Fortnightly, 27 January 2016

Fortnightly, 27 January 2016

January 27, 2016


27 January 2016
17 Shvat 5776
17 Rabi Al-Thani 1437




1.1  Netanyahu Says Cyber Security is a Huge Economic Opportunity


2.1  imVision Completes $4 Million Series A Funding
2.2  Anagog Concludes Round A Funding from US & Chinese Investors
2.3  mPrest Raises $20 Million to Expand Industrial & Commercial IoT Solutions
2.4  IronScales Collects $1.5 Million in Seed Funding
2.5  GreenSQL Rebrands as HexaTier
2.6  Israel-Based Auto Supplier Selects Indiana for First North American Operations


3.1  U.S. Presence at Arab Health 2016 Is the Largest Ever
3.2  Arabian Gulf’s 2nd Bloomingdale’s Store to Open in Kuwait in 2017
3.3  GE Wins Close to $1 Billion Deal For Saudi Power Plant
3.4  PSA Peugeot Citroen Creates a New Automotive OpenLab in Morocco


4.1  Jordan’s 10 Year Strategy to Increase Water Resources


5.1  Lebanese Consumer Prices Declined by 3.75% in 2015
5.2  Lebanon’s Trade Deficit Tightened by 15.94% to $13.29 Billion
5.3  Tourist Spending in Lebanon Rose by 2% in 2015

♦♦Arabian Gulf

5.4  Oil Producing Nations Forecasting to Sell $240 Billion in Assets This Year
5.5  German Exports to the Arabian Gulf Soar Despite Oil Price Slump
5.6  Kuwait’s Emir Urges Budget Cuts as Oil Revenues Decline
5.7  Kuwait Planning $100 Billion New Sovereign Wealth Fund
5.8  Bahrain Cancels Pay Rise Plan for Government Workers
5.9  Saudi Arabia Presents Plan to Move Beyond Oil
5.10  Saudi Arabia’s Economy Set to Grow at Slowest Rate Since 2002

♦♦North Africa

5.11  Suez Canal Revenues Fall to $408.4 Million in November
5.12  King Mohammed VI Launches Smart Video-Surveillance System in Casablanca


6.1  World Bank Raises Growth Estimation for Turkey
6.2  Report: Turkey Ranked 36th Most Innovative Country
6.3  Ankara Accuses Pakistan of Stalling Free Trade Deal
6.4  Russian Crisis Results in Losses of Over $11 Billion for Turkey
6.5  Greek Households’ Disposable Income Fell €1 Billion in Third Quarter



7.1  Israel Sets New Winter Electricity Use Record
7.2  New Israeli Bill Allows Ordinary Citizens to Submit Legislation


7.3  Tobruk Rejects UN-backed Unity Government
7.4  Greek Mayor Signs Country’s First Gay Partnership Contract


8.1  Rosetta Receives US Patent Allowance for Gene Signature Use with Kidney Tumors
8.2  XTL’s Encouraging Feedback from FDA on Lupus Drug hCDR1
8.3  BioLineRx Medical Device Classification in Europe for Celiac Treatment Confirmed


9.1  SolarEdge’s StorEdge Solution is Now Internationally Available
9.2  Battery Challenge Confirms Lucid’s PowerXtend Technology Advantage
9.3  VocalZoom & China’s iFLYTEK Agree to Test Performance in Noisy Environments


10.1  Israel’s CPI Falls 0.1% in December
10.2  Israel Wine Exports Up 6% in 2015


11.1  ISRAEL: Funding for Israeli High-Tech Hits All-Time High
11.2  SAUDI ARABIA: Fitch Applauds Plan to Tackle Growing Budget Deficit
11.3  TURKEY: Dollar-Needy Turkey Tightens Foreign Currency Rules?
11.4  GREECE: Upgraded to ‘B-‘ From ‘CCC+’ On Reform Progress


1.1  Netanyahu Says Cyber Security is a Huge Economic Opportunity

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the Cyber Tech Conference in Tel Aviv with remarks about the importance of the cyber industry.  “There is great opportunity and a great challenge,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of his speech.  “Technological progress is a blessing, but also a curse, and the biggest curse is that the Internet of Things is making everything vulnerable.  Everything is a target for a cyber-attack and when I say everything, I mean everything – from our bank accounts to national security.  Even the way we conduct elections in Israel is vulnerable.

“We cannot grow, therefore, unless we have cyber security.  It is essential for the defense of both individuals and the nation, which at the same time creates a huge economic opportunity.  In the past, I said that I wanted Israel to be one of the world’s five major cyber powers, and I think that we have attained this goal.  I do not believe, however, that we should settle for being number four or number five.

“When I talk about cyber security, I am referring to the national aspect and the industrial aspect, meaning how to provide security solutions at the national level, and how to provide security solutions to the rest of the world.  There is a contradiction between these two goals, because one of the important things for us is Israel’s defense secrets.  Still, I understand that in this market, as long as we do not cooperate, especially with other countries, there will be no growth, and I am an apostle of growth…A large proportion of the existing cyber technologies began in Israel, and the world recognizes this.  The fact that this conference is taking place in Israel and you are attending it is proof of that.  I want Israel to become a cyber power, and at the same time a catalyst for worldwide cyber capabilities.”  (Globes 26.01)

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2.1  imVision Completes $4 Million Series A Funding

imVision announced completion of $4M series A funding round with the participation of Chinese CE Ventures, Pitango Venture Capital – one of the largest Venture Capital firms in Israel and other investors.  imVision’s product addresses a major cyber security and operational risks in a fast growing Telco cloud market by securing the telco services (which are considered as mission critical services) running over cloud or hybrid environment.  The company intends to use the funding to strengthen the company’s Correlative Behavioral Analysis (C-BA) system and to develop the company’s business with worldwide networking providers.

Ramat Gan’s imVision is a cyber security startup company that operates in NFV/SDN environments.  The company quickly became a market leader for anomaly detection and isolation solutions.  These were based on unique Correlative Behavioral Analysis (C-BA) algorithms that specialize in service awareness across the entire network.  (imVision 25.01)

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2.2  Anagog Concludes Round A Funding from US & Chinese Investors

 Anagog announced the successful completion of its Round A investment.  The lead investor in round A is California’s GigOptix, a lead designer, developer, and global supplier of a broad range of analog, digital, and mixed signal components to enable high-speed information streaming over the telecom networks, datacom infrastructure, and consumer electronics links.  Other investors include a professional Chinese investor who is the founding partner of Ivy Capital, a leading Chinese VC fund.  Existing shareholders also took part in this round, expressing their trust in the Company’s execution plan.

The Anagog mobility status SDK allows detection of a user’s real-time mobility status with an ultra-low battery consumption.  The Anagog SDK can tell for example if the user is currently walking, driving, at home or at work.  It can detect automatically when and where he parked his car, if he is riding a bus, enters or exits a predefined zone, and more.  Such mobility status detection enables the best context-aware applications and services and drastically improves the user’s experience.

Israel’s Anagog was founded to develop and perfect the mobility status algorithms that allows for advanced on-phone machine learning capabilities for best user experience with ultra-low battery consumption and with a high level of privacy protection.  The company have filed 12 patents to date and is currently developing a set of additional related advanced technologies and services.  (Anagog 25.01)

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2.3  mPrest Raises $20 Million to Expand Industrial & Commercial IoT Solutions

Petah Tikva’s mPrest has raised a $20 million Series A round of funding.  The round was led by GE Ventures, the venture arm of GE, and OurCrowd, one of the world’s leading equity crowdfunding platforms.  mPrest will use the investment to expand its international presence in the industrial and commercial markets and rapidly scale to meet the soaring needs of the IoT world.  mPrest delivers leading-edge software for “connecting the dots” across multiple complex systems of any scale, from a single facility to a multinational corporation.  mPrest’s groundbreaking, generic software platform enables organizations to connect any sensor at any time with unparalleled flexibility.  Organizations receive real-time situational awareness and can optimize operations automatically.

mPrest is an established player in the monitoring and control software industry serving essential sectors, including defense and security bodies, electric and water utilities, smart cities and buildings, fleet management companies and other large organizations around the world.  For the past six years, mPrest has been a strategic partner with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to supply the command and control system for the renowned Iron Dome air-defense system, as well as many other large projects.  (mPrest 25.01)

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2.4  IronScales Collects $1.5 Million in Seed Funding

IronScales, developers of the cyber security industry’s first ever employee-based intrusion prevention system with an automated phishing-mitigation response, closed a seed round of funding.  The $1.5 million round is led by RDSeed, an investment arm of Rafael Development Corporation (RDC).  IronScales’ comprehensive crowd-wisdom-based phishing-mitigation solution helps protect enterprises from cyber-crimes whereby criminals attempt to deceive employees into revealing sensitive information such as usernames and passwords so they can then install spyware, remote-access Trojan horse attacks or ransomware.  The IronScales solution is currently in use by dozens of customers in the financial sector, as well as security and telecom companies.  IronScales will use the seed money for ongoing product development and the expansion of its operations in Europe and the U.S.

