling incidents involving nuclear and other radioactive materials.  Since signing the “Joint Action Plan,” both sides have exchanged best practices, consulted one another on their respective organizational structures that govern nuclear security, and collaborated to equip and train Jordan’s Counter Nuclear Smuggling Team.  During the meeting, the statement said, both countries identified specific next steps in their cooperation.

Jordan is a leader on global efforts to counter nuclear smuggling.  In 2016, the Kingdom has coordinated an international Statement of Activity and Cooperation to Counter Nuclear Smuggling, which it submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2017 along with 38 other signatories.  Jordan has hosted international events on counter nuclear smuggling to promote cooperation with other countries and is also an active member of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, a voluntary multinational partnership committed to preventing, detecting, and responding to nuclear terrorism, the statement added.  (Petra 26.07)

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5.3  Amman’s Budget Deficit Drops by JD111 Million in First Half

Jordan’s total public debt has dropped by 0.7% during the first half of 2017.  According to the Finance Ministry, the debt reached JD26.472 billion, accounting for 94.4% of the GDP compared to 95.1% at the end of 2016.  For the net public debt, it increased by JD941.8 million at the end of June, compared to the end of last year, as a result of financing the deficit of the general budget and the government-guaranteed loans of the National Electricity Company and the Water Authority.  Also, the ministry said that the general budget’s deficit, before grants, dropped down to JD111 million in the first six months of 2017.

The deficit amounted to JD420.7 million in the first half, compared with JD531.8 million for the same period of 2016, according to the ministry’s monthly newsletter.  The total public revenues reached JD3.446 billion compared with JD3.528 billion for the same period of 2016, recording a drop of 6.8%, while public expenditure during the same period, dropped to JD3.75 billion approximately, from JD3.82 billion in the first six months of 2016.  There was a drop in foreign grants by the end of June this year, to reach JD118.2 million, compared with JD240.7 million in the first half last year.  The ministry said that expected grants stand at JD777 million, the bulk of which is expected in the fourth quarter of the year.  (JT 01.08)

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5.4  Jordan Signs €107.5 Million Agreement with Germany

On 31 July, Jordan and Germany signed several agreements for grants and soft loans to support development projects in the Kingdom.  With the German support totaling €107.5 million, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Imad Fakhoury noted that €83.5 million are earmarked as grants, while around €24 million will be provided as soft loans to support a number of development schemes.  Noting that the new agreements are part of Germany’s support to the Jordan Response Plan and a follow up on its London Conference commitments, Fakhoury expressed Jordan’s gratitude to Germany for their support to the Kingdom to assist it in its efforts to address some of the challenges arising from the influx of Syrian refugees.  He also voiced appreciation for Germany’s additional support to Jordan as a result of the Brussels Conference.

About €191.3 million were announced as additional support to Jordan’s Executive Development Program, the Jordan Response Plan and other development priorities, including €150 million to support the water sector in cooperation with the the KfW, the German government-owned development bank, according to the minister.

The ceremony also saw the signing of several contracts between the KfW and Jordan on new financial cooperation projects for school construction, teachers’ salaries, water and wastewater systems and energy efficiency in the water sector.  Germany’s development commitment towards Jordan in 2016 stood at €322.5 million.  The ministers underlined the significance of the new support in assisting development plans in their respective fields.  (Petra 01.08)

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►►Arabian Gulf

5.5  President Announces New UAE Tax Procedures Law

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has issued the landmark Federal Law No. 7 of 2017 for Tax Procedures, which sets the foundations for the planned UAE tax system, regulating the administration and collection of taxes and clearly defining the role of the Federal Tax Authority, FTA.  The Law is an all-encompassing legislative framework that lays the groundwork for the UAE’s plan to implement taxes as a means to ensure sustainability and diversify the government’s revenue streams.  The increased resources will enable the Government to maintain the momentum of its development and infrastructure for a better future.

The Law defines a clear set of common procedures and rules to be applied to all tax laws in the UAE, namely, VAT and excise tax laws, and clearly states the respective rights and obligations of the FTA and the taxpayer.  The Law covers tax procedures, audits, objections, refunds, collection, and obligations – which include tax registration, tax-return preparation, submissions, payment and voluntary disclosure rules – in addition to tax evasion and general provisions.

When the Tax Procedures Law goes into effect, all UAE-based businesses will be required to keep accurate records for five years.  The law also sets penalties for non-compliance, as well as clear processes for appeals that align with international best practices, and establishes a fair and transparent environment for the FTA to carry out its mandate.  The Tax Procedures Law also establishes the register of tax agents who may interact with the FTA on behalf of taxpayers, specifies the basic requirements for appointing said tax agents and sets the standards for maintaining confidentiality by the Authority as well as its officers.  (WAM 01.08)

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5.6  Saudi Arabia Unemployment Continues to Rise, Testing Reform Plans

Saudi Arabia’s unemployment rate rose to 12.7% in the first quarter of 2017, continuing its steady climb as the economy grapples with the fallout of low oil prices, official data has showed.  The rising number of unemployed highlights the immense challenge Riyadh faces in meeting pledges to create jobs for its nationals amid a protracted economic slowdown.  According to the Saudi Press Agency, the latest statistics show that the total number of Saudis seeking jobs is 906,552, of which around 219,000 are men and 687,500 are women.

Saudi Arabia’s unemployment rate is a 1% above where it stood last year when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced his Vision 2030 economic reform plan.  The plan aims to cut the unemployment rate to 7% by 2030, among a raft of other targets.  Authorities are also introducing new fees and sector restrictions to encourage the employment of Saudis while reducing the kingdom’s reliance on its 11 million foreign workers.

One measure touted earlier this month was to ban expats from working at grocery stores.  The Saudi Ministry of Labor and Social Development (MLSD) released a draft decision in which jobs at grocery stores will become 100% ‘Saudized’.  The Saudi economy has added about 433,000 jobs per year on average over the last 10 years, but non-Saudis have taken up most of those new jobs, according to research by Jadwa Investment.  (Various 01.08)

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►►North Africa

5.7  Egypt’s Trade Deficit Drops by 43.8% Year-On-Year in May 2017

Egypt’s trade deficit dropped by 43.8% in May compared to the same month last year, CAPMAS revealed on 31 July.  The trade deficit reached approximately $2.32 billion in May 2017 versus $4.14 billion a year earlier.  Exports saw an 8.8% increase in May 2017 compared to May 2016, rising to $2.28 billion from $2.09 billion.  Meanwhile, imports to Egypt dropped 26.1% in May 2017 compared to the previous year, dropping to $4.6 billion compared to $6.32 billion in May 2016.  The trade balance is one component of the balance of payments, along with other factors, including investment flows and tourism revenues.  (CAPMAS 31.07)

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5.8  Egypt’s External Debt Up by 32% Since July 2016

The Central Bank of Egypt said 31 July that the country’s external debt has increased since July 2016 by 32.5%, an increase of $18.1 billion, registering $73.9 billion in March 2017.  The CBE attributed the rise of external debt to the net increase in loans by $19 billion and the decreased value of currencies loaned against the greenback by $1 billion.

Egypt has been negotiating billions of dollars in loans from various lenders to help revive an economy hit by political upheaval since the 2011 uprising, and to ease a dollar shortage that has crippled imports and driven away foreign investors.  Earlier this month, the country received the final instalment of the first $4 billion tranche of a $12 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In mid-August 2016, Egypt reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF over the three-year $12 billion loan to endorse the country’s fiscal reform program, which the government embarked on in 2014 in an attempt to curb the growing state budget deficit.  Egypt is expected to receive a third instalment of $2 billion from the IMF between December and January, following the next review to take place between November and December.  (CBE 31.07)

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5.9  Egypt’s FDI Reaches$8.7 Billion in FY 2016-17

Foreign direct investment in Egypt is expected to have risen to about $8.7 billion in the 2016-17 fiscal year that ended last June, compared to about $6.9 billion the previous year, an Investment Ministry statement said.  Egypt late last year signed a $12 billion three-year International Monetary Fund loan agreement and floated its currency in a bid to lure back investors that fled after its 2011 political uprising.  The ministry said that current indicators suggest FDI will exceed $10 billion in the current fiscal year.

Egypt’s central bank said that foreign reserves jumped by $4.73 billion to $36.04 billion at the end of July, higher even than their level before the 2011 uprising drained the country of foreign currency.  The last quarter of the 2016-17 fiscal year saw a jump in the number of new companies established, hitting 3,566 compared to 3,033 the year before.

Egypt is hoping a new investment law ratified in June that provides a raft of incentives like tax breaks and rebates can draw in fresh capital needed to boost economic growth.  The executive regulations of the law, which provide crucial details on what projects are eligible, are expected to be passed within the coming weeks.  (Reuters 04.08)

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5.10  Egypt’s Suez Canal Revenues Fall to $427.2 Million in June

Egypt’s Suez Canal revenues fell to $427.2 million in June from $439.8 million in May, a cabinet statement said on 2 August.  The canal is the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia and one of the Egyptian government’s main sources of foreign currency.  Egypt has been struggling to revive its economy since a 2011 uprising scared away tourists and foreign investors, key earners of hard currency.  (Reuters 02.08)

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6:  TURKISH, CYPRIOT & GREEK DEVELOPMENTS

6.1  Turkey’s Foreign Trade Deficit Narrows in June

Turkey’s foreign trade deficit has narrowed in June year-on-year, the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) said on 31 July.  In June 2017, the foreign trade deficit was $6.01 billion with a 9.1% decrease compared to June 2016.  The new data showed Turkey’s exports rose by 2.3% year-on-year to reach $13.17 billion in June compared to the same period last year.  In June, Turkey’s total imports fell by 1.5% year-on-year down to $19.18 billion in June.

