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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Ameer Abdul Razak/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar’s brand is now the ninth-most powerful in the world, according to an annual ranking released by UK-based consulting firm Brand Finance.

The Gulf country has made it to the top 10 in part because efforts to market itself as a tourism draw and a business-friendly destination for investment are paying off, the report said.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Sanjiban2011/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However, a methodology change means the 2015 results are not comparable to previous years, when Qatar did not fare as well.

This year’s strongest nation brands are Singapore, Switzerland and the UAE.

The report ranks countries by attempting to measure the value of a state’s tourism offerings, its image abroad and its appeal to businesses based on regulation, taxation, talent pool and protection for investors, among other factors.

Global image

By these measurements, Qatar appears to be overcoming allegations that the country supports terrorist organizations, is the home of widespread human rights abuses and was illegitimately awarded hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup, issues that have dominated international media coverage of the Gulf state in recent years.

The report’s authors add that the success of Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad – as well as modern facilities such as Hamad International Airport – give the image of the Gulf states a major boost.

“They are international transportation hubs with large, modern airports, that serve as the base world leading airlines … These act as flag carriers for their national and sub-national brands,” the report says.

Alongside its rapid expansion, Qatar Airways has broadened the reach of its brand through sponsorships and advertising campaigns.

Qatar Airways logo on FC Barcelona kit

Soccerfaith.net

Qatar Airways logo on FC Barcelona kit

This includes an agreement, reportedly worth more than US$200 million, to feature the airline’s logo on the team jerseys of FC Barcelona.

Despite protests from some critics of Qatar’s labor laws, that deal is expected to be renewed later this month, according to media reports.

Nevertheless, Qatar’s tourism brand is still weak relative to the other countries that made the top 10 list. However, Qatar is expected to improve as the World Cup draws closer, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the UAE’s tourism score is on an upwards trajectory in part because of unique attractions such as Abu Dhabi’s under-construction Louvre museum, Ferrari World at Yas Island and various water parks at high-end resorts.

Tourism efforts

Locally, the Qatar Tourism Authority wants its country to be known as a “sun and beach” destination.

Salwa Beach resort

Hilton

Salwa Beach resort

Within the private sector, several local firms have proposed water park-themed developments and constructed new beach resorts such as Banana Island and the planned Hilton Salwa.

Authorities are also trying to build Qatar’s reputation as a cultural destination, showcasing authentic Arab experiences, as well as an urban center with modern shopping malls and restaurants.

But overall, Qatar’s biggest brand strength is its appeal as an investment destination and benefits from low rates of crime and disorder.

“Doha (has) vast appeal for investors, highly skilled expatriate workers and tourists from Europe, Asia and the Middle East,” the report said.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Gadget Dan/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However, while many international firms are drawn to Qatar for its growing, affluent population and business opportunities stemmed from massive infrastructure projects, some firms reportedly experience cash-flow problems once here – something local industry publication Qatar Construction News said is due to a “culture of late payments.”

The red tape associated with starting a business has also discouraged some would-be entrepreneurs based in Qatar.

The report also calculated the relative value of each country’s brand by taking the size of its economy into account.

By this measurement, Qatar ranks 36th, an improvement of one spot from last year.

Thoughts?

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April Younglove / Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar has postponed plans to build a new chicken farm complex that would have helped bolster its food security, according to a company that would have helped finance the project.

Doha-based private bank Investment House had been working to raise some QR750 million (US$206 million) through a planned initial public offering (IPO) for a company that aimed to nearly quadruple the amount of home-grown poultry and eggs in Qatar.

Watania chicken

Watania

Watania chicken

The farm was part of a wider strategy to increase the amount of locally produced foodstuffs to reduce Qatar’s current overwhelming reliance on imported produce.

Through the IPO, Investment House had planned to raise around half of the total amount of funding required for the 5.7 sq km complex, which would have had the capacity to produce up to 40,000 tons of chicken and 7.5 tons of eggs each year.

The rest of the funding would ideally have come from private investors, the government said in an announcement made in December.

However, earlier this week Investment House CEO Hashem Al-Aqeel was quoted by Reuters as saying that it had been ordered by regulators to put its flotation plans on hold.

While he did not give a reason for the move, or a new timeline for the IPO’s launch, the announcement comes amid a period of belt-tightening in Qatar, as a number of projects not directly related to the 2022 World Cup have either been shelved or scaled back.

This is in part due to the sudden drop of oil prices since last June, which are also forecast to bring down gas prices in the coming year.

“The lower oil price is affecting Qatar – we are seeing a slowdown in the rate of investment here in the construction, banking and energy sectors,” Al Aqeel told Reuters.

Project delays

The poultry farm isn’t the only project on hold.

Last month, Dubai-based business intelligence firm MEED reported that the 12km Sharq Crossing would be delayed.