More than 90% of successful cyber-attacks on companies and organizations involve sophisticated, employee-targeted spear-phishing (according to Trend Micro), and damages can range from the theft of sensitive information to ransom demands.  The IronScales training program uses a “gamified” and interactive approach, simulating real-world email phishing attacks, and helping prepare employees for actual attacks.  Those who fail to spot the mock attack will receive on-the-spot quick, fun, interactive training.  IronScales dramatically increases employee awareness and mitigation of malicious emails and has already made a significant impact for existing customers, reducing employee click rates of malicious email and mitigating actual phishing attacks.  In many of today’s most widely publicized phishing attacks of prominent global corporations, IronScales’ training, automatic detection and mitigation solution could have prevented the damage caused by spear-phishing attacks.

Ra’anana’s IronScales, founded in 2013, pushes the cyber security envelope, going beyond detection with a crowd wisdom-based phishing training and mitigation solution. IronScales was initially launched in the 8200 Entrepreneurship and Innovation Support Program (EISP), a prestigious incubator and mentoring program for early stage ventures, founded by alumni of the Israel Defense Forces’ elite Intelligence Technology unit.  (IronScales 19.01)

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2.5  GreenSQL Rebrands as HexaTier

HexaTier (formerly GreenSQL) announced its official relaunch at the Cybertech conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, unveiling its new company name, brand and positioning.  The company rebranding reflects a new focus: providing enterprises with database security and compliance in the cloud.  HexaTier builds on the patented Database Reverse Proxy technology and market traction of GreenSQL, which burst on the scene six years ago with groundbreaking database security and compliance solutions for SMBs.  HexaTier is pioneering an easily deployed cloud solution for database security, finally removing the barrier for any enterprise to make the move to the cloud with confidence.  With a sweeping security lineup, the company offers the world’s first unified database security platform that protects hosted databases and DBaaS from both internal and external attacks, while ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements.

Established in 2010, Tel Aviv’s HexaTier (formerly GreenSQL) sets the industry standard for cloud-hosted database security and compliance with its unified solution that provides database security, dynamic data masking, database activity monitoring (DAM) and discovery of sensitive data.  Utilizing purpose-built, patented Database Reverse Proxy technology, the company protects against both internal and external security threats.  (HexaTier 25.01)

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2.6  Israel-Based Auto Supplier Selects Indiana for First North American Operations

Indiana Secretary of Commerce Smith joined Omen USA, a manufacturer of aluminum parts for the automotive industry, at the company’s Israeli headquarters to announce its plans to locate its first North American production facility in Richmond, Indiana, creating up to 100 new jobs by 2019.  Omen USA, a subsidiary of the Israel-based Omen Casting Group, will initially invest $16 million to renovate and equip a 76,000-square-foot facility in Richmond, with plans to begin operations by the end of the year and invest an additional $7 million into the facility by 2021.  The global high pressure die casting company, which directly employs more than 240 associates at facilities in Israel, Portugal and Russia, will manufacture aluminum parts for drivelines, steering components and oil pumps at its new Indiana facility, which will be installed in cars for American and German automotive manufacturers.

Omen USA’s announcement comes as a delegation of Hoosier economic development and technology leaders attend the Cybertech 2016 conference in Tel Aviv, the second largest cyber security-focused conference in the world.  As part of the conference, the Indiana delegation is meeting with government and business leaders to discuss opportunities to strengthen the rising cultural and economic relationship between Indiana and Israel.  This includes meetings with chief executives at Israel-based tech companies, as well as meetings with Israeli government officials at the Office of the Chief Scientist and SIBAT, which coordinates Israel’s export of defense-related production and related matters.  Atid, EDI is Indiana’s investment representative in Israel and was instrumental in bringing the project to the attention of the state and seeing it through to conclusion. (IEDC 26.01)

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3.1  U.S. Presence at Arab Health 2016 Is the Largest Ever

When Arab Health 2016, the world’s second largest healthcare congress and exhibition, opened on 25 January at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre, the United States had its largest presence ever at this annual trade event.  With more than 320 exhibitors, the size of the U.S. contingent is an indicator of how important the region is to the U.S. healthcare business, and how interested the region is in working with U.S. companies to build a world-class model for healthcare in the UAE.

The centerpiece of the U.S. effort is the 38,000 square foot U.S. International Pavilion, a destination for buyers looking for an efficient way to meet a critical mass of U.S. suppliers, and an on-site business hub for U.S. exhibitors looking to maximize their exposure and impact at the event.

More than 250 of the American companies participating in Arab Health are exhibiting in the U.S. International Pavilion — 75 of them for the first time in the U.A.E.  They range from publicly traded stalwarts to privately held small-and-medium-sized enterprises, all looking to initiate or strengthen international partnerships.

More than 10 U.S. hospital and clinical groups are exhibiting, continuing a trend to exchange medical knowledge and expertise with their counterparts in the U.A.E. toward the goal of improving patient care in both countries.  Medical device manufacturers are promoting a wide range of equipment to be specified into hospitals, clinics and treatment facilities.  Over-the-counter suppliers are leveraging their contracts with big U.S. retailers to secure shelf space with overseas chains. State economic development groups are promoting state-based suppliers, as well as the opportunity for overseas healthcare providers to operate in their states.

Companies from Illinois, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Georgia were assisted in their efforts at Arab Health by Atid, EDI, which serves as the local trade presence for many of these states in the Middle East region.  (Kallman 20.01)

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3.2  Arabian Gulf’s 2nd Bloomingdale’s Store to Open in Kuwait in 2017

Dubai’s Al Tayer Group will open a Bloomingdale’s department store in Kuwait in Spring 2017, marking its third project in the region as part of its partnership with Macy’s.  The store will be the second location outside the US for the popular American brand, following the opening of Bloomingdale’s The Dubai Mall in 2010 and in advance of the opening at Bloomingdale’s Al Maryah Central in Abu Dhabi in 2018.  The three-level clothing, beauty and accessories store, spanning over 93,000 square feet, will anchor Kuwait’s 360 MALL, which opened in 2009.

Al Tayer Group announced in 2014 Abu Dhabi’s Al Maryah Central will also be the location for the first Macy’s department store outside the US and will open, along with the UAE’s second Bloomingdale’s store, in 2018.  (Bloomingdale’s 20.01)

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3.3  GE Wins Close to $1 Billion Deal For Saudi Power Plant

US giant GE has been awarded a contract valued at nearly $1 billion for the engineering, construction and provision of gas turbine services for Saudi Electricity Company’s Waad Al Shamal combined cycle power plant.  Scheduled for completion in 48 months, the plant will support the phosphate mining operations in the kingdom, in turn driving industrialization and job creation for Saudi nationals.  GE will deliver the turnkey power plant, supplying four advanced GE 7F.05 heavy duty gas turbines and a GE steam turbine, and featuring solar innovation technology.  The 1,390 MW combined cycle plant will be able to provide the equivalent power needed to supply more than 500,000 Saudi homes.

One of the gas turbines will be assembled fully at the GE Manufacturing Technology Centre in Dammam, underlining GE’s commitment to localization.  The remaining gas turbines will be produced at GE’s manufacturing plants in the US.  More than 550 GE turbines currently generate over half of Saudi Arabia’s electricity, and the company’s advanced technology supports the production of 180 million liters of clean water daily, delivered to the country’s most remote locations.  (GE 16.01)

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3.4  PSA Peugeot Citroen Creates a New Automotive OpenLab in Morocco

As part of its Open Innovation strategy and in line with its commitment to staying on the leading edge of automotive research, PSA Peugeot Citroen is strengthening its ties with top post-graduate schools and universities by creating an OpenLab in Africa.

On 25 January, PSA Peugeot Citroen entered into an agreement with five Moroccan universities, two US universities with campuses in Morocco, one locally-based Ecole Centrale engineering school and a technology transfer center at the International University of Rabat.  The agreement was signed at a ceremony attended by Morocco’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and the French Ambassador to Morocco.  The new OpenLab, dubbed “Sustainable Mobility for Africa”, will engage in a four-year research program to explore sustainable mobility systems with three core focuses: the electric vehicle of the future, renewable energy and the logistics of the future.  The program will leverage PSA Peugeot Citroen’s scientific and professional expertise, the expertise of the partner universities, and a number of technological platforms which will be made available to researchers in Morocco.  (PSA Peugeot Citroen 25.01)

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4.1  Jordan’s 10 Year Strategy to Increase Water Resources

The Jordanian Cabinet on 17 January reviewed a new national water strategy that will cost the Kingdom JD5.3 billion over the next 10 years.  The 2016-2025 water strategy will entail implementing several projects to secure additional water resources, as Jordan is the world’s second water-poorest country.  The national strategy also seeks to reduce the cost of producing one cubic meter of water from JD1.9 to JD1.4.  Currently, one cubic meter of water is sold to consumers at JD1 and this price will not change.  Water consumption in the country increased by 20% due to the influx of Syrian refugees and this strategy will provide the Kingdom with new water resources expected to amount to 178 million cubic meters (mcm).  Water loss due to technical reasons and theft will also be reduced from 50% to 30%, under the plan.  (JT 17.01)

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5.1  Lebanese Consumer Prices Declined by 3.75% In 2015

Deflationary pressures succeeded to end 2015 with a decline in consumer prices by 3.75% compared to an inflation of 1.86% in 2014, according to data released by the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics (CAS).  The slump in commodity prices during 2015, the depreciation of the euro, and the economic slowdown were the major factors behind the decline in prices last year.  In December alone, consumer prices fell by 3.4% y-o-y as the Consumer Price Index (CPI) declined from 99.29 in December 2014 to 95.92 in December 2015.  Despite that the prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages (20.6% of the CPI) barely changed, December’s deflation was mainly the result of lower energy prices.  In fact, the price of Brent crude oil slashed by a yearly 44.85% from $54.18 per barrel in December 2014 to $36.56 per barrel in December 2015.  This was reflected by the 7.66% y-o-y slump in the prices of transportation, a component with a weight of 13.1% in the index.