During the first half of the year, the country’s foreign trade deficit reached $30.8 billion, marking a 10% increase compared to the previous year.  The country’s exports advanced 8.2% to $77.5 billion while imports increased 8.7% to $108.3 billion in the 2017 January-June period.  TUIK’s report revealed that manufacturing constituted the majority of June exports, with a 94.6% share and a value worth $12.5 billion.

TUIK showed Turkey’s exports to the European Union remained flat at $6.25 billion in June 2017 compared to last year.  Germany was the main recipient of Turkish exports with trade reaching $1.3 billion in June followed by the United Arab Emirates with $896 million, the United States with $886 million and the United Kingdom with $808 million.  Turkish imports, worth $1.9 billion, mostly came from China.  Imports from Germany amounted to $1.6 billion, $1.4 billion from Russia and $1.06 billion from the U.S.  (Anadolu Agency 31.07)

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6.2  Foreign Tourist Arrivals to Turkey Rise Sharply In June to Nearly 3.5 Million

The number of foreign tourists visiting Turkey rose 43% in June to nearly 3.5 million with a 1.573% year-on-year increase of arrivals from Russia.  The sharp rise in June follows a turnaround in tourism numbers in April, when the number of foreign visitors rose for the first time in nearly two years.  Tourism, which adds about $30 billion to the GDP each year, was hit by a diplomatic crisis, a coup attempt last July and a spate of bombings, which scared away tourists over the past year.

According to data from the Culture and Tourism Ministry, a total of 763,727 Russians visited Turkey in June with a sharp increase from the same period in 2016.  Nearly 1.4 million tourists from Europe visited Turkey in June with a 0.6% increase compared to the same period in 2016.  Arrivals from Europe plummeted in June 2016, declining from 2.2 million in the same month in 2015.  Russia became the top tourist market for Turkey in June with the country taking a 21.9% share in total arrivals, followed by Germany, Iran, Ukraine and the UK.

A total of 12.3 million foreigners arrived in Turkey in the first half of the year with a 14% year-on-year increase.  The country saw an 820% year-on-year increase in the number of arrivals from Russia with 1.69 million Russians visiting Turkey in the first half.  A total of 4.8 million Europeans arrived in Turkey in the first six months of the year with a 12.7% year-on-year decrease.  In the first half of the year, Russia again became the largest tourism market with a share of 13.8% in total arrivals.  Russia was followed by Germany, Georgia, Iran and Bulgaria in this period.  Turkey’s tourism revenue has shown strong recovery in the second quarter of the year after a tough period amid a series of problems, according to the official data on July 31.  In the second quarter of the year, the country’s tourism revenue rose to $5.4 billion with an 8.7% year-on-year increase, according to data from the Turkish Statistic Institute (TUIK).  (TUIK 01.08)

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6.3  Turkish Biosecurity Council Allows Use of Genetically Modified Animal Food

Turkey’s Biosecurity Council has approved the use of three types of genetically modified soybeans and one type of genetically modified corn as animal food.  The decision was undertaken after the Poultry Meat Producers and Breeders Association (BESD-BIR) applied to the council.  The council then analyzed reports prepared by its scientific risk evaluation and socioeconomic evaluation committees, approving that MON87708, BPS-CV127-9 and MON87705 soybeans as well as MON87460 type corn can all be used to feed animals under certain conditions.  Turkey normally does not allow the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) for food.  (HDN 02.08)

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6.4  Bank of Greece to Adjust 2017 Growth Estimate to 1.7%

The Bank of Greece is preparing a slight upward revision of its forecasts for the Greek economy this year.  Growth in the second quarter this year is now estimated to have come to 0.8% on an annual basis, leading to the conclusion that the economy will expand by 1.7% in 2017, as opposed to the 1.6% BoG Governor Yannis Stournaras had forecast in his report.  Growth in the first quarter amounted to 0.4%, but the rate is expected to have risen since then thanks to completion of the second bailout review and positive tourism data.

In its report in June the central bank noted that the economy’s midterm prospects remained favorable, stressing the significance of the positive political and economic developments in the European Union.  It also pointed out that the completion of the second review would improve the financial sentiment in Greece, while highlighting the need to accelerate structural reforms so as to retain the positive growth outlook.  (BoG 05.08)

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7:  GENERAL NEWS AND INTEREST

*REGIONAL:

7.1  Jordanian House Abolishes Controversial Article 308

In a historic vote on 1 August, the Lower House of the Jordanian Parliament decided to abolish the controversial Article 308 of the Penal Code that allowed sexual assault perpetrators to escape punishment by marrying the victims.  Following a heated 30-minute session and a public vote by members, Speaker of the Lower House Atef Tarawneh declared that Article 308 is voted down.  Tarawneh’s announcement was met with cheers and applause by more than 200 men and women from the local civil movement in Jordan who attended the session to voice their rejection of Article 308.  Prime Minister Hani Mulki had reiterated the government’s stand concerning Article 308 in a brief remark before the voting session commenced.

Activists and civil society groups staged a sit-in before the session was to commence in front of the Parliament to reiterate their demands for the complete abolition of controversial Article 308.  A Royal committee had suggested abolishing the article in February and the government endorsed the decision shortly afterwards.  However, during two earlier Lower House sessions, several lawmakers suggested amending the article instead of scrapping it altogether and the Legal Committee at the Lower House made three suggestions which included exceptions in incidents of consensual sex and sexual molestation of victims aged between 15 and 18 years old.  A third exception was proposed for anyone who “seduces a virgin over 18 years of age with the promise of marriage and caused her to lose her virginity”.  (Petra 02.08)

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7.2  Morocco Baccalaureate Success Rate Reaches 62.5% in 2017, 0.78% Higher than 2016

The results of the second session of the Baccalaureate examination revealed the Moroccan Ministry of Education shows the graduation rate for 2017 reached 62.5%, compared to 61.72% in 2016.  The total number of candidates who passed the Baccalaureate examination in June averaged 325.191 candidates.  From this total, 49.490 students graduated during the July second session.  The largest rate of success was recorded among female graduates, registering 52%.  Male graduates represented a success rate of 48%.  The highest rate of academic success, 66.43%, was recorded in the scientific branches, while the literary branches recorded a 63.23% success rate.

For the academic year 2016-2017, the overall number of new undergraduates was 838,000, out of whom 766,000 were enrolled in universities.  The remainder were enrolled in private schools.  A budget of MAD 1.9 billion was allocated for 286,000 scholarships, available to students requiring financial assistance.  For the upcoming academic 2017-2018 year, the number of undergraduate students is expected to reach one million.  The university students’ demography is in continuous and fast growth, which results in a serious problem of overcrowding, said the ministry.  (MWN 24.07)

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8:  ISRAEL LIFE SCIENCE NEWS

8.1  Integrity Applications Announces Close of $12 Million Private Placement

Integrity Applications has successfully closed a private placement offering, raising approximately $12 million over the past 16 months.  Accredited investors purchased units consisting of one share of Series C preferred stock, convertible into shares of the Company’s common stock at $4.50 per share, and two warrants to purchase shares of the Company’s common stock at $4.50 and $7.75 per share, respectively.  The transaction was led by Andrew Garrett, a New York City based full-service investment bank and the Company’s investment advisor, which acted as sole placement agent.  Since its incorporation as a U.S. Delaware based company, Integrity Applications has successfully raised approximately $35 million in equity financings exclusively through Andrew Garrett.

Integrity Applications was founded in 2001 and is focused on the design, development and commercialization of non-invasive glucose monitoring technologies for people with type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes.  The company has developed GlucoTrack, a proprietary non-invasive glucose monitoring device designed to obtain glucose measurements in about a minute without the pain, incremental cost, difficulty or discomfort of conventional invasive finger stick devices.  Integrity Applications is a Delaware corporation, with headquarters in the United States and an R&D site in Ashdod, Israel.  (Integrity Applications 02.08)

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8.2  Volcani Center Wins UNESCO Prize for Agriculture Innovation

The Agricultural Research Organization Volcani Center, a government-run institute in central Israel known for its groundbreaking discoveries, is among the three winners of the UNESCO Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences for 2017.  This marks the first time an Israeli organization or individual wins the prize, which “rewards the outstanding scientific research projects of individuals, institutions or other entities working in the life sciences that have led to an improvement in the quality of human life.”  In a statement announcing the three laureates, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said the Volcani Center “has successfully developed cutting-edge innovations and methodologies in agricultural research with practical applications as well as capacity-building programs to promote food security in arid, semi-arid and desert environments, advancing human well-being.”  The other two laureates are from Brazil and Portugal.  (Various 27.07)

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8.3  Aspect Imaging Announces FDA Clearance of Embrace – Neonatal MRI System for NICU

Aspect Imaging received Food and Drug Administration clearance for the first neonatal-dedicated MRI system, Embrace Neonatal MRI system.  Since Embrace is specifically designed for neonatal brain and head imaging in the neonatal intensive care unit, the unnecessary time and risk involved in transporting infants to an MRI facility outside the NICU is avoided.  The Embrace Neonatal MRI system enables safer imaging of vulnerable newborns, allowing medical staff and parents to be present during scanning.  With this dedicated NICU MRI scanner, preparation and scanning takes less than an hour.  The Embrace Neonatal MRI System does not require a special safety zone or an RF-shielded room, and can therefore be placed inside the NICU.  Since the system is fully enclosed, medical device implants in close proximity to the system are not required to be “MR Conditional” or “MR Safe”.  The operating and maintenance costs of the Embrace MRI system are much lower than conventional superconductor MRIs due to Aspect’s magnet technology which requires no cooling system and has low power consumption.