Sharq Crossing

Designed to deal with Doha’s increasing traffic issues, the project involving building a series of tunnels and bridges to connect Hamad International Airport, Katara Cultural Village and the Dafna/West Bay business district.

MEED previously put a price tag of around $12 billion on the project.

News of the postponement came just a week after Qatar’s government established a ministerial committee to oversee projects of “strategic importance.” The committee was tasked with prioritizing major development initiatives and reviewing costs, among other responsibilities.

Meanwhile, a leading regional project delivery specialist has predicted that the fall in oil prices would encourage alternative funding schemes in Qatar in the coming years.

Dr. Mamoon Alameen, who will speak at the Project Qatar conference next month, recently said he believed the decline in prices would not affect the key infrastructure projects already underway for 2022.

“It may, however, catalyze PPP (public-private partnerships) in many sectors,” he added in a statement.

Thoughts?

qatar exchange

QE

It’s been a wild ride for investors on the Qatar Exchange over the last couple of years.

Between July 2012 and the start of this month, the market’s main index rose by nearly two-thirds and reached an all-time high. But then, share prices started to decline, with the index plunging more than nine percent this month alone.

So what’s going on in the country’s financial market?

Frontier emergence

The Qatar Exchange started its uneven upwards climb in mid-2012, but it was an announcement slightly more than a year ago by US-based financial services giant MSCI that added fuel to the recent stock market rally.

MSCI compiles financial indices of various stocks, bonds and other investment vehicles from around the world that are used as benchmarks by fund managers.

The firm had previously classified Qatar as a ‘frontier’ market, a category generally comprised of smaller economies with foreign investment restrictions. On June 11, 2013, however, it announced that Qatar, along with the UAE, would be upgraded to ’emerging market’ status.

The long-term impact of this is likely to be billions of additional dollars invested in the stock exchanges of the two Gulf countries, as fund managers who follow MSCI’s emerging market indices purchase equities from Qatar and the UAE.

While MSCI announced its intentions to upgrade Qatar’s status in June 2013, the actual reclassification didn’t occur until the end of this May – and that’s when so-called passive investors, who generally follow indices, began to move their money into Qatar.

But many ‘active’ investors, who try to outperform indices, jumped into the local market ahead of time, anticipating that the pending upgrade would attract more buyers and increase demand for Qatari stocks.

“As investors began to digest (the announcement of the pending upgrade), active investors began to position themselves,” Vijay Sumon, the Dubai-based director of global equity quantitative research at HSBC, told Doha News.

The result was a huge surge. Between the time MSCI announced its intentions and the actual upgrade, Qatar’s stock exchange rose 45 percent. Amid heavy trading volumes, it hit an all-time high on June 1 as passive emerging market investors began to move in.

The correction

It wasn’t to last, however. The stock market began to slide the next day, just as many were reading the first of a series of articles published by the Sunday Times alleging Qatar bribed FIFA executive committee members to help secure support for its bid for the 2022 World Cup.

The accusations sparked much debate in the sporting world, with many commentators suggesting Qatar could lose the rights to host the football tournament.

That prompted some to speculate that investors were jittery about this prospect, which would force the country to abandon its stadium and infrastructure spending plans.

However, many analysts also argued the country’s economy was strong enough to absorb the potential loss of the tournament.

“The World Cup was icing on the cake, but it won’t damage corporate earnings in a significant manner,” Arjuna Mahendran, chief investment officer at the wealth management unit of Dubai-based Emirates NBD, told Bloomberg.

The other explanation for the dip was that many of the early investors who had bought in before the upgrade were simply cashing out.

“The market had gone up because of the MSCI inclusion and there is profit-taking now,” Shakeel Sarwar, the Bahrain-based head of asset management at Securities & Investment Co., told Reuters.

Indeed, even before the sell-off began, some analysts had suggested stocks in Qatar were overpriced, an argument that Khalid Al Khater, director of research and monetary policy at Qatar Central Bank, hinted at as he tried to reassure investors amid the slide:

“This is a temporary correction. The Qatari stock exchange was upgraded to emerging market status. The market was expecting this. This was the reason for the increase. This, in my opinion, is just temporary. The economic fundamentals in Qatar (are) so strong. This shouldn’t be a problem … I wouldn’t worry much,” he said in an interview with CNBC.

Outlook

HSBC’s Sumon has told Doha News that with the MSCI upgrade complete, the recent market volatility should wane.

“Now, the focus will have shifted from the re-balance to the fundamentals,” he said.

Looking ahead, Sumon noted that Qatar authorities made the local stock market even more attractive to foreign investors late last month when foreign ownership limits on publicly traded companies were raised from 25 percent to 49 percent, making it easier for capital to flow into the country.

Thoughts?