With cheaper oil, the price of water, electricity gas and other fuels (11.9% weight of CPI) also declined by 17.57% in December 2015.  In addition, health prices constituting 7.8% of the CPI, downturned by 7.19% yearly.  Food and non-alcoholic beverages, which represented 20.6% of the CPI, declined by a yearly 0.64%.  In contrast, education prices, with a weight of 5.9% in the CPI, rose by a yearly 1.52%, while the prices of clothing and footwear, with a weight of 5.4% in the CPI, increased by 0.24%.  (CAS 25.01)

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5.2  Lebanon’s Trade Deficit Tightened by 15.94% to $13.29 Billion

The prominent trends of both the depreciating Euro and falling international oil prices are the main factors behind the tightening of Lebanon’s trade deficit since the start of the year.  Lebanon’s trade deficit contracted by 15.94% year-on-year (y-o-y) by November, to record  $13.29B due to a 15.08% decrease in overall imports outpacing the 10.65% decline in total exports.  Total imports, in the first 11 months of the year, amounted to $16.00B compared to $18.85B during the same period last year.

The three major product categories that were imported to Lebanon by November were mineral products (17.16% share of total imports), machinery and electrical instruments (11.74%) and chemical or related industries (11.07%).  The yearly change in the value of imported mineral products displayed a substantial drop of 39.84% from November 2014 to $2.75B.  This decline goes hand in hand with the average yearly 45% decrease in the price of international oil by November.  In addition, the value of machinery and electrical instruments imported went down by 5.73% y-o-y by November to $1.88B.

Total worth of chemical products entering Lebanon also dropped by an annual 3.72% to $1.77B, while volume steadied at a level of 430,000 tons.  The latter decline was possibly associated with a decline in the overall price of chemical products.  Notably, the three major countries that Lebanon imported goods from were China, Italy and Germany with respective weights of 11.77%, 7.30% and 6.94%.  Similarly, total exports fell yearly from $2.72B by November 2014 to $3.04B by November 2015.  Specifically, the value of exported prepared foodstuffs, beverages, and tobacco (16.37% share of total exports) experienced a yearly detraction of 4.52% by November despite the 13.78% rise in exported volume to 344,758 tons.

It seems that the Lebanese fast moving consumer goods’ (FMCGs) market is following the global bearish price trend of over-the-counter commodities.  Furthermore, exported pearls, precious stones, and metals, constituting 14.99% of total exports, went down by 24.62% y-o-y by November.

In terms of the major destinations of the Lebanese exports, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Iraq grasped corresponding weights of 11.97%, 10.61% and 7.40%.  In November alone, the trade deficit broadened from $1.14B to $1.32B in November. Total exports declined by 10.60% from November 2014 to $221,796M this year.  In parallel, overall imports increased by 10.52% to $1.54B.

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5.3  Tourist Spending in Lebanon Rose by 2% in 2015

According to Global Blue, tourist spending in Lebanon increased by a yearly 2% in 2015.  According to the Ministry of Tourism, the total number of tourist arrivals amounted to 1.39 million by November, the highest since 2012.  The largest bulk of tourist spending is accounted for by Saudi Arabian visitors with a share of 15% of the total, followed by 14% for the UAE, 6% for each Kuwait and Egypt tourists and 4% for Syria.  Tourist spending by Saudi Arabian visitors increased by 5% compared to last year, while spending by UAE tourists recorded a double-digit growth of 12%.  Tourist spending from Jordan, Qatar and the US rose by a yearly 14%, 21% and 18%, respectively.  However, spending from Kuwait, Egypt and Syrian nationals dropped by 16%, 4% and 23%, respectively.  In 2015, fashion and clothing was the category that captured most of the tourist spending with a share of 71% in the total followed by 16% for watches and jewelry.  Spending on fashion and clothing edged up by a mere 1% while spending on watches and jewelry grew by 15%.  Beirut was where 81% of tourist expenditures took place while 12% were disbursed in Mount Lebanon.  In Beirut, tourist spending rose by 2% while it decreased by 6% in Mount Lebanon.  (MoT 16.01)

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►►Arabian Gulf

5.4  Oil Producing Nations Forecasting to Sell $240 Billion in Assets This Year

Oil-producing countries will sell $240 billion of international assets this year, mostly stocks and bonds, in an attempt to hold together budgets blown apart by the slump in oil prices, according to estimates from JP Morgan.  That sum will come from running down their foreign exchange reserves and Sovereign Wealth Fund holdings.  They will also raise some $20 billion by selling government bonds of their own to help cover a current account shortfall of $260 billion, the US bank predicts.  These countries will sell holdings of US Treasuries and other bonds worth about $110 billion plus $75 billion of equity investments, up from $45 billion and $10 billion last year.  The remaining funds will come from liquidating other assets such as cash, real estate and private equity.

These estimates are based on the price of Brent crude oil averaging $31 a barrel this year, sharply down from $53 from last year, which would see producer countries’ oil revenues plummet by $300 billion to $440 billion.  Brent has tumbled 22% so far this month to a 12-year low of $27.67 thanks to a slowing demand growth and bumper supply.  The slump has rocked global world markets and hit the finances and markets of oil producers especially hard.  Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, could face a budget deficit approaching 20% of GDP, according to some estimates.  (Reuters 18.01)

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5.5  German Exports to the Arabian Gulf Soar Despite Oil Price Slump

German exports to major oil producers are soaring despite the slump in oil prices to their lowest for more than a decade, countering worries that weaker demand from Gulf countries was slowing growth in Europe’s largest economy.  German exports to Saudi Arabia jumped by 13% to €9.1 billion ($9.94 billion) from January to November in 2015 compared with the same period in the previous year.  Exports to the United Arab Emirates soared by about 30% to some €13 billion in the same period, topping the record €11.4 billion reached in 2014 as a whole.

The German economy grew by 1.7% in 2015, its strongest rate of expansion for four years, mainly driven by robust increases in private and public consumption.  Trade contributed only 0.2% due to an economic slowdown in China and other emerging markets.  (Reuters 20.01)

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5.6  Kuwait’s Emir Urges Budget Cuts as Oil Revenues Decline

Kuwait’s emir has called for better management of spending and for budget cuts to cope with declining revenues due to lower oil prices, in the second such call by the head of state since October.  The remarks by Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, at a meeting with newspaper editors, appeared part of a drive to prepare the ground for politically difficult economic measures such as cuts in energy and food price subsidies, which could occur next year.  He added that any such measures must ensure that the basic needs of Kuwaitis were addressed.  The chief executive of state energy conglomerate Kuwait Petroleum Corp. said that Kuwait was considering several options for energy subsidy reforms but any possible rise in domestic prices would not affect citizens’ livelihoods.

Kuwait’s parliament last July approved a state budget for the current fiscal year that began on 1 April that envisages a deficit of 8.18 billion dinars ($27.0 billion) – nearly half total spending – because of low oil prices.  The budget assumed an average oil price of $45 a barrel. Brent crude was trading at $27.75 on 20 January.  In October, Sheikh Sabah urged the cabinet and parliament to cut state spending in response to slumping oil prices, warning that any delay would increase the damage to the government’s finances.  (Reuters 20.01)

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5.7  Kuwait Planning $100 Billion New Sovereign Wealth Fund

Kuwait is planning a new state-owned fund to manage as much as $100 billion in local assets with the goal of selling them to private investors in five to seven years.  The new sovereign wealth fund will include local assets managed by Kuwait Investment Authority, which has been burdened by its domestic mandate and will focus more on its international portfolio.  Stakes in local companies, as well as power and water projects, will be included in the new fund.