Shoham’s Aspect Imaging is a world leader in the design and development of complete, compact MRI and NMR systems. Our unique technology platform is the backbone for a wide range of products, spanning preclinical, medical, oil and gas, and advanced industrial markets.  (Aspect Imaging 26.07)

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8.4  NRGene & China’s Genosys Deliver Cotton Genome

NRGene and Genosys, a leading distributor of genomics technologies in China, have partnered to deliver two complete cotton genomes.  Upland cotton constitutes 90% of the global cotton grown around the world and is used to produce most of the world’s clothing.  Gossypium barbadense, also known as extra-long staple (ELS) cotton, is used in luxury cotton fabrics.  Upon completion of the comprehensive genomes, it will be quick and inexpensive to analyze the other thousands of varieties because the genomic infrastructure will already be in place.  NRGene’s DeNovoMAGIC 3.0 provided the genome assembly based on the raw sequence data.  PanMAGIC will be used to assemble the pan-genome.  It compares all-to-all of the de-novo assemblies to get the best view of local differences such as SNPs, as well as global changes such as translocations and duplications of whole chromosomic regions and PAV/CNV/SV analysis.

Ness Ziona’s NRGene is a genomic big data company developing cutting-edge software and algorithms to reveal the complexity and diversity of crop plants, animals and aquatic organisms for supporting the most advanced and sophisticated breeding programs.  NRGene tools have already been employed by some of the leading seed companies worldwide as well as the most influential research teams in academia.  (NRGene 26.07)

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8.5  BioLineRx Announces Additional Investment From BVF Partners

BioLineRx announced that BVF Partners L.P. (BVF), its largest shareholder, has entered into a definitive agreement to make an additional, direct investment of $9.6 million in BioLineRx, increasing its economic interest in the Company to 24.9%.  The sale is expected to close on or about July 31, 2017, subject to satisfaction of customary closing conditions.  BVF’s new investment is priced at $1.13 per unit.  Each unit consists of 1 ordinary share, 0.35 of a Series A warrant, and 0.35 of a Series B warrant.  The Series A warrants have an exercise price of $2.00 per ordinary share and a 4-year term.  The Series B warrants have an exercise price of $4.00 per ordinary share and a 4-year term.  The securities are being offered pursuant to a prospectus as a registered direct placement.

Modi’in’s BioLineRx is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on oncology and immunology.  The Company in-licenses novel compounds, develops them through pre-clinical and/or clinical stages and then partners with pharmaceutical companies for advanced clinical development and/or commercialization.  (BioLineRx 26.07)

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8.6  Teva Announces Launch of Generic Epiduo in the United States

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries announced the launch of generic Epiduo1 (adapalene and benzoyl peroxide) gel, 0.1%/2.5% in the U.S.  Adapalene and benzoyl peroxide gel 0.1%/2.5% is a combination of adapalene, a retinoid and benzoyl peroxide, and is indicated for the topical treatment of acne vulgaris in patients 9 years of age and older.  Teva was the first company to file a generic application for Epiduo and is expected to benefit from 180-days of generic product exclusivity.  This launch marks the most recent addition to Teva’s portfolio of over 40 dermatology products.

With close to 600 generic medicines available, Teva has the largest portfolio of FDA-approved generic products on the market and holds the leading position in first-to-file opportunities, with over 100 pending first-to-files in the U.S. Currently, one in six generic prescriptions dispensed in the U.S. is filled with a Teva product.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is a leading global pharmaceutical company that delivers high-quality, patient-centric healthcare solutions used by approximately 200 million patients in 100 markets every day.  Headquartered in Israel, Teva is the world’s largest generic medicines producer, leveraging its portfolio of more than 1,800 molecules to produce a wide range of generic products in nearly every therapeutic area.  In specialty medicines, Teva has the world-leading innovative treatment for multiple sclerosis as well as late-stage development programs for other disorders of the central nervous system, including movement disorders, migraine, pain and neurodegenerative conditions, as well as a broad portfolio of respiratory products.  (Teva 28.07)

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8.7  Kitov Submits New Drug Application to FDA for KIT-302

Kitov Pharmaceuticals Holdings has submitted a New Drug Application (NDA) to the U.S. FDA for KIT-302, its lead drug candidate.  KIT-302 is a patented combination of celecoxib and amlodipine, and is intended to treat osteoarthritis pain and hypertension simultaneously.  The company expects that within 60 days the FDA will determine whether the NDA is complete and acceptable for filing.

Tel Aviv’s Kitov Pharmaceuticals is an innovative biopharmaceutical drug development company.  Leveraging deep regulatory and clinical-trial expertise, Kitov’s veteran team of healthcare professionals maintains a proven track record in streamlined end-to-end drug development and approval.  Kitov’s flagship combination drug, KIT-302, intended to treat osteoarthritis pain and hypertension simultaneously, achieved the primary efficacy endpoint for its Phase III clinical trial.  Kitov’s newest drug, NT219, which is developed by its majority owned subsidiary, TyrNovo, is a small molecule that presents a new concept in cancer therapy, and in combination with various approved oncology drugs, demonstrated potent anti-tumor effects and increased survival in various cancer models.  By lowering development risk and cost through fast-track regulatory approval of novel therapeutics, Kitov plans to deliver rapid ROI and long-term potential to investors, while making a meaningful impact on people’s lives.  (Kitov 31.07)

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8.8  Laminate Receives IDE Approval from FDA to Initiate Clinical Study of the VasQ Device

Laminate Medical Technologies (Laminate), an Israeli biomedical start-up developing VasQ, an implanted blood vessel external support device for patients requiring arteriovenous fistula as vascular access for hemodialysis, announced that it has received Investigational Device Exemption (IDE) approval from the U.S. FDA.  IDE approval allows Laminate to evaluate the safety and efficacy of VasQ in clinical trials in the United States, with the goal of obtaining FDA marketing approval.

IDE approval for this pivotal study marks an important step forward for VasQ in the American market and a promising milestone for patients with kidney failure.  The current technique for creating an arteriovenous fistula is over 50 years old, but is still associated with high failure rates over time, requiring dialysis patients to undergo multiple surgical or endovascular procedures to keep their fistula functioning.  This is a very traumatic process for people already coping with kidney failure.  It is hoped that this step forward will advance VasQ toward changing that process in the United States, as it already has done in Europe.

Developed by Laminate, VasQ is intended for patients suffering from kidney failure and in need of dialysis, which requires vascular access.  The most common and preferred method of vascular access is an arteriovenous fistula, created by surgically suturing a blood vessel connection between an artery and a vein, usually in the region of the wrist or the elbow.  Two intravenous needles are inserted through the vein to remove the patient’s blood for filtration in the dialysis machine, and then return it.  This connection ensures a sufficiently high transfer of blood volume (veins do not transfer sufficient volume, while arteries are too deep for repeated insertion of a needle).

Laminate Medical Technologies was founded in 2012 in the Rad-Biomed incubator.  Laminate has developed VasQ, a blood vessel support device for patients receiving dialysis.  VasQ is CE Marked and used in hospitals in Europe and Israel.  (Laminate 01.08)

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8.9  Keystone Heart Accelerates Trials for Device to Protect Brain During Heart Procedures

Keystone Heart announced plans to initiate clinical trials for a new, advanced version of Keystone Heart TriGuard cerebral embolic protection device.  This third-generation device, TriGuard 3, will continue the TriGuard legacy of being the only device designed to provide full coverage of all cerebral vessels while protecting the brain from embolic debris resulting from heart procedures, and also offer technological improvements over earlier versions of the device.  The company has accelerated the development program to enable initiation of third-generation device trials by the end of the year.

Like earlier TriGuard devices, TriGuard 3 is designed to protect the brain from emboli during transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) and other heart procedures to minimize the risk of stroke and other potential damage to the brain.  Unique to its design, TriGuard 3 is focused on ease of use, and an ability to minimize interactions with other heart procedure devices.  The new device is designed for universal patient application by being anatomy independent and does not interact with any of the cerebral branch vessels.  TriGuard 3 incorporates an over the wire design via an 8 fr sheath.

Caesarea’s Keystone Heart is a medical device company developing and manufacturing cerebral protection devices to reduce the risk of stroke, neurocognitive decline and dementia caused by brain emboli associated with cardiovascular procedures.  The Company is focused on protecting the brain from emboli to reduce the risk of brain infarcts during TAVR, surgical valve replacement, atrial fibrillation ablation and other cardiovascular procedures.  The TriGuard product pipeline is designed to help interventional cardiologists, electrophysiologists and cardiac surgeons to preserve brain reserve while performing these procedures.  (Keystone Heart 01.08)

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8.10  DuPont & Evogene Multiyear Collaboration for Development of Corn Bio-Stimulant Products

Johnston, Iowa’s DuPont Pioneer and Evogene entered into a multiyear collaboration that includes the research and development of microbiome-based seed treatments in corn.  The goal of the collaboration is to provide farmers with innovative bio-stimulant seed treatment products that protect and maximize corn yield by leveraging each other’s relevant market-leading technologies.  Under the terms of the agreement, DuPont will provide access to its extensive seed treatment application technology and product development expertise.  Evogene will apply its predictive computational biology platform to decipher plant/microbiome interactions along with its microbial formulation and fermentation technologies.  The combination of these key capabilities increases the opportunity to fully activate the potential of the emerging field of microbiome-based seed treatment products.