Energy-exporting countries that amassed large financial reserves over a decade-long oil boom are exacerbating a collapse in asset prices by selling off holdings to meet their obligations.  Such nations are also shifting investment strategies with an eye on boosting returns.  Kuwait’s plan to privatize utilities while removing domestic energy subsidies is intended to make its power and water assets more profitable for the fund and attractive to potential investors.  Saudi Arabia plans to set up a sovereign wealth fund to manage part of its oil fortune and diversify its investments.  (Bloomberg 24.01)

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5.8  Bahrain Cancels Pay Rise Plan for Government Workers

Bahrain has delayed plans to award government workers a pay rise of 15%, due to a tightening of government expenditure in response to declining oil revenues.  The Shoura Council on 17 January voted to delay the pay rise for public sector workers for another 12 months.  The move came as it was revealed the kingdom’s deficit for this year and next year could rise by up to two thirds to BD5 billion ($13.2 billion), as a result of the fall in oil prices.  The concerns appeared genuine as Brent oil traded near $28 a barrel as it extended declines after international sanctions on Iran were lifted, paving the way for increased exports from the OPEC producer amid a global glut.  (Bloomberg 20.01)

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5.9  Saudi Arabia Presents Plan to Move Beyond Oil

Saudi Arabia outlined ambitious plans on 25 January to move into industries ranging from information technology to health care and tourism, as it sought to convince international investors it can cope with an era of cheap oil.  Top Saudi officials said they would reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil and public sector employment.  Growth and job creation would shift to the private sector, with state spending helping to jump-start industries in the initial stage.  Under the reforms, parts of the national health care system would be converted into independent commercial companies.

The momentum has increased since King Salman took the throne in January last year and created a powerful Council of Economic and Development Affairs chaired by his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  The government is believed to have hired hundreds of Western consultants to work on the plans.  (Reuters 25.01)

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5.10  Saudi Arabia’s Economy Set to Grow at Slowest Rate Since 2002

Saudi Arabia’s economy is set to grow this year at the slowest pace since 2002 as the oil-price plunge drains the kingdom’s finances, according to projections released by the IMF and HSBC Holdings on 19 January.

Economic growth in the world’s largest oil exporter will slow to 1.2%, the IMF said in an update to its World Economic Outlook.  That’s still more optimistic than HSBC, which expects the biggest Arab economy to expand 0.8%. Growth was 3.4% in 2015.  The prolonged oil slump saddled Saudi Arabia with a budget deficit of about $98 billion last year, pushing officials to cut spending, consider an international sovereign bond sale and cut energy subsidies.  The price of Brent crude has fallen by more than 40% since October, when the IMF last released forecasts for the kingdom and said growth would be 2.2% this year.

The fundamentals “seem to point to a low-for-long scenario for oil,” Maury Obtsfeld, director of the IMF’s research department.  “With Iranian oil coming online, with the resilience in the shale extraction industry in the US, the possibility of shale extraction elsewhere, it’s hard to see oil going back to the $100 a barrel level anytime soon,” he said.

Saudi Arabia relied on oil for 73% of its revenue last year, a level of dependence the government is keen to reduce.  Among other measures, it’s considering new forms of taxation and privatizing state assets, including an initial public offering for Saudi Arabian Oil Co, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told The Economist this month.  “However, even allowing for significant reductions in outlays this year, we expect weak oil prices to leave Saudi Arabia with a budget deficit of well over 10% of GDP, suggesting the Kingdom faces multiple years of spending cuts and austerity as it seeks to rebalance public finances,” HSBC economists wrote in a report.  (Bloomberg 19.01)

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►►North Africa

5.11  Suez Canal Revenues Fall to $408.4 Million in November

The navigation traffic data for November 2015 issued by the Suez Canal Authority revealed a decline in revenues for the third consecutive month since the inauguration of the New Suez Canal on 6 August.  Revenues during November recorded $408.4m, compared to $448.8m and $449.2m during the months of September and October respectively.  Revenues also fell at the rate of 7.7% when compared to November 2014, which witnessed revenues of $442.8m.  A total of 1,401 ships crossed the canal in November, with a total of 80.292m metric tons of cargo, compared to 1,458 ships with a total of 80.961m metric tons during the same month in 2014.

In addition to the impact of declining numbers and size of ships on the revenue, the financial method adopted for the estimation of revenue also significantly contributed to the declining revenues, given the decline in currency prices adopted in the calculation of revenue against the dollar.  The canal’s revenues are calculated according to what is known as the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) adopted by the World Bank. The SDR measures the averages of four currencies under one umbrella: the dollar, yen, euro, and sterling pound.

In November, the value of the SDR unit recorded 1.3826 against the dollar, compared to 1.4671 during the same month in 2014.  The Suez Canal relies on this mechanism to hedge against any dramatic depreciation of currencies, whereby the SDR mechanism can cope with currency devaluations.  (SCA 18.01)

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5.12  King Mohammed VI Launches Smart Video-Surveillance System in Casablanca

King Mohammed VI launched in Casablanca a project to develop a smart video surveillance system to guarantee security of public spaces and promote good traffic control.  The MAD 460 million project is the first of its kind in the kingdom and is part of the efforts aimed at guaranteeing the safety of people and property, reducing the crime rate, regulating traffic flow and protecting public facilities.  This system, which provides for setting 760 CCTV cameras and 220 km of optical fibers, developing two central stations and 22 mobile stations, will integrate tramway cameras and other existing cameras (airport, ports of Casablanca and Mohammedia, supermarkets and banks).

Jointly funded by the Interior Ministry and the city of Casablanca, this project will, through smart techniques, guarantee traffic regulation, automatic incident detection, the timely mobilization of security forces and identification of objects, persons and suspicious vehicles.  It will also contribute to the location of stolen vehicles, the calculation of the flow rate, the automatic tracking of mobile objects, the dynamic management of cartography, besides the constitution of a facial recognition database.  (MAP 25.01)

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6.1  World Bank Raises Growth Estimation for Turkey

The World Bank said on 18 January it believes Turkey’s economy grew 4.2% in 2015 after strong third-quarter growth helped offset election uncertainty, according to its economic brief.  The bank had earlier estimated that Turkey would grow by 3.2% in 2015.  The fall in the value of the lira against foreign currencies helped stoke inflation, the bank also said.

Turkey’s gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 3.4% year-on-year in the first nine months of 2015 and the next announcement to reveal the annual growth rate will be made on 31 March.  The WB expects private consumption to continue to be the main driver of growth, thanks to the 30% rise in the minimum wage.  However, the lagged effect of currency depreciation and elevated inflation will be restraining private consumption growth to the rates observed in 2015.  As part of a pre-election promise, the government increased the net base wage by TL 300 and assumed 40% of its cost, leaving the greater part of the burden to employers.  (Zaman 18.01)

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6.2  Report: Turkey Ranked 36th Most Innovative Country

Turkey is the 36th most innovative country in the world, according to the recently released Bloomberg Innovation Index.  With a score of 60.92, Turkey ranked 36 out of 84 countries in the 2016 index, retaining its position from 2015 after it had moved up a spot in 2014.  The ranking began with over 200 economies, from which those that did not report data for at least six of seven categories measured were eliminated, trimming the list to 84, said Bloomberg in reporting the results of this year’s index.

Bloomberg bases its methodology on seven criteria: research and development (R&D), manufacturing value-added, productivity, high-tech density, tertiary efficiency, researcher concentration and patent activity.

Turkey took the highest grade in manufacturing with the high value-added criterion, but ranked worst in researcher concentration at 44.  Six of the top 10 economies hail from Europe, and three from Asia.  In the world of ideas, South Korea is king, according to the index.  Germany, Sweden, Japan and Switzerland rounded out the top five in the 2016 Bloomberg Innovation Index, which scored economies using factors including research and development spending and concentration of high-tech public companies.

Singapore and Finland followed these countries, and the world’s largest economy, the United States, was eighth in the rankings.  Denmark and France rounded out the top 10.  Israel followed these countries at number 11.  (HDN 25.01)

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6.3  Ankara Accuses Pakistan of Stalling Free Trade Deal

A Turkish government official has accused Islamabad of moving slowly on a free trade deal, while admitting that the additional taxes imposed on Pakistani textile and ready-to-wear products have resulted in halving the trade volume between the two countries.  Briefing lawmakers in Parliament recently, the acting Turkish deputy undersecretary at the Ministry of Economy said the meetings on an expected free trade agreement (FTA) were delayed because of foot dragging on the Pakistani side.  He also acknowledged that the additional import taxes of 20 to 30% on textile and ready-to-wear products, respectively, have slashed Turkey’s trade volume with Pakistan considerably.

He explained that after the taxes imposed by Turkey in September 2011, trade volume dropped from $1 billion to half a billion in the first 10 months of 2015.  Pakistan’s exports to Turkey, $873 million in 2011, fell to $230 million last year.  Although the additional taxes did not single out Pakistan, the result was devastating for Pakistan-Turkey bilateral trade volume because other countries that Turkey has free trade agreements with are exempt from this new measure.  The European Union, which has a customs union with Turkey, was also exempt.  The FTA is expected to cover all goods and services.  (Zaman 18.01)

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6.4  Russian Crisis Results in Losses of Over $11 Billion for Turkey

The economic effect of sanctions imposed on Turkish goods following Turkey’s downing of a Russian plane in its airspace late last year is likely to surpass $11 billion this year, according to a report by the Turkish Social, Economic and Political Research Foundation.  The shooting down of the jet in late November bore instant repercussions for the Ankara – Moscow relationship and President Putin responded harshly with a number of economic measures against Turkey that are expected to result in major losses.