By leveraging the understanding of the complex plant/microbiome interaction, the parties will work to develop a next generation of bio-stimulant products aimed at demonstrating high standards for performance and consistency criteria across a range of corn varieties and global locations.  Product development efforts under the collaboration will utilize, as a starting point, Evogene’s proprietary microbe combinations which are already identified and validated in field testing to have significant positive impact on key crop characteristics, including yield productivity as previously disclosed by Evogene in 2016.  The multi-year collaboration has an extension option if certain milestones are met.  Pioneer will obtain worldwide marketing rights for any products, with milestone payments and royalties to be paid to Evogene.  Specific financial terms and additional details of the agreement were not disclosed.

Rehovot’s Evogene is a leading biotechnology company for the improvement of crop productivity.  The company has developed a proprietary innovative technology platform, leveraging scientific understanding and computational technologies to harness Ag ‘Big Data’ for developing improved seed traits (via: GM and non-GM approaches), as well as innovative ag-chemical and novel ag-biological products.  (DuPont Pioneer 26.07)

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9:  ISRAEL PRODUCT & TECHNOLOGY NEWS

9.1  Votiro Introduces New Version of Secure Data Sanitization Platform

Votiro, global provider of Advanced Content Disarm and Reconstruction solutions for protecting organizations against ongoing cyber threats, announced the release of a key product update, enabling the platform to support several new file formats.  This new product release will enable Votiro’s customers to better defend themselves against high-profile attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya, making this update critical.

With data breaches at an all time high–roughly 5,426,526 data records are lost or stolen on a daily basis– companies struggle to find the best way to protect and secure their data.  Votiro’s patented Advanced Content Disarm and Reconstruction technology actively disarms malicious content from files reconstructing a clean, safe to edit version of the original file, protecting organizations against undisclosed and zero-day threats.  The cleansed files preserve the integrity and functionality of the original files and email messages, after which attachments can safely continue to the organization.  By eliminating undisclosed, zero-day exploits and removing active code from documents to avoid potential infections, Votiro’s technology protects millions of users from becoming victims of targeted attacks.

Votiro provides organizations with essential protection against undisclosed and zero-day exploits utilized in cyber-attacks.  The company’s Secure Email Gateway provides a robust process and patented Advanced Content Disarm and Reconstruction technology for cleansing files from potential cyber-threats.  Founded in 2010, Votiro is headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel with sales offices in the United States, Singapore and Australia.  (Votiro 28.07)

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9.2  My Size Beta-Testing New “Room Dimension” App to Support Home Improvement Markets

My Size has further expanded My Size’s quickly growing technology and product pipeline with the introduction of the Company’s “Room Dimension” smartphone application.  The new mobile application, currently at the beta stage of testing, is in design to support the continuously growing, multi-billion-dollar home improvement and interior design markets.

Room Dimension works by simply moving your smart phone along the wall.  The current plans call for the Room Dimension drawing to include the lengths and widths of walls, windows and doors and the angles between them which drawings can then be stored and shared.  In the future, drawings could be available in 3D and users could be able to virtually move furniture around in the space.

Airport City’s My Size has developed a unique measurement technology based on sophisticated algorithms and cutting-edge technology with broad applications including the apparel, e-commerce do it yourself (DIY), shipping and parcel delivery industries.  This proprietary technology is driven by several patent-pending algorithms which are able to calculate and record measurements in a variety of novel ways.  (My Size 27.07)

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9.3  MySize Wins “Most Promising Startup” in the eCommerce Field at the “Go eCommerce” Summit

MySize was awarded “Most Promising Startup” in the ecommerce field at the “Go eCommerce Summit,” Israel’s leading technology event.  The fifth annual Go eCommerce Summit kicked off on 26 July 2017 in Tel Aviv.  MySize beat dozens of other companies in the field of ecommerce, having received the highest weighted score in the competition.  The panel of judges examined the companies according to various criteria, including innovation and technological creativity, business model, design and user experience, support and customer service, as well as marketing and public relations.

Airport City’s MySize has developed a unique measurement technology based on sophisticated algorithms and cutting edge technology with broad applications including the apparel, e-commerce DIY, shipping and parcel delivery industries.  This proprietary technology is driven by several patent-pending algorithms which are able to calculate and record measurements in a variety of novel ways.  (MySize 01.08)

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9.4  MyHeritage Acquires the Legacy Family Tree Software and Webinar Platform

MyHeritage announced its acquisition of Surprise, Arizona’s Millennia Corporation, makers of the popular genealogy desktop software Legacy Family Tree and genealogy webinar platform, Legacy Family Tree Webinars.  This is MyHeritage’s ninth acquisition to date.

With hundreds of thousands of devoted users since 1997, Legacy Family Tree consistently ranks among the top three most popular and highly rated genealogy software products in the industry.  The Legacy Family Tree Webinar platform — that has amassed a large and dedicated fan base since 2010 — draws speakers who are leaders in their field and covers a wide variety of topics, including genealogical research methodology, DNA, and historical records, representing a full array of educational genealogy content.  MyHeritage, which has developed a world-class, global mobile and Web platform for family trees, historical records and DNA testing, used by more than 90 million users worldwide, will now offer its services to Legacy’s users.

Or Yehuda’s MyHeritage is the leading global destination for family history and DNA testing.  As technology thought leaders, MyHeritage has transformed family history into an activity that is accessible and instantly rewarding.  Its global user community enjoys access to a massive library of historical records, the most internationally diverse collection of family trees and groundbreaking search and matching technologies.  Launched in November 2016, MyHeritage DNA is a technologically advanced, affordable DNA test that reveals ethnic origins and previously unknown relatives.  (MyHeritage 03.08)

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9.5  Redkix Introduces First Team Messaging Platform Powered by Email

Redkix is announcing the public beta availability of its product.  Starting now, teams of any size will be able to manage their messaging and email through one centralized location.  Despite the number of collaboration tools that have attempted to kill email, getting work done continues to be a lot of work, and email remains the backbone of nearly every professional organization’s communication.  Through years of research, the Redkix team determined several factors contributing to the lack of change.  First, for collaboration tools to succeed they require 100% participation – a near impossible task in a large organization, and especially within teams working with external parties.  Additionally, with each new collaboration tool comes a second inbox to manage alongside the traditional email inbox, and as a result, the rise of unnecessary anxiety around communication among today’s workforce.

Redkix has built the first team messaging platform powered by email.  Integrated with the open protocol that makes email universally accessible, Redkix has created team messaging that allows out-of-network, non-Redkix users, to participate in a conversation seamlessly via email.  By allowing out-of-network participation, Redkix has eliminated a key point of friction in adopting and maintaining modern team collaboration tools.

Tel Aviv’s Redkix is a team messaging platform powered by email.  It was born to make great collaboration happen and aims to be the mission control for your work communication.  Founded in 2014, the company has raised $20 million in funding from Salesforce Ventures, Wicklow Capital, SG VC and private investors.  (Redkix 02.08)

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9.6  CloudAlly’s Education Backup Package Prevents Data Loss at Universities

CloudAlly announced its new Education Package; with improved pricing terms; providing an all-round cloud data backup for academic institutions.  The Education Package fulfills an industry need for affordable third-party software-as-a-service (SaaS) backup and recovery solutions that prevent data loss in education.  Cloud applications come with some risks including data loss due to sync issues, intentional or accidental deletion or user error.  What many academic institutions don’t realize is that it’s the responsibility of their own IT department to fill in the data protection gaps by selecting a third-party SaaS backup for G Suite and Office 365.  That’s where CloudAlly’s new Educational Package, is invaluable in preventing data in Universities and Academic Institutions.  With a pricing model to accommodate academic institutions, -CloudAlly ensures data availability.  Unlike most other SaaS backup and recovery solutions, which charge per user, CloudAlly’s low-cost backup solution charges based on storage needs of the university.

Founded in 2011, Ra’anana’s CloudAlly‘s ISO 27001 and HIPAA Certified cloud-to-cloud backup & recovery solution, backs up daily changes in your SaaS applications to unlimited Amazon S3 storage, and makes it available for restore or export from any point in time.  We make backup simple and your online data secure.  (CloudAlly 02.08)

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10:  ISRAEL ECONOMIC STATISTICS

10.1  Israel Ranked World’s 8th Largest Defense Supplier

Israel was rated in eighth place among the world’s leading sellers of weapons systems last year.  In 2016, Israel’s four leading defense companies – Elbit Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Military Industries (IMI) had $8.6 billion in sales to the defense market.  The ranking is by international accounting firm Baker Tilly, based on figures from US weekly Defense News.  The rating of the world’s 100 leading defense companies is solely according to their sales to the defense markets, and does not include civilian market sales and revenue.

Elbit Systems was the leading Israeli defense company in defense sales in 2016, although when civilian sales are included, IAI had larger sales.  Elbit Systems was ranked 27th in the world in defense sales, while IAI was ranked in 33rd place.  According to Baker Tilly, Elbit Systems’ defense sales totaled $3.1 billion in 2016, compared with $2.6 billion for IAI.  Rafael rose from 41st place in Baker Tilly’s international rankings for 2015 to 37th place for 2016 with $2.3 billion in sales, up 17%, compared with the preceding year, making it one of the world’s fastest growing defense companies, according to Baker Tilly.  (Globes 03.08)

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11:  IN DEPTH

11.1  ISRAEL:  Private Equity Invested $807 Million in First Half – Lowest Amount in Three Years

Israeli and overseas private equity funds were involved in 19 private equity deals in the second quarter of 2017, investing $412 million, the latest IVC-Research – Shibolet & Co. law firm survey has found.  Notably, less deals were performed this quarter compared with the second quarter of 2016 (22 deals) and the first quarter of 2017 (29 deals), a 21% decline from the three-year quarterly average (24 deals).  The total invested by private equity funds in the second quarter of 2017 was slightly up from the $396 million invested in the preceding quarter, but significantly lower than the $1.26 billion invested in the corresponding quarter of 2016.

The first half of 2017 saw 48 deals reaching $807 million, the lowest amount invested by private equity funds in three years, compared with $1.52 billion and $2.07 billion invested in the first halves of 2016 and 2015, respectively.  Despite the decrease in capital, the number of deals grew 17% year-on-year from 41 deals in the first half of 2016, slightly below the five-year average of 50 private equity deals.

Shibolet & Co. partner Adv. Omer Ben-Zvi said, “Although the number of Israeli private equity deals grew in the first half of 2017, we have not yet seen any mega deals since the beginning of this year, which typically immensely affect the total dollar amount scope.  The largest PE deal in the first half of 2017 was the $140 million buyout of R2Net by Francisco Partners, as all other deals during that term amounted to $50 million or less.”

He continued, “Recently the press reported a forecasted $400 million buyout of Francisco Partners’ equity in NSO by Blackstone.  This joins some other major deals already announced in the third quarter of 2017, such as the $100 million buyout of Tuttenauer by Israeli PE fund Fortissimo, and a $75 million investment by Insight Venture Partners in WalkMe.  Israeli private equity market, according to our observation, demonstrates a stable activity and continues to be a steady attraction for overseas private equity firms.  We believe that although the market is cautious in terms of valuations, there are great Israeli opportunities for substantial private equity deals to come.”

Israeli private equity funds participated in only eight deals in the second quarter of 2017, investing $164 million, or 40% of total PE capital, almost equal to the $161 million invested in the second quarter of 2016, but 46% lower than the $306 million invested in the first quarter of 2017.  The number of deals in the second quarter of 2017 was 43% below the five-year average, down from 16 and 10 deals in the preceding quarter and corresponding quarter respectively.  AMI Opportunities implemented the largest deal buying 55% of Max Stock for $47 million in a buyout deal in the second quarter of 2017.

Despite the slow second quarter, the IVC-Shibolet survey revealed that Israeli PE funds performed better in the first half of 2017 compared to the first half of 2016, both in terms of deal number (24 vs. 20) and amounts invested ($470 million vs. $271 million).  This was mostly due to their successful first quarter of 2017, when the two largest deals were struck – the buyout of Telefire Fire & Gas Detectors by Tene Growth for $76 million and the $50 million buyout of Ace Auto Depot by Kedma.

IVC Research Center research manager Marianna Shapira said, “In the first half of 2017, we observed seemingly contradictory findings in the private equity market in Israel: a growth in the number of deals, combined with a decrease in the amount of capital invested.  This stems from two complementary trends – increased deal-making by Israeli PE funds from the first quarter (which, however, decelerated towards the middle of the year) combined with average levels of activity by foreign PE funds (25 deals), as in the past three years – resulted in a higher number of deals.”

She added, “In terms of capital investments, foreign PE funds spend noticeably less capital in the first half of 2017 – $337 million, or a 59% decrease from the five-year average of $816 million.  This reflected the low buyout activity of foreign PE funds (only one $140 million buyout was registered in the first half of 2017), while, on average, buyout deals involving foreign PE funds are above $300 million per deal.  Though Israeli funds performed above their average investment level of the past three years (a 19% increase) in the first half of 2017, the amounts they invested have less impact in terms of total capital investments.  The combination of those trends points out that private equity funds apply a cautious investment strategy, preferring dispersing smaller amounts among larger number of deals in the first half of 2017.”

According to IVC Research Center’s analysis, 41 Israeli private equity management companies are currently active, managing a total of $13 billion in capital, with an estimated $1 billion available for new investments.  In the first half of 2017, only Sky Private Equity III closed capital, raising $200 million.  Five other funds are in the process of raising capital.

IVC Research Center is the leading online provider of data and analyses on Israel’s high-tech, venture capital and private equity industries.  Its information is used by all key decision-makers, strategic and financial investors, government agencies and academic and research institutions in Israel.

Shibolet & Co. is one of Israel’s prominent, full-service, commercial-corporate law firms.  It is highly regarded its extensive international footprint and its handling of complex cross-border matters.  The firm is renowned for best serving the legal interests of foreign firms and individuals in Israel.  Shibolet & Co. is based in the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial and financial center, and was the first Israeli law firm to open an Israeli-Chinese desk in Shanghai.  (IVC 31.07)

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11.2  IRAQ:  IMF Second Review of Iraq’s Stand-By Arrangement & 2017 Article IV Consultation

On 1 August, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) completed the second review of Iraq’s three-year Stand-By Arrangement (SBA), which is designed to support Iraq’s economic reform program and restore fiscal balance over the medium term.  The completion of the second review allows the authorities to draw the equivalent of SDR 584.2 million (about $ 824.8 million), bringing total disbursements to SDR 1494.2 million about $2.1 billion.  The SDR 3.831 billion arrangement (about $5.34 billion at the time of approval of the arrangement) was approved in July 2016 and the first review was completed on 5 December 2016.

As part of the completion of the second review, the Board also approved Iraq’s request for waivers of non-observance and applicability of performance criteria, and modification of performance criteria.  Further fiscal consolidation was achieved in 2016, but at a slower pace than programmed because of weak control of investment expenditure and humanitarian needs.  To move the program forward, the authorities are implementing strong corrective measures as prior actions and are committed to further fiscal measures in 2018 to ensure external and debt sustainability.

The Executive Board also concluded the 2017 Article IV Consultation with Iraq.

Following the Executive Board’s decision, Mr David Lipton, First Deputy Managing Director, issued the following statement:

The economic policies implemented by the Iraqi authorities to deal with the shocks facing Iraq – the armed conflict with ISIS and the ensuing humanitarian crisis and the collapse in oil prices – are appropriate.  In the fiscal area, the authorities are implementing a sizable fiscal adjustment, mostly through retrenchment of inefficient capital expenditure while protecting social spending.  The authorities are appropriately maintaining the peg of the Iraqi dinar to the U.S. dollar, which provides a key anchor to the economy.  Performance under the Stand-By Arrangement has been weak in some key areas, but understandings have been reached on sufficient corrective actions to keep the program on track.  Resolute implementation of the authorities’ program, together with strong international financial support, will be key.

Further fiscal consolidation measures are needed in 2017-18 to keep the program on track.  The composition of the fiscal adjustment should be improved over time by increasing non-oil revenue and reducing current expenditure.  In addition, reforming the electricity sector and state-owned enterprises will make room for larger and more effective investment expenditure that supports growth and job creation.

Significantly improving public financial management will be important.  Arrears need to be assessed and paid following verification, and expenditure commitment and cash management should be strengthened to prevent the accumulation of new arrears.

Measures to bolster financial sector stability include strengthening the legal framework of the Central Bank of Iraq, restructuring state-owned banks and eliminating an exchange restriction and a multi-currency practice.  Measures to prevent money-laundering, counter the financing of terrorism, and strengthen the anti-corruption legislation also need to be implemented.

Implementation of the budget-sharing agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government would put both the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government in a better position to address the shocks to the Iraqi economy.  (IMF 01.08)

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11.3  OMAN:  Moody’s Downgrades Oman to Baa2, Outlook Negative

On 28 July 2017, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the Government of Oman’s long-term issuer and senior unsecured bond ratings to Baa2 from Baa1 and changed the outlook to negative from stable.  The key driver for the rating downgrade is that in Moody’s view progress towards addressing structural vulnerabilities to a weak oil price environment has been more limited than expected, reflecting institutional capacity constraints to address the large fiscal and external imbalances.

The negative outlook reflects Moody’s view that despite a number of credit strengths the balance of risks to the Baa2 rating are skewed to the downside.

Moody’s also lowered Oman’s long-term foreign-currency bond ceiling to Baa1 from A3 and its long-term foreign-currency bank deposit ceiling to Baa2 from Baa1.  At the same time, the short-term foreign-currency bond and deposit ceilings remain unchanged at Prime-2.  Oman’s long-term local-currency country risk ceilings were lowered to Baa1 from A3.

The rating action also applies to Oman Sovereign Sukuk S.A.O.C, for which the backed and senior unsecured ratings were downgraded to Baa2 from Baa1 and the senior unsecured medium-term note program was downgraded to (P)Baa2 from (P)Baa1.

Rationale for the Downgrade to Baa2

The key driver for the rating downgrade is that in Moody’s view progress towards addressing structural vulnerabilities has been more limited than expected, reflecting institutional capacity constraints to address the large fiscal and external imbalances.  These imbalances manifest themselves in the expected continued reliance on hydrocarbons for government revenues (average share of 71% over the coming years) and exports (average share of close to 62% in total exports over the next five years).