The bulk of these losses will come from food exports, as well as the tourism, construction, housing and retail sectors.  A full 28.5% of the country’s fruit, vegetable and white meat exports go to Russia, accounting for around $1 billion, according to the report.  Construction projects overseen by Turkish contractors have been canceled, while tour operators are bracing for major losses from one of the sector’s major markets.  Sanctions imposed against Turkish food products went into effect on 1 January.

While Russia’s imports from Turkey only accounted for 2% of its import total, Turkey’s exports to Russia amounted to 10.5% of its total exports.  Previously having clinched $3.85 billion in projects in Russia in 2014, the Turkish construction sector faces losing out on as much as $3.5 billion, according to the report.  In 2015, 10% of homes purchased in Turkey by foreigners were bought by Russians.  The “suitcase trade,” based around Russian wholesale purchases of Turkish textile products, cleared the $7.44 billion mark between January and October 2014, while that figure dropped 34% to $4.9 billion last year, and is likely to careen even further in 2016.  Russia accounts for Turkey’s fourth largest source of capital inflow in terms of countries after Spain, the United States and the Netherlands, spiking between 2012 and 2015.  (Zaman 25.01)

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6.5  Greek Households’ Disposable Income Fell €1 Billion in Third Quarter

Greek households suffered a €1 billion drop in their disposable incomes in Q3/15 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to figures released by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT).  ELSTAT announced that the income households and nonprofit organizations had left after paying their obligations amounted to €30.4 billion in the July-September 2015 period, compared with €31.4 billion in Q3/14, meaning an annual decline of 3.3%.  ELSTAT data also showed that households’ consumer expenditure fell 1.9% year-on-year in Q3 to amount to €31 billion, from €31.7 billion in Q3/14.

The saving rate of households – i.e. the ratio of gross savings to the gross disposable income – amounted to -2.1% in summer 2015, compared with -0.7% in the same period in 2014.  The imports of goods and services also dropped in the third quarter to €11.2 billion, from €15.8 billion a year earlier, mainly due to the capital controls, which were introduced by the government on 28 June.  Exports were reduced by € 2.9 billion in Q3 to €16.8 billion, taking the external trade balance to a surplus of €5.5 billion, up €1.7 billion.  (Various 26.01)

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7.1  Israel Sets New Winter Electricity Use Record

On Monday evening, 25 January, Israelis marked a new record for electricity consumption in winter – 12,200 MW, up 2.3% from last year.  The cold weather led Israelis to reach a new winter record for electricity consumption on Monday at 18:45 – 12,200 megawatt – breaking the previous mark by 2.3%.  The all-time record was reached in the summer of 2015 – 12,905 MW.  Last January, the winter consumption record registered at 11,934 MW.

The Israel Electric Corporation conducted preparations to assure a steady supply of electricity during the wintry weather that hit the region.  However, IEC officials reiterate the electric power grid is never at a state of “zero faults” and that it is vulnerable to weather-related damages and extreme changes in consumption.  The company said its ground crews were reinforced – to assure each fault is handled immediately – but that outage times depended on the nature of the incidents and on locating the source of the problem.  (Globes 26.01)

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7.2  New Israeli Bill Allows Ordinary Citizens to Submit Legislation

Israeli MKs Hilik Bar (Zionist Union) and Yoav Kisch (Likud) submitted an unusual bill on 18 January that, if passed, would allow ordinary citizens to present their own law proposals directly to the Knesset.  Bar and Kisch said that they had spent the past few months formulating the “121st MK Law” along with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who welcomed the proposal.  According to the proposal, any bill submitted by a minimum of 50,000 eligible voters would automatically skip a preliminary reading and go directly to a first reading before a Knesset committee.

In accordance with consultations from legal and political science experts, it was decided that citizens would not be allowed to submit bills on matters of security and defense, the Basic Laws, clemency for criminals, taxation policies and the national budget.  However, the public would be allowed a direct say on social issues and matters of market regulation, law enforcement, education, transportation and environment protection.  In order to prevent forgeries, the bill stipulates strict standards for collecting signatures.  Any citizen seeking to sign a civilian bill will be required to provide, in addition to his or her name, their identification card number and a written or digital signature.  (Various 21.01)

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7.3  Tobruk Rejects UN-backed Unity Government

Libya’s internationally recognized House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk has rejected the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA).  Of 104 members attending the session, 89 voted against backing the government, and the Tunis-based Presidential Council now has 10 days to propose a new and smaller cabinet.  Since 2014, Libya has had two competing parliaments and governments, one based in Tripoli and the other in the east.  Both are backed by loose alliances of armed groups and former rebels who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.  Eastern lawmakers said the proposed 32-member government had been rejected because it included too many posts.

In a second vote, the Tobruk parliament approved the UN-mediated agreement that sets out a political transition for Libya and under which the Presidential Council operates.  However, lawmakers rejected a clause that transfers power over the armed forces to the prime minister.  Representatives from both sides of Libya’s political divide signed the UN-backed plan in Morocco in December, but the agreement has faced stiff opposition from many members of the two parliaments and from factions on the ground.  (Various 26.01)

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7.4  Greek Mayor Signs Country’s First Gay Partnership Contract

On 25 January, Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis became the first Greek official to sign a same-sex civil partnership agreement, following the recent approval of legislation granting homosexual couples almost equal rights to their heterosexual counterparts.  Late last month, Athens passed a bill extending the cohabitation rights of gay couples.  The bill, which passed with the support of opposition MPs but without the full backing of SYRIZA’s right-wing coalition partner Independent Greeks, grants same-sex couples the option of having civil partnerships, which would offer them full marriage rights but not necessarily the right to adopt children.  (ekathimerini 26.01)

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8.1  Rosetta Receives US Patent Allowance for Gene Signature Use with Kidney Tumors

Rosetta Genomics announced that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted a patent allowance for patent application No. 14/168,981, relating to “Gene Expression Signature for Classification of Kidney Tumors.”  The allowed patent claims a method for distinguishing four different types of kidney cancer: oncocytoma, clear cell renal cell carcinoma (RCC), papillary RCC, and chromophobe RCC in a human subject with renal cancer, through the expression profile of 29 microRNAs, and particularly hsa-miR-139-5p, detected by real time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).  This U.S. patent allowance complements the intellectual property protection for Rosetta’s kidney cancer test, which is covered in U.S. patent 9,068,232, granted in July of 2015.  The patent is owned jointly with Tel Hashomer Medical Research, the technology transfer company of the Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Israel.

Rehovot’s Rosetta is integrating groundbreaking diagnostic platforms to accelerate the implementation of precision medicine in clinical routine.  Pioneers in the microRNA biomarkers space, Rosetta has combined bioinformatics and innovative laboratory processes to develop and commercialize a full range of molecular diagnostic tests.  Building on its strong patent position and proprietary platform technologies, Rosetta is working on the application of these technologies in the development and commercialization of a full range of microRNA-based diagnostic tools.  (Rosetta Genomics 25.01)

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8.2  XTL’s Encouraging Feedback from FDA on Lupus Drug hCDR1

Ra’anana’s XTL Biopharmaceuticals, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company developing its lead product for the treatment of lupus, received written guidance from the U.S. FDA in response to a pre-investigational new drug (IND) meeting package regarding its upcoming IND filing for its drug candidate, hCDR1.  Based on the FDA’s response, XTL plans to file its IND, and in the coming quarters initiate a global clinical trial for hCDR1 in the treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in the U.S., Europe and Israel.

The FDA provided encouraging guidance on several key aspects of XTL’s proposed clinical trial including: the primary efficacy endpoint to be based on the BILAG index, a measure of lupus disease activity which was the secondary efficacy endpoint in a prior Phase 2 study of hCDR1; the appropriate patient population; and total number of patients required to prove safety for a new drug application (NDA) for marketing approval.  The FDA recommended that the trial be a Phase 2 study. The FDA has also provided additional guidance on other aspects of the trial design, which XTL intends to review with its Clinical Advisory Board as it finalizes the study protocol including doses and study duration.  (XTL Biopharmaceuticals 25.01)

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8.3  BioLineRx Medical Device Classification in Europe for Celiac Treatment Confirmed

BioLineRx received confirmation from the European Notified Body regarding the classification of BL-7010, a novel polymer for the treatment of celiac disease, as a Class IIb medical device in the European Union.

BL-7010 is a novel, non-absorbable, orally available co-polymer intended for the treatment of celiac disease.  It has a high affinity for gliadins, the immunogenic proteins present in gluten that cause celiac disease.  By sequestering gliadins, BL-7010 effectively masks them from enzymatic degradation and prevents the formation of immunogenic peptides that trigger the immune system.  This significantly reduces the immune response triggered by gluten.  BL-7010 is excreted with gliadin from the digestive tract and is not absorbed into the blood.  The safety and efficacy of BL-7010 have been demonstrated in a number of pre-clinical studies.