Fiscal performance in 2016 and during the first months of 2017 has been weaker than the government’s reform announcements and oil price developments would have suggested.  According to Moody’s estimates based on official figures, the fiscal deficit reached 18.7% of GDP in 2016, sharply up from an already wide 14.8% in 2015.  Despite some gradual fiscal consolidation, for the coming years until 2020 Moody’s projects continued high fiscal deficits averaging close to 9% of GDP until 2020.

According to numbers published by the National Centre for Statistics & Information, the government of Oman had posted a deficit of OMR2 billion (7.5 % of GDP) in the first five months of 2017.  This amount equals two-thirds of Oman’s budgeted deficit of OMR3 billion for 2017 and signals that there is an increased likelihood that the sovereign will miss its budgetary targets for the second year in a row.  The 19.2% revenue increase in the first five months of the year is lower than oil price developments and fiscal reforms would suggest.  Particularly, non-oil revenue performance has been fairly weak, despite the introduction of measures aimed at boosting non-oil revenue this year, including changes to the corporate income tax rate regime which were delayed from 2016.  While total spending increased by only 3% during the first five months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016, this was driven by a strong 10.6% rise in current spending – predominantly in defense and security and transfer and subsidy payments.

Therefore, while the government has started to implement fiscal consolidation measures, Moody’s believes the challenges are significant and that the plan is unlikely to address structural issues – the high dependence of Oman’s government finances on oil revenues and government spending dominated by current spending.

The government has successfully met its funding requirements since 2015 through a mixture of domestic and international debt issuance, bank loans and liquidation of financial assets and secured most of its funding needs for the current year.  However, the financing of its large fiscal imbalance has led to a sharp rise in the debt ratio to about 30% of GDP at end-2016 from less than 5% before the oil price shock, and Moody’s expects it to rise to more than 50% of GDP by 2020.  The asset side of the government’s balance sheet will also weaken further and likely turn into a small net liability position by then.

The oil price shock has also led to a sharp deterioration in Oman’s external current account.  Following years of surpluses, the current account balance turned into a sizable deficit of 15.5% of GDP in 2015 and widened further to 17.9% in 2016.  Moody’s projects current account deficits of 12% of GDP on average in 2017-18, as oil export revenues recover only slowly.

Rationale for the Negative Outlook

Oman’s government finances and external accounts remain highly vulnerable to oil price swings.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that Oman’s fiscal breakeven oil price will remain close to $80 per barrel over 2017-18, basically unchanged from 2016, and the second-highest in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) after Bahrain.  According to the IMF, Oman’s external breakeven price at $75 per barrel is the highest in the region.  The latter means that current account deficits will remain wide and financing will rely heavily on foreign portfolio inflows.

Given the limited absorption capacity of the domestic market Moody’s expects continued reliance on international debt issuance which has already increased Oman’s susceptibility to international capital flow volatility.  The cost of funding will likely continue to rise in light of Oman’s structural challenges and in a global environment of rising interest rates, which could significantly weaken Oman’s government debt affordability indicators.  In addition, although not Moody’s base case scenario, debt service payments would increase significantly if the authorities were to devalue the currency.

While the government’s approach to seek financing from external sources has supported foreign exchange reserves at Central Bank of Oman, foreign currency debt repayments will rise until the end of the decade.  Moody’s expects total external debt repayment obligations to exceed the available stock of foreign exchange reserves from 2018.

What Could Move the Rating Up/Down

Given the negative rating outlook, any upward movement in the rating in the foreseeable future is highly unlikely.  However, Moody’s would consider moving the outlook back to stable if a clear and comprehensive fiscal and economic policy response were to emerge, offering the prospect of sustained changes to the government’s revenue and expenditure composition.  A faster reduction in fiscal deficits, a stabilization of the government’s net asset position and improvements to the external liquidity position would be credit-positive.

Signs of an emerging fiscal or balance-of-payments crisis would exert downward pressure on the rating. In particular, any signs of funding stress or a forced change to the current exchange rate system would most likely result in further negative rating action.  A deterioration in the domestic or regional political environment would also be highly credit negative.

On 25 July 2017, a rating committee was called to discuss the rating of Oman.  The main points raised during the discussion included the issuer’s economic fundamentals (including its economic strength) have not materially changed.  The issuer’s institutional strength/framework, have materially decreased.  The issuer’s fiscal or financial strength, including its debt profile, has decreased.  The issuer’s susceptibility to event risks has not materially changed.  The policy response to a protracted period of low oil prices is unlikely to sufficiently address structural issues in order for the rating to remain consistent with a Baa1 level.  (Moody’s 28.07)

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11.4  TUNISIA:  New Tunisian Law Takes Long Stride Toward Gender Equality

Conor McCormick-Cavanagh posted on 28 July on Al-Monitor that Tunisia’s parliament has approved comprehensive new legislation targeting violence against women.  The new law, passed 26 July, represents a major change from the existing law.

Despite Tunisia’s reputation as one of the regional leaders on women’s rights, violence against women has remained a major problem.  In a 2010 study by the National Office of Family and Population, 47% of Tunisian women reported being victims of violence.

The new legislation, which was led by an amalgam of representatives from different political parties and civil society organizations, addresses several key issues.  The law addresses different forms of violence, defining violence against women along the lines of the United Nations Handbook for Legislation on Violence Against Women: “any physical, moral, sexual or economic aggression” against women specifically.

Women’s rights activists have spent decades pushing for this type of legislative change.  After working on the law for over six months, the parliamentary representatives involved in writing it broke into cheers upon its long awaited passage.  Parliament member Bochra Belhaj Hmida passed out celebratory jasmine blossoms.  Other parliamentarians broke out in song, chanting the Tunisian national anthem in the middle of the assembly.

The law may seem straightforward, but lawmakers had to ensure it would be acceptable to most of their constituents.  Given its importance, civil society activists were closely involved in perfecting every detail of the text.

Mohamed Ben Hamida, a research assistant at parliamentary watchdog organization Al-Bawsala, told Al-Monitor, “This is a revolutionary law in Tunisia.  (It) was a very happy day since activists have been working on these issues for more than 20 years.”

Ennahdha parliament member Imen Ben Mohamed, who has herself been working on the initiative for over six months, elaborated, “I believe this law is as revolutionary, if not more, than the 1956 Personal Status Code,” which outlawed polygamy and formalized the procedures for divorce.

With the new law set to be implemented within six months, men who have sex with underage girls will no longer be allowed to escape prosecution by marrying their victims.  This loophole shot to prominence when Ala Chebbi, a well-known talk show host, told a woman on national television to marry her rapist.  Women’s rights activists immediately called for the suspension of Chebbi’s show and went on the offensive to repeal the law.

On top of eliminating this loophole, the new legislation also raises the age of consent from 13 to 16.  Both Ben Hamida and Ben Mohamed believe this to be one of the most important provisions of the new law.

Additionally, workplace and wage discrimination is now punishable by a fine of 2,000 Tunisian dinars ($817).

In the public sphere, sexual harassment will now be a criminal offense, punishable by two years in prison and a fine of 5,000 Tunisian dinars (just over $2,000).

Marital rape will now be criminalized.  Before, judges were able to say that marital rape was not actually rape and therefore not a crime.  Now, marital rape is always treated as rape, with no room for ambiguity.

As with any law, the next concern is implementation.  The writers of the legislation made sure that the text clearly designated responsibility to different Tunisian ministries for preventing and properly handling cases of violence against women.  Hospitals and schools will soon become venues for raising awareness so that Tunisia’s newest generation is fully sensitive to the topic.  Police officers, judges and other officials and public servants will be retrained.  Belhaj Hmida believes the first years of its implementation will be difficult, but the same was true for the Personal Status Code, which took many years to take root in the collective psyche and state institutions.

Although the law is groundbreaking, some activists believe it is only one battle in the fight for true equality.  “This law only concerns violence and is only a part of our work.  For Tunisia to develop, we need to continue working on women’s rights issues,” said Ben Mohamed.  Belhaj Hmida agreed, saying, “We would like to have included more, but had to make compromises to keep everyone happy.  We hope to get rid of all discriminatory laws one day.”

Human Rights Watch has heralded the law as a major accomplishment but expressed concern that it does not go far enough, pointing out that Tunisian Muslim women are still prevented from marrying non-Muslim men, an issue Belhaj Hmida plans to work on in the future.

Belhaj Hmida also wants to get started on removing unequal inheritance protocols, under which women receive only half of what men do.  Ben Hamida said, “We couldn’t put everything into the violence against women law because this would have made its implementation too difficult.  However, our next fight is inheritance.  We really need to focus on it, as it is a very complicated subject.”  Regardless of its limitations, the law marks a milestone in women’s rights progress not only in Tunisia but also in the world at large.  It codifies violence against women as specific and punishable crimes after years of the Tunisian legal system failing to protect half its population.

Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a journalist based in Tunisia.  He writes about politics and culture of the MENA region.  (Al-Monitor 28.07)

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11.5  TUNISIA:  IMF Statement on Tunisia

An International Monetary Fund team visited Tunis from July 26 to August 3 to discuss the economic outlook and the authorities’ policy intentions under Tunisia’s economic reform program supported by a four-year IMF Extended Fund Facility (EFF) arrangement approved in May 2016.  At the end of the visit, the team made the following statement:

“The outlook for the Tunisian economy is slowly improving, but challenges remain.  Growth is on track to reach 2.3% in 2017, supported by a pick-up in phosphates, agriculture and tourism.  Nevertheless, structural obstacles in the economy continue to weigh on exports.  Strong consumption, fueled by wage increases, is leading to inflation (core inflation moved up to 5.5% in June) and is pushing already elevated fiscal and external deficits higher.  These dynamics are putting downward pressure on the dinar.  Public and external debt increased to 65% and 73% of GDP, respectively, in June.  Slow job creation and limited economic opportunity continue to affect the Tunisian people.

“The Tunisian authorities have already accelerated their response to the economic pressures.  The government increased administered fuel prices in July to reduce inefficient energy subsidies.  The recent escalation in the government’s fight against corruption met wide public support.  Finally, Tunisia’s participation in the G20 Compact with Africa initiative has helped the country to demonstrate its significant investment potential.

“The Central Bank of Tunisia has moved to greater exchange rate flexibility to help bring the dinar in line with its fundamentals and keep reserves at an adequate level.  A tighter monetary policy, with two increases in the policy rate to 5% and new macroprudential limits, has helped ease inflationary pressures and supports the dinar.

“During the visit, the authorities have expressed commitment to build on the recent reform momentum.  Avoiding any further deterioration in the fiscal deficit this year and preparing a fair and sustainable budget for 2018 are critical.  It is also paramount to contain the wage bill, which at 14.1% of GDP last year was among the highest in the world.  Major adjustments this year and next are necessary to compensate slippages and bring the wage bill back on track to reach the target of 12% of GDP in 2020.  Continued monetary tightening as well as exchange rate flexibility are also essential in reducing persistent macroeconomic imbalances.

“Far-reaching structural reforms remain front and center in Tunisia’s quest for inclusive growth and higher living standards for all.  Modernizing the civil service, putting the pension system on a sustainable footing, and enhancing access to credit will boost growth, reduce imbalances and free up space for priority investments in infrastructure, education and health.  An effective high anti-corruption authority will improve the arsenal of the government in its fight against corruption and illicit business practices.

“The team had constructive discussions with Interim Minister of Finance and Minister of Development Abdelkefi, the Head of Government’s Chief of Staff Chalghoum, Minister Counselor Rajhi, and Central Bank Governor Ayari as well as their staff.  It also had discussions with the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT), academia and civil society.  The team will continue working closely with the Tunisian authorities on the reform program under the EFF in the coming months.”  (IMF 03.08)

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11.6  MOROCCO:  IMF Concludes the Second Review under the Precautionary and Liquidity Line Arrangement

On 1 August 2017, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) completed the second review under the Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PLL) Arrangement and reaffirmed Morocco’s continued qualification for the PLL.

The two-year PLL arrangement for Morocco in the amount of SDR 2.504 billion (about $3.42 billion) was approved by the IMF’s Executive Board in July 2016 and the first review of the arrangement was completed in May 2017.  The Moroccan authorities have not drawn on the arrangement and continue to treat it as precautionary.  The arrangement will expire on 21 July 2018.

Following the Executive Board’s discussion, Mr. David Lipton, First Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, said:

“Morocco’s sound economic fundamentals and overall strong track record of policy implementation have contributed to a solid macroeconomic performance in recent years.  External imbalances are projected to narrow in 2017 and international reserves to remain at a comfortable level.  Fiscal developments are positive, with the budget deficit projected to narrow further in 2017 due to strong revenue performance and contained spending.  Growth is expected to rebound in 2017 and accelerate gradually over the medium term, subject to improved external conditions and steadfast reform implementation.  But this outlook remains subject to domestic and external downside risks.  In this context, Morocco’s Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PLL) arrangement with the Fund continues to serve as useful insurance against external risks and supports the authorities’ economic policies.

“The authorities are committed to sustaining sound policies.  The new government’s economic program is in line with key reforms agreed under the PLL arrangement, such as reducing fiscal and external vulnerabilities while strengthening the foundations for higher and more inclusive growth.

“Building on progress made in recent years, further fiscal consolidation is needed and should be based on accelerated tax reforms, sound public financial management at the local level as part of fiscal decentralization, comprehensive civil service reform, enhanced financial oversight of state owned enterprises, and increased efficiency of social programs and public investment projects.

“Adopting the central bank law and continuing to implement the 2015 Financial Sector Assessment Program recommendations will help strengthen the financial sector policy framework.  Moving toward a more flexible exchange rate regime, underpinned by a well-communicated strategy, will help preserve external competitiveness and enhance the economy’s capacity to absorb shocks.

“Finally, raising potential growth and making growth more inclusive, by reducing persistently high unemployment levels, especially among the youth, and increasing female labor participation, will require further measures to improve the business climate, governance, competitiveness, access to finance, the labor market, and regional disparities.”  (IMF 01.08)

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11.7  MOROCCO:  Morocco Announces New Set of Urgent Measures to Save Education

In the midst of the lingering educational crisis in Morocco, with the country ranking 123rd nation in terms of education in the Human Development Index, Minister Hassad promised to improve all levels education sector.  This includes from pre-school to higher education.  Hassad, the previous minister of the Interior and current Minister of National Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education and Scientific Research, presented to the Governing Council the broad outlines of the action plan for education reform on 20 July.

Hassad said that the plan had three references, namely the High Royal Instructions, the Strategic Vision of the 2015-2021 Reform, and the Government Plan 2016-2021.  The minister noted that the strategic and organizational area was based on four key factors, namely the pedagogical model, the organizational aspect, school planning and governance.

Hassad’s education reform aims to make pre-school education mandatory for all children aged four to 10 by 2027.  He plans to do so through collaborating with civil society actors and the state.  Improving students’ linguistic skills is at the heart of primary education reform.  The minister plans to introduce French classes in the first year of primary education.  The reform also consists of setting up a strategy to reduce the number of students in classes, aiming for 30 pupils per class in the first and second years of primary schooling and 34 per class for the four other levels.  Textbooks for the first, third, and fifth levels of primary school will be renewed.  The minister said that they are expected to be published at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, while textbooks for the second, the fourth, and the sixth level will released at the 2019-2020 school year.

The secondary and high school reform plan aims to strengthen the linguistic and scientific capacities of students and to facilitate the transition to higher education and integration into field works by establishing a diversification strategy of professional baccalaureate options.

At the level of the vocational training sector, the number of trainees reached more than 449,000 beneficiaries in the public sector, 74,000 in the private sector, 4,535 within the associations, and 4,155 in enterprises.  The number of graduates in this sector reached almost 316,000 in 2015-2016, of which 71% received training from the Office for Professional Training and Promotion of Work (OFPPT), with an integration rate of 80%.  The OFPPT foresees the creation of 120 new establishments at a rate of 24 units per year, the addition of 668,000 seats and the increase of the number of students in the professional baccalaureate to 150,000.  The training reform hopes to see a total of 1.7 million graduates by 2021.

The number of students enrolled in higher education institution is about 838,000, of whom 670,000 are in public institutions and 96,239 in private institutions.  Nearly 33% of university-aged young people are enrolled in university, and Hassad estimated this rate will be around 45% at the start of the 2021-2022 school year.  The reform of this sector plans to improve the conditions of higher education through the development of university spaces, the extension of six university dorms, with 4960 beds capacity and the construction of six new dorms, with a capacity 8,200 beds and 9 private university residences with a capacity of 7,000 beds.

The action program also includes the establishment of legal measures to increase the number of students benefiting from medical coverage and to generalize scholarships to all doctoral students and to 90% of the master’s students.

General Plan for Education Reform

The minister announced that 55 establishments, 26 of which will be built in rural areas, and the expansion of 1,948 rooms will be implemented during the school year 2017-2018.  The same year will see the establishment of 100 communal schools in rural areas, with further plans to create 100 communal schools at the beginning of each school year in order to reach the number of 1,000 schools.

In order to improve pedagogical supervision, Hassad recommended the revision of recruitment mechanisms with the intention of guaranteeing greater transparency and ensuring fair competition.

Hassad emphasized the need to put an end to student absenteeism and to make the best use of educational frameworks, in addition to the strict application of laws relating to the educational space and its environment.  (MWN 26.07)

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11.8  TURKEY:  Automotive Industry in Turkey – Why Exports are Surging

BizVibe posted on 27 July that the automotive industry in Turkey has enjoyed steady growth over the recent years, and now it has emerged as one the largest contributors to the country’s GDP and export earnings.  In 2016, Turkey was already ranked as the 14th world’s biggest automotive manufacturing country with a total auto production of over 1.4 million units.  This year, Turkey’s automotive industry is expected to continue its production growth and achieve a much higher automotive export.

The State of Exports in the Automotive Industry in Turkey

According to the data from Automotive Industry Exporters’ Association (OIB), the automotive industry in Turkey increased its exports from $11.7 billion in the first half of last year to $14.4 billion in the same period of 2017, representing an impressive 22.4% rise over the same period.  The automotive exports from Turkey, which recorded total $23.8 billion in exports last year, is on route to an all-time high of $27 billion in 2017, surpassing its previous record of $24.7 billion in 2008.

Last year, Turkey’s automotive sector was the biggest exporter with around $23.9 billion in exports, up from $21.3 billion in 2015, representing a 17% share in the total volume of exports, which has placed the automotive industry as the leader of Turkish exports for the 11th year in a row, reported by the Automotive Manufacturers Association (OSD).  Currently, Turkey’s automotive industry constituted nearly 20% of Turkey’s total exports in the first half of the year, and this figure is still growing.