Modi’in’s BioLineRx is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company dedicated to identifying, in-licensing and developing promising therapeutic candidates. The Company in-licenses novel compounds primarily from academic institutions and biotech companies based in Israel, develops them through pre-clinical and/or clinical stages, and then partners with pharmaceutical companies for advanced clinical development and/or commercialization.  (BioLineRx 25.01)

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9.1  SolarEdge’s StorEdge Solution is Now Internationally Available

SolarEdge Technologies announced the immediate international availability of its StorEdge solution.  At the end of 2015, the company already completed a number of StorEdge installations in select locations around the world.  Compatible with Tesla’s home battery, the Powerwall, StorEdge is a DC coupled storage solution that allows home owners to reduce electric bills and gain energy independence.  With StorEdge, unused solar energy is stored in a battery and used when needed to maximize self-consumption and for power backup.  StorEdge also supports Time-of-Use management, which promotes energy consumption when electric demand from the grid is low (off-peak rates) and lower consumption when demand is high (peak rates).  The backup function allows homeowners to store solar energy and use it during electric outages.

The solution is based on a single inverter that manages and monitors solar energy generation, consumption, and storage.  With the complete SolarEdge DC optimized StorEdge system, homeowners benefit from higher generation, higher efficiency, simple design, enhanced safety, full monitoring, and easy maintenance.

Herzliya Pituach’s SolarEdge provides an intelligent inverter solution that has changed the way power is harvested and managed in solar photovoltaic systems.  The SolarEdge DC optimized inverter system maximizes power generation at the individual PV module-level while lowering the cost of energy produced by the solar PV system.  (SolarEdge  12.01)

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9.2  Battery Challenge Confirms Lucid’s PowerXtend Technology Advantage

In a 10 January Flagship Smartphones Battery Life Challenge in China, the Meizu PRO5 with PowerXtend was the last device running after all other screens went dark.  The PRO5 is the first device to integrate PowerXtend version 3.5, the latest version of the product that introduces the groundbreaking, patented, ICE power saving engine.

The test was conducted live in front of one hundred referees and tens of thousands online viewers.  All test devices were operated under the same conditions, playing the classic mobile phone game “Need for Speed”.  To ensure test consistency, brand new devices were set to flight mode, screen brightness of 150nits, sound muted and battery charged 100%.  The Nexus 6P with a 3,450 mAh battery was the first to shut down after 3 hours 29 minutes of intensive gaming.  The Huawei Mate8, equipped with a 4,000 mAh battery gave up after 6 hours 11 minutes and at 6 hours 48 minutes the iPhone 6s Plus left the game after its 2750 mAh battery ran dead.  The Meizu PRO5, with Lucid’s PowerXtend integrated, outlasted all other devices with a whopping 7 hours 4 minutes battery life.  This result is even more impressive, considering that the device packs a 3,050 mAh battery, the lowest capacity amongst all Android devices tested.

Lucid’s PowerXtend has become the de-facto standard for Android mobile power saving software and the Meizu PRO5 is the first smartphone model to support the newest PowerXtend version 3.5.  The new version introduces the ICE, a groundbreaking power saving engine based on patented technology. ICE sets a new standard for the user experience, enabling longer playing time and lower device heat.

Netanya’s Lucidlogix Technologies provides software for power saving solutions, satisfying the growing demand for performance and mobility.  Benefiting from Lucid’s core graphics technologies, Lucid’s proprietary algorithms and software solutions dramatically improves mobile performance for Android devices.  (Lucidlogix 18.01)

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9.3  VocalZoom & China’s iFLYTEK Agree to Test Performance in Noisy Environments

VocalZoom, a leading supplier of Human-to-Machine Communication (HMC) optical sensors that enable a more natural, personalized and secure voice-control experience, signed an agreement with China’s iFLYTEK to combine and test the performance of VocalZoom’s optical HMC sensor with iFLYTEK’s Voice Cloud intelligent speech technology platform, China’s most widely deployed solution with hundreds of millions of users.  Initial results show that the ASR performance of iFLYTEK’s platform can be improved an average of 50%, and even more in noisy environments, by adding VocalZoom sensors to user headsets and automotive infotainment solutions.

The key for human-to-machine interactions using virtual assistants and automotive voice control is whether the machine did what it was told, quickly and accurately enough to satisfy the user.  Even with the latest noise reduction algorithms, today’s acoustic microphones can’t achieve adequate voice isolation for this level of control, especially in noisy environments.  The VocalZoom multifunction HMC sensor overcomes this problem by gathering additional data generated during speech as facial skin vibrates around the mouth, lips, cheeks and throat.  By integrating the VocalZoom optical HMC sensor into a voice-control solution and focusing it on these areas, facial vibrations can be acquired, measured and converted to an isolated, near-perfect reference signal with which the system can operate – regardless of noise levels.

Yokneam Elite’s VocalZoom supplies Human-to-Machine Communication (HMC) sensors for delivering a natural, personalized and secure voice-controlled user experience in today’s increasingly mobile and interconnected world.  The sensors enable accurate and reliable voice control and biometrics authentication in any environment, regardless of noise.  Applications include mobile secure payments, headsets and wearables, mobile phones, access control, smart home solutions, and hands-free automotive voice control.  (VocalZoom 25.01)

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10.1  Israel’s CPI Falls 0.1% in December

The Central Bureau of Statistics announced that Israel’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) fell 0.1% in December, falling a surprising 0.4% in November.  In 2015, the CPI fell 1%, the second successive year of negative inflation, after the CPI fell 0.2% in 2014.  This is well below the government’s inflation target range of between 1% and 3%.  Outstanding price falls in December included fresh fruit and vegetables (16.9%), culture and entertainment (1.5%), and food (0.4%).  Outstanding price rises in December included clothing and footwear (6.2%), and housing costs (0.4%).  (CBS 15.01)

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10.2  Israel Wine Exports Up 6% in 2015

Israel’s wine exports grew 6% to $39 million in 2015, the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute announced.  The Export Institute added that despite last year’s larger export volume, the money value of exports actually slipped 3% in 2015, due to the weakness of the euro.  An analysis by the wine industry shows that most of the increase in Israel’s exports of wine and other alcoholic beverages was to Asia; the wine sector’s exports to Asia rose 16% to $2.6 million, while exports to North America grew 8% to $25 million.  Exports to the European Union were down 18% to $10 million, which the Export Institute attributed to the euro crisis.

Israel has 300 wineries, 60 of which are commercial.  Most of Israel’s wineries are boutique and garage wineries small businesses producing a few thousands of bottles a year.  The local wine market’s annual turnover is NIS 1 billion, with exports totaling 40 million bottles a year, plus 10 million more bottles of grape juice. 20% of output is for export.  (IEICI 26.01)

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11.1  ISRAEL:  Funding for Israeli High-Tech Hits All-Time High

According to figures released on 25 January by IVC Research Center and KPMG, 2015 was a record year for fund raising by Israel’s high tech industry.  Israeli tech companies raised $4.43 billion last year in 708 deals.  The amount and the number of deals are both all-time highs.  The amount raised is 30% above the previous high, recorded in 2014, when 690 deals totaled $3.42 billion.

The average deal peaked as well, at $6.3 million in 2015, compared with the previous year’s $5 million average round and a $4 million average in the past ten years.

The fourth quarter of 2015 was especially successful, in fact the best ever.  Israeli start-ups raised an aggregate $1.2 billion in the quarter, 11% more than in the third quarter, and 10% more than in the fourth quarter of 2014.

VC-backed deals accounted for 72% of capital raised in 2015, with an outstanding $3.2 billion closed in 397 deals, or only 56% of deals.  The past three years have seen consistent 30% annual growth in capital raising in VC-backed deals.  The compilers of the report comment, “It seems the increase in VC-backed capital raising is therefore mostly explained by the increase in the size of the average financing round where VC funds participated.  The average VC-backed deal in 2015 reached nearly $8 million, an unprecedented record, well above the $5.9 million average in 2014 and much higher than the $4.4 million average VC-backed deal in 2013.”

Ofer Sela, partner at KPMG Somekh Chaikin’s Technology Group, warns that the slowdown in investment in the rest of the world will catch up with Israel.  “In the last quarter of 2015, the trend Israel ran contrary to that of the rest of the world.  While global markets were affected by the slowdown in the Chinese stock market, an unstable global economy and the interest rate hike in the US, Israel remained untouched by this global wariness.  We expect the Israeli market to slow down if the bear market persists.  The general current sentiment in the Israeli market is that ‘winter is coming’,” Sela said.

IVC Research Center CEO Koby Simana said, “As of the second quarter of 2014 and throughout the past year, we have repeatedly pointed to the uptrend in the number of large deals and their sizes.  We’ve seen growth stage companies raising substantial capital to boost their growth rates and grab larger market shares.  The trend was largely fueled by the influx of capital from foreign investors, and a shift in market trends may indeed cause a slowdown on that front.

“However, there’s still room for Israeli high-tech companies to find both organic and non-organic growth, and materialize their full potential.  We’ve seen in the past year a 25% hike in the number of Israeli growth stage companies, and the numbers keep growing.  At the same time, there’s an increase in the capital dedicated to growth investments by late stage and growth focused VC funds, which are expected to continue investing even if the market slows, or even capitalize on the slight decline in valuations that a possible slowdown may cause.”

Israeli venture capital funds accelerated their activity in 2015, investing $653 million, which compares with $568 million in 2014.  Their share in the total amount of capital raised, however, continues to fall, reaching a low of 15% in 2015, compared with 17% in 2014 and a 30% average share in the past ten years.  Israeli VC funds placed a total of $236 million in first investments, which accounted for 36% of their total placements, up from 30% in 2014 and 2013.

In the breakdown by sector, in 2015, 181 software companies led all capital raising with $1.3 billion or 29%% of the total capital.  They were followed closely by Internet companies, with 172 deals raising just under $1.3 billion.  The life science sector followed, with 22% of the total capital raised in 2015.  (Globes 25.01)

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11.2  SAUDI ARABIA:  Fitch Applauds Plan to Tackle Growing Budget Deficit

Saudi Arabia’s 2016 budget is committed to significant reforms but the fall in oil prices means that the deficit/GDP ratio will again be in double-digits, according to Fitch Ratings.  Fitch announced that the kingdom’s 2016 budget outlines measures to rationalize expenditure, increase non-oil revenues, and improve the fiscal policy framework.

Petrol and utility price hikes have been announced, and subsidy reform will proceed gradually over the next five years, Fitch said.  It added that the authorities aim to slow the growth of recurring expenditure, especially wages, salaries and allowances while privatizations are also planned.

“Adopting a medium-term expenditure framework with a budget ceiling and creating a debt management office should strengthen management of the public finances,” Fitch said.

The commitment to reform was shown on 28 December with major hikes in petrol prices while water prices for industrial, government and large corporate users more than doubled and electricity, and gas and diesel prices were raised.  Fitch added: “The direct cost of subsidies to the budget is less than 2% of GDP, but indirect subsidies are large.  Taxes on tobacco and soft drinks will be raised, and support for a GCC-wide value-added tax appears firmer.”

The agency said the full impact on the deficit will depend on the pace and extent of implementation and the size of offsetting measures to allay the effect on low- and middle-income families.

The magnitude of the oil price decline means that the 2016 budget forecasts total revenues of SR513.8b, with a projected deficit of SR326.2b ($86.9b), around 13.5% of GDP.

This would be a second successive double-digit budget deficit, after the Ministry of Finance said that the 2015 deficit was expected to reach SR367b, or 15% of GDP – the largest ever Saudi deficit, albeit below Fitch’s forecast of 16.8%.

The 2016 budget for the first time includes an unallocated contingency reserve worth 22% of budgeted spending to cover unforeseen expenditure.  “We assume that, without a significant rebound in oil prices, this will not be fully drawn down, making a further reduction in the gap between budgeted and actual spending plausible.  It is unclear whether heightened tension with Iran will increase security costs,” said Fitch.

Concrete deficit financing plans were not in the budget, but Fitch said it assumes these will remain a combination of drawing down government assets held at the central bank and debt issuance, potentially including international issuance.  (Fitch 15.01)

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11.3  TURKEY:  Dollar-Needy Turkey Tightens Foreign Currency Rules

Zilfikar Dogan posted on 14 January in Al-Monitor that, desperate to stop the flight of foreign money, the Turkish government has tightened rules on how cash can be taken out of the country.

Unable to stop the economic hemorrhage sparked by the flight of foreign investors and money, Turkey’s government has tightened the country’s 26-year liberal foreign exchange rules. Travelers exiting Turkey are now required to make declarations of cash and credit cards or face sanctions on charges of money laundering and smuggling.

The flight of foreign investors and foreign capital from Turkey gathered speed in late 2014.  Last year, it accelerated further amid increasing economic and political risks and controversial government moves, including the seizure of private companies, among them media outlets, through an increasingly politicized judiciary and the use of supervisory bodies as a tool to bully business people. Investor confidence was further shaken by a protracted election process — an inconclusive vote 7 July followed by snap polls 1 November— coupled with the resumption of armed conflict with Kurdish militants, deadly terrorist attacks and heavy-handed security crackdowns.

After the Justice and Development Party (AKP) reclaimed its parliamentary majority 1 November, optimists argued that the continuation of one-party government, as opposed to the coalition the 7 June result had dictated, would restore both political and economic stability.  This, however, did not happen.  The Istanbul Stock Exchange saw net foreign sales of a staggering $1.13 billion in November and $640 million in December.  In the last week of December alone, foreign investors sold $195 million worth of stock shares and Turkish treasury bonds.  The Fed’s rate hike also stoked the flight of and demand for foreign currency, while further weakening the Turkish lira.

After 7 June, ordinary Turkish citizens, too, began to increasingly shift from the lira to the dollar, seeking to protect themselves against the depreciation of the national currency.  All these factors forced the government to make some serious amendments in the foreign currency regime in late December.

Only a little more than half a year earlier, in April 2015, the Customs Ministry had issued a controversial circular in a bid to lure foreign currency to Turkey.  The circular stipulated that travelers would no longer be forced to declare the foreign cash they bring to Turkey at customs, and that any suspicious voluntary declarations would be referred not to prosecutors but to the Finance Ministry’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK).  The amendment sparked criticism and raised questions: Was Turkey becoming a haven for illicit money?  How would the financing of terrorism be controlled at a time when Turkey was already under fire for harboring jihadi in Syria?  The government, however, ignored the criticism and refused to back down.

Yet, little foreign currency flew in, while the flight of foreign capital continued and Turks increasingly turned to the dollar.  According to the Central Bank’s balance of payments report for the third quarter of 2015, announced 5 January, the bank’s foreign exchange reserves dropped by $1.1 billion to $119.6 billion despite the inflow of $7.8 billion from “unknown sources.”

Alarmed by its failure to reverse the trend, the government took a fresh step on 30 December, amending Decree No. 32 on the protection of the value of Turkish currency, enacted in 1989 as a milestone step liberalizing the foreign exchange market in Turkey.  Until 1989, foreign currency transactions and the gold trade were the subject of tight control under the 1930 Law on the Protection of the Value of Turkish Currency, which considered the possession of foreign currency a crime and punished it with jail.  The 1989 reform — a legacy of then-Prime Minister Turgut Ozal — came as a revolution liberalizing the Turkish economy and integrating it with global markets.  The foreign exchange market was liberalized, Turkish citizens were allowed to open foreign currency and gold accounts in banks, exchange offices were allowed to operate alongside banks, and the draconian restrictions on carrying foreign currency while entering or exiting Turkey were removed.  The rules of declaration at customs were also relaxed.

Under the 30 December amendment, travelers exiting Turkey with cash of more than 25,000 lira ($8,263) or more than €10,000 euros or an equivalent sum of foreign currency are now obliged to declare the money to customs at airports and border crossings.  A newly added provision says that in cases where the money is not declared, or incorrect or misleading declarations are made, the money in question will be taken by customs and considered suspicious.  Customs officials will then notify MASAK and refer the case also to prosecutors on charges of trafficking.

The amendment covers also “documents enabling payment in Turkish lira,” which means that credit cards with a limit of more than TL 25,000 are also up for declaration.

In sum, the government — scrambling to halt the foreign currency flight — has taken a step away from the 26-year liberal foreign exchange regime toward a tight, control-dominated system, where those who fail to make the required declarations or declare incorrect or misleading sums can face charges of money laundering and trafficking.

The amendment is likely to affect mostly business people, investors and exporters, who will be now lining up at airports to fill in declarations amid the threat of sanctions inspired from the economic laws of the 1930s.  (Al-Monitor 14.01)

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11.4  GREECE: Upgraded to ‘B-‘ From ‘CCC+’ On Reform Progress


*Since last summer, the Greek government has recapitalized the country’s systemic banks, and put into place budgetary consolidation measures.

*Despite multiple shocks, the economy has proved more resilient than we had previously expected.

*By the end of March, despite differences between the government and its creditors, we expect Greece to meet the conditionality attached to its €86 billion financial support program, opening the way for discussions on official debt relief.

*As a consequence, we are raising our long-term sovereign credit rating on Greece to ‘B-‘ from ‘CCC+’.

*The stable outlook reflects our opinion that risks to the ratings are balanced.

Rating Action

On 22 January 2016, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services raised its long-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings on the Hellenic Republic (Greece) to ‘B-‘ from ‘CCC+’.  The outlook is stable. At the same time, we raised the short-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings to ‘B’ from ‘C’.


The upgrade reflects our assessment that the Greek government is broadly complying with the terms of its €86 billion financial support program financed by Eurozone member states via the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).  In particular, by the end of March we expect a compromise to be reached on pension reform that will balance the government’s preference to raise social security contributions and consolidate the separate pension funds into a single system, with creditors’ and the IMF’s focus on spending cuts to narrow an unsustainably high pension deficit, currently estimated at 9% of GDP.  An impending agreement on pension reform, leading to the successful conclusion of the first review of the program, would raise the possibility of additional relief on the official portion of Greece’s general government debt (which makes up 88% of all general government medium- and long- term liabilities, including Eurosystem holdings of Greek tradeable bonds).