The Exports Market is Increasing for Cars Made in Turkey

So far, Germany was the largest export market of the Turkish automotive industry with a $4 billion export value in 2016.  The automotive exports value to Germany increased by 20% year on year, followed by Italy, France, Spain and Slovenia with increases of 49%, 19%, 21% and 18% respectively.  The total value of Turkey’s automotive exports to EU countries reached nearly $19 billion.

Over the recent years, Turkey has become one of the world’s most popular production centers for many international car brands, mainly thanks to its preferential geographical location between Europe and Asia.  More than 250 global auto manufacturers and suppliers have located in Turkey by now, including Ford, Fiat, Daimler, AVL and Segula, who have their design and engineering and product development activities in Turkey.  Meanwhile, Ford also has one of its three global R&D centers based in Turkey, Fiat has its only R&D center in Bursa apart from Italy, serving the European market.  The German track and bus company Daimler is maintaining its manufacture operations in its R&D center located in Turkey.  (BizVibe 26.07)

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11.9  CYPRUS:  Moody’s Upgrades Government Bond Ratings of Cyprus to Ba3

On 28 July 2017, Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the long-term issuer rating of Cyprus, Government of as well as all senior unsecured bond and program ratings to Ba3 and (P)Ba3 from B1 and (P)B1, respectively.  The outlook has been maintained at positive.

The short-term ratings have been affirmed, at Not Prime (NP) and (P)NP.

The key drivers for the rating action are:

  1. Improvements in economic resilience that have occurred over the past two years and that seem likely to continue in the medium term.
  1. The consistent fiscal outperformance and continuing favorable fiscal outlook for Cyprus.

 

The decision to maintain a positive outlook on the rating of Cyprus reflects Moody’s view that improvements in economic resilience and continuing fiscal outperformance are likely to be sustained, with a reduction in the debt-to-GDP ratio as well as a fall in the stock of non-performing loans held by the banks.

The long-term country ceilings for foreign-currency and local-currency bonds have been raised to A3 from Baa1, to reflect continuing improvements in economic resilience and fiscal outperformance, and the long-term ceiling for foreign-currency and local-currency deposits has been raised to A3 from Baa1.  Moody’s maintains a six-notch gap between the government bond rating and the bond and deposit ceilings.  The short-term foreign-currency bond and bank deposit ceilings remain unchanged at P-2.

Rationale for the Upgrade of the Rating to Ba3

In November 2016, Moody’s assigned a positive outlook to the B1 government bond ratings of Cyprus.  The change in outlook reflected the rising prospect that sustained improvements in economic resilience and fiscal reforms would bring about a reversal in: (i) the government debt burden and (ii) the level of non-performing loans in the banking system.  The upgrade reflects Moody’s conclusion that the awaited reversal is indeed occurring.  The decision to maintain a positive outlook reflects Moody’s view that, whilst the Cypriot government continues to face fiscal, financial and economic challenges, current trends will, if sustained, further address those two key constraints on its credit profile.

FIRST DRIVER:  Improvements in Economic Resilience that Have Occurred Over the Past Two Years and that Look Likely To Continue in the Medium Term.

Following three years of severe economic contraction, the Cypriot economy returned to growth in 2015, expanding by 1.7% followed by an acceleration of 2.8% in 2016 in real terms.  We expect this momentum to be sustained over the medium term, driven in particular by private consumption supported by favorable developments in the tourist sector and labor market.

The tourist industry, which accounts for around 13.2% of gross value added, recorded another high of almost 3.2 million arrivals in 2016, from around 2.7 million in 2015, with roughly a 50% year-on-year increase in arrivals from Russia (Ba1 stable) and Israel (A1 stable).  Revenues from tourism also reached new highs at around €2.4 billion in 2016, from €2.1 billion in 2015.  Tourist activity has begun strongly in 2017, and we expect tourism to remain one of the main growth drivers for the Cypriot economy.  Whilst the sector has benefited from ongoing geopolitical tensions in competing destinations such as North Africa and Turkey (Ba1 negative), the industry retains several comparative advantages, including significant geographical diversification in tourist arrivals, which provide a buffer against negative external macroeconomic shocks elsewhere.

Improving economic prospects are also reflected in the labor market.  The Cypriot labor market demonstrated flexibility in terms of wage adjustment during the downturn, a factor that has helped to accelerate the recovery in employment and has strengthened external competitiveness.  Whilst unemployment remained elevated at 11% as of May 2017, it had fallen from a peak of 16.8% in January 2015, according to seasonally adjusted data from Eurostat.  The employment rate increased to 63.3% in the first quarter of 2017, one of the highest since 2012, with job gains mainly in the accommodation, food service, wholesale and retail trade sectors.

We also expect investment growth across the wider economy to recover gradually, in spite of constraints upon domestic credit growth resulting from the large number of non-performing loans in the banking system and the high corporate debt burden.  Investment will be supported by access to European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF): according to the European Commission, Cyprus was allocated €874 million for 2014-2020 (equivalent to around 0.9% of GDP annually) targeted at SME competitiveness, transport, energy and infrastructure.  Investment will be strengthened by growth-enhancing reforms intended to improve the competitiveness of the economy in order to attract foreign private sector investment.  The government also intends to promote a number of large investment projects that are expected to attract significant foreign direct investment (FDI).

Looking ahead, we expect a deceleration in private consumption and therefore in real GDP growth, to 2.7% in 2017 and 2.5% in 2018, because of increased household loan repayment, the recovery in oil prices and increasing inflation.  Nevertheless, private consumption and investment should remain the main growth drivers against the backdrop of further falls in the unemployment rate.

SECOND DRIVER — The Consistent Fiscal Outperformance and Continuing Favorable Fiscal Outlook for Cyprus.

Cyprus left the three-year economic adjustment program, begun in May 2013 with the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), two months before it was scheduled to end, having drawn only €7.3 billion of the €10 billion available under the program.  In June 2016, the European Council closed the excessive deficit procedure for Cyprus, which had been in operation since July 2010.

Cyprus has continued to outperform fiscal targets.  The primary surplus rose to 3.0% of GDP in 2016, and the fiscal surplus rose to 0.4% of GDP, resulting in a structural fiscal adjustment of 5.2%age points of GDP between 2012 and 2016, according to EC estimates.

Looking ahead, the 2017-2019 Medium Term Fiscal Plan of the government assumes a broadly neutral fiscal stance.  Whilst the 2017 budget targets a slightly reduced surplus of 0.2% of GDP, medium-term projections see the surplus rising again in 2018, to 0.4% of GDP, and being maintained at that level in 2019.  The authorities project that the primary balance will remain in surplus over the medium term, at 2.9% in 2018 and 3.0% in 2019.

Moody’s projects a headline deficit of just 0.4% of GDP this year and a primary surplus of around 2.1% of GDP in 2018, lower than the projections of the government but still supportive of further debt reduction.  As a result, the debt burden of the government, whilst high, is expected to decline from a debt-to-GDP ratio of 108% in 2016, to around 95% of GDP by 2020.

Moreover, debt remains affordable, with interest charges absorbing just 6.6% of general government revenue in 2016, from a peak of 9.2% in 2013.  This may fall further over the next two years.  The improvement reflects both the benign interest rate environment and the very large share of official sector creditors in the total debt stock (63% as of the third quarter of 2016).

The withdrawal of Cyprus from the ESM/IMF program increases the potential for upward pressure upon its borrowing costs.  However, the prevailing low interest rate environment and the liquidity buffer that covers debt repayment for the next year mitigate liquidity risks.  Moreover, we expect fiscal discipline to be sustained in spite of the end of the program, which should support investor confidence.

Rationale for Maintaining a Positive Outlook

The positive outlook reflects Moody’s view that improvements in economic resilience and fiscal strength are likely to be sustained.  The very high level of public and private debt, as well as the fragile state of the banking system, which remains very large and concentrated relative to the size of the economy, constrain the sovereign rating at the lower end of the Ba range.

However, the policy commitment shown to fiscal reform in recent years, the growing health of the economy and the steps being taken to encourage the largest banks to restructure and resolve problem loans, will, if sustained, lead to a reduction in this constraint.  The next 12 to 18 months will offer insight into whether this will occur.

What Could Change the Rating Up

The government bond ratings of Cyprus would be upgraded were Moody’s to conclude that a combination of government policy and sustained investor and consumer optimism was very likely to result, over time, in a sustained and marked fall in the debt-to-GDP ratio of Cyprus and in the stock of bank non-performing loans.  The expectation that growth would be sustained at current levels over the coming years would also be credit positive.

What Could Change the Rating Down

Downward pressure upon the government bond ratings of Cyprus might emerge if Moody’s were to conclude that the government commitment to restoring macro-financial stability had weakened, particularly in the context of a lower growth environment.  Evidence that the banking sector needed further recapitalization would also exert downward pressure upon the rating.

A re-emergence of elevated financial and debt market stress, which might be triggered in the case of a country leaving the euro area, for example, would also be credit negative.

Default history: At least one default event (on bonds and/or loans) has been recorded since 1983.

On 26 July 2017, a rating committee was called to discuss the rating of Cyprus.  The main points raised during the discussion were the issuer’s economic fundamentals, including its economic strength, have materially increased.  The issuer’s institutional strength/framework, have materially increased.  The issuer’s fiscal or financial strength, including its debt profile, has not materially changed.  The issuer’s susceptibility to event risks has not materially changed.  (Moody’s 28.07)

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