In the face of two general elections, a referendum, the imposition of capital controls, and further tax increases, the Greek economy contracted only slightly last year (-0.3% is our 2015 GDP forecast), with investment declining by a much larger 12%.  In particular, consumption was surprisingly resilient during 2015 with car sales up 13.5% year-on-year.  This was partly because, in the run up to capital controls, households hedged themselves by frontloading purchases of consumer durables.  Ministry of Labor data also indicates that there was net private sector job growth for 2015 as a whole, reinforcing expectations that unemployment has finally peaked in Greece, albeit at the highest level in the EU (24.5% in October 2015).

Our prognosis for the Greek economy is for one more year of essentially flat growth, followed by a more robust recovery.  We see three key drags on GDP this year.  First, despite last autumn’s successful recapitalization exercise, we anticipate that, throughout 2016, Greek financial institutions will remain focused on cleaning up their balance sheets rather than lending to the private sector; nonperforming loans (NPLs; European Banking Authority definition) at Greek banks are at an estimated 46% of total loans, implying high levels of financial distress among Greek corporates and households.

Second, under Greece’s current (and third) official loan program, the government is committed to increasing public savings this year, which will directly subtract from GDP.  Further fiscal tightening will be challenging to implement, not least because of the precarious state of the health care and educational systems after seven consecutive years of spending cuts.

Third, the carry-over from last year’s GDP growth creates a notable negative statistical effect for this year.  We also expect that some of last year’s exceptional consumer behavior will reverse during 2016.  At the same time, some positive effects could contribute to a stronger-than-anticipated recovery this year.  Further declines in oil prices during 2016 will support consumption.  Financing arrangements under the program include plans to pay down an estimated 3% of GDP of arrears to the private sector, which firms are likely to use to clear their own wage arrears to employees, who may spend it.  On top of this, Greece’s tourism sector, which saw record arrivals in 2015, is well positioned to benefit during 2016 from a weak euro and rising security risks in key competitors.

Since August of last year, there has been progress on most of the program milestones.  The Greek government has partly relaxed capital controls by liberalizing foreign exchange spot transactions and derivatives trading and raising limits on transfers abroad.  The introduction of capital controls last year seems to have had the unintended positive benefit of encouraging the use of debit-card and other non-cash forms of payment, apparently reducing the size of the informal economy.  Also during 2015, the government passed important legislation facilitating NPL sales and workouts, including the controversial lifting of a moratorium on home repossessions.  Lastly, the VAT regime has been simplified.

Last October, the ECB’s banking supervisor estimated a stress scenario capital shortfall in Greece’s four large systemic banks of €14.4 billion (8.2% of GDP).  By the end of 2015, banks had raised 60% of this shortfall from private investors via a combination of new equity, and bail-ins of junior creditors – together totaling €9.0 billion (5.1% of GDP).  As a consequence, the general government only had to assume €5.4 billion (3.1% of GDP) of the cost of supporting two of the four banks versus the program assumption of nearly five times that amount.  Any estimates of the long-term financial cost to the state of this exercise, however, should also reflect the ensuing dilution of the government’s banking stakes given the low equity component (the 25%/75% common equity to contingent convertible bonds split) in the recapitalization contribution by the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund.  There is also a possibility that the banking system, including smaller financial institutions, could eventually require capital support.  Nevertheless, in our opinion, the recapitalization exercise has contributed to Greece’s financial stability while considerably lowering the risk that further financial sector contingent liabilities will crystallize on the government’s balance sheet.

To understand the 2015 accounting for public debt, it is important to recognize that last year’s return of €10.9 billion in recapitalization notes (issued under Greece’s second program) to the European Financial Stability Fund actually means that overall government support of the financial sector in 2015 made a net negative contribution to general government debt of an estimated €5.5 billion, equivalent to 3.1% of GDP.  This, plus the consumption of most remaining general government cash reserves, led to a very small increase in gross general government debt last year of just under €2 billion, we estimate.  Net general government debt increased more significantly, from 172.1% of GDP at end-2014, to an estimated 181.4% by end-2015.  We project that net general government debt will increase significantly again this year to 187.4% of GDP, mainly because we project no nominal GDP growth this year, but also because the government plans to make just over 3% of GDP (€5.5 billion) in arrears payments, as well as to finance a deficit of just under 3% of GDP.  From 2017, however, we project sizeable annual declines in net general government debt to GDP, on the assumption that the economy starts to grow and re-inflate again, and that the primary fiscal position improves.

We are forecasting a primary surplus of 0.4% of GDP this year (versus the 0.5% target), increasing to close to 2% by 2019.  This is, however, substantially below the program target of 3.5% by 2018.  One risk to fiscal targets this year is last year’s Council of State decision declaring that pension cuts introduced in 2012 were unconstitutional.

Merchandise export performance has generally been positive since late 2010, but from a low base (merchandise exports account for just 15% of GDP).  Reflecting lower volume imports, the fall in energy prices and a 9% year-on-year increase in tourist arrivals, we estimate that last year’s current account shifted into surplus.  This would be the first current account surplus (under BPM6 methodology) for Greece since the mid-seventies.  We expect Greece’s current account will shift back into deficit as demand recovers over the next few years, though oil prices, should they remain at current levels, could improve the current account position this year by as much as 2% of GDP.  We note that, over the last half decade, Greece’s capital account has averaged a surplus of 1.5%-2.0% of GDP, and that €35 billion (20% of GDP) is available to Greece between 2014 – 2020 through EU funds, on top of substantial remaining EU grants under the 2007-2013 envelope.  For this reason, we anticipate the capital account to remain substantially in surplus over the forecast horizon.

Greece’s external debt levels are also far higher than European averages especially as a percentage of current account receipts (an indicator of capacity to service foreign debt).

Given the current Greek government’s busy reform agenda, and its narrow majority of three seats, the prospect of implementing long-term reforms such as to the judicial system and public administration seems low.  Nevertheless, our baseline expectation remains that, regardless of what government is in power, Greece will largely comply with the terms of the Eurogroup support program.  We take this view as we don’t believe the alternative would be viable for Greece’s financial stability; the banking system continues to depend on Eurosystem support of €107.5 billion or 61% of GDP (€68.9 billion of which was Emergency Liquidity Assistance) as of end-December 2015.

We expect any re-profiling of Greece’s official debt to come in the form of interest rate deferrals, and maturity extensions.  At 16.5 years, Greece already has the longest dated debt stock of all rated sovereigns; while, at an estimated 1.9%, the general government’s effective borrowing cost (measured on an accruals basis; on a cash basis it is even lower) is already considerably lower than most peers.  In light of these low annual maturities and very low interest rates, Greek government debt levels are affordable, in our opinion, and we reflect that in our final credit rating on Greece.  At the same time, in the absence of meaningful front-loaded reductions in Greece’s net general government debt to GDP ratios, we think the possibility of Greece re-accessing commercial markets toward the end of the third program at similarly long maturities and low interest rates remains low.  However, political constraints in creditor countries appear likely to rule out write-downs of Greece’s official liabilities that might make earlier re-entry into commercial markets at affordable terms viable.  This means, more realistically, that whether or not Greece can bring down its net general government debt level of 187% of GDP (the government’s projection for end-2016) quickly will ultimately depend on whether the economy recovers rapidly in both real and nominal terms.  According to our projections at optimistic nominal GDP growth rates of 5%, with an annual primary surplus of 2% of GDP and at current borrowing costs, it will still be another 13 years before net general government debt falls below 100% of GDP, assuming privatization receipts over the period of €20 billion.

Should the first review be completed successfully, we anticipate that the small amount of Greek government bonds still in the market are likely to become eligible for QE purchases by the Bank of Greece.  In addition, a potential decision by the ECB to reinstate its waiver on the eligibility of Greek sovereign and sovereign guaranteed bank collateral for ECB (rather than costlier Bank of Greece Emergency Liquidity Assistance) financing would benefit the profitability of Greece’s highly challenged banking system.  We, however, anticipate an only gradual lifting of the capital controls still in place, including withdrawal limits on household deposits.


The stable outlook indicates our view that, over the next 12 months, risks to our ‘B-‘ rating are balanced.

We could consider an upgrade if we saw stronger growth performance, and measureable progress in the reduction of the still-high NPL levels in Greece’s banking system, alongside the lifting of capital controls including deposit withdrawal limits, which would be a strong indication of a recovery of confidence in financial stability and hence growth.  We could also consider raising the rating on the back of an unexpected write-down of Greece’s level of net general government debt, which, at a projected 187.4% of GDP by end-2016 (excluding guaranteed debt outside of the general government perimeter), is one of the highest public debt levels of all rated sovereigns.

On the other hand, we could lower the ratings on Greece if the new government cannot implement the reforms it has agreed to in the Memorandum of Understanding between itself and the ESM.  Prolonged implementation problems with the ESM program could eventually lead to a general default on the government’s debt.  (S&P 23.01)

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The Fortnightly newsletter is a free service of Atid, EDI. We are a team of economic and trade development consultants, headquartered in Jerusalem, but active throughout the region and beyond. EDI works with an international clientele interested in identifying and researching business opportunities in the region. We also serve as the regional representative offices for a number of U.S. states and bilateral Chambers of Commerce, as well as European clients.