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Billionaire business tycoon Nassef Sawiris heads a company that serves, among others, agricultural clients all over the world. But despite the U.S.-China trade war and all the uncertainty it’s wreaked on his customers, the OCI N.V CEO says he’s not deterred from investing.

“Trade is not helpful, but at the same time it’s manageable. I think people worry too much about the trade wars, I think the world can live with some trade friction, it’s not the end of the world,” Sawiris, who is ranked by Forbes as the world’s fourth-richest African, told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in Abu Dhabi.

The Egyptian CEO’s company, OCI, produces and exports natural gas-based fertilizers and industrial chemicals to customers across agriculture and industry sectors.

“It creates some uncertainty for our customers, our farmers in North America had a tough time deciding what to plant, corn or soybeans — it had a lot to do with weather but more so with whether they can sell soybeans to China or they will be handicapped by some tariffs,” Sawiris described, referencing the mounting tit-for-tat tariff battle being waged between the world’s two largest economies.

“That created some added complexity in the minds of our customers and our farmers in the U.S.”

Early last month, President Donald Trump unexpectedly accused China of reneging on a deal and announced that tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods would increase to 25% from 10% on May 10. Beijing retaliated, raising levies on $60 billion worth of U.S. products. Trump has now said he’s ready to hit the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports with tariffs if a trade deal isn’t reached.

OCI N.V Chief Executive Officer Nassef Sawiris at a plenary session of the 9th VTB Capital Russia Calling! annual investment forum.

Mikhail Metzel | TASS via Getty Images

The developments have hit the American agriculture sector particularly hard, and the Trump administration had to introduce a $16 billion aid package for farmers hurt by reduced sales to China.

“Trade creates challenges and opportunities. Vietnam for example is benefiting from the trade war with China, the uncertainty is not welcome by the customers or the investment decision makers,” Sawiris said. “At the same time, I think it’s manageable.”

Asked if the uncertainty — from either the trade war or regional tensions in the Middle East — would ever stop him from investing in a given region, he replied with a laugh, “Uncertainty is our middle name, so we’ve gotten used to that.”

On Monday, the company announced a joint venture with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, ADNOC, to create the world’s largest exporter of nitrogen-based fertilizer and expand market access.

Sawiris’ net worth is estimated at more than $7.5 billion. He also serves as executive chairman of British football club Aston Villa FC.

A U.S. recession on the horizon?

Looking at markets, the CEO sees Europe as potentially undervalued, but is not holding out hope for a major uptick in growth from developed markets anytime soon.

“From a valuation perspective, you could argue that Europe continues to be discounted vis-a-vis North America,” he said. “But the whole market looks to be running out of steam, not just in terms of trade issues, but the growth in the U.S. has been going on for 11 years and all good things have to come to some slowdown at one point.”

Asked if he predicted a U.S. recession, he replied, “Not necessarily, but a slowdown I think is more realistic to be expected than continuous growth for another ten years.”

Sawiris was one of the biggest shareholders of LafargeHolcim, the world’s largest cement maker, before selling most of his shares — worth $67.5 million — at the start of this year. He announced he would not run for re-election to the company’s board in May.

OCI N.V.’s predecessor Orascom Construction Industries was the parent company of Orascom Cement, previously the Middle East’s largest cement maker, and was bought by Lafarge for $10 billion in 2007.

Nassef Sawiris is the youngest of the three Sawiris brothers, all billionaire business heavyweights who as a family own the Orascom conglomerate, which spans construction, telecommunications, tourism, industry and technology. Forbes in 2008 estimated the family’s collective wealth at $42 billion.

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experts predict more pound weakness

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Sterling whipsawed Tuesday as Boris Johnson emerged as the winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest, and will become British Prime Minister as of Wednesday.

The currency initially fell for a third day running during morning trade, plunging a further 0.4% against the dollar to reach a 27-month low. Investor jitters center around concern that Johnson could pull the U.K. out of the European Union without a formal deal in place.

But immediately after Johnson was announced as the country’s next leader, the pound pared its losses to trade around the flatline at $1.2474. Johnson’s rise to power had largely been priced in by the markets and the announcement meant one rung of uncertainty had been removed.

Johnson will deliver his maiden speech as prime minister outside 10 Downing Street on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Johnson struck a compromising tone, promising to “unite the country,” but reiterated calls for optimism on the prospect of the U.K. leaving the bloc.

Michael Brown, a senior analyst at Caxton FX, said his focus would quickly switch to the next steps: “Namely, Cabinet appointments and the Brexit plan. The latter will be of more importance for markets, with sterling set to remain under pressure should Boris continue his ‘do or die’ Halloween Brexit stance.”

Britain’s National Institute of Social and Economic Research (NIESR) published a report on Monday which suggested that there is now a 40% chance of a “no-deal” Brexit on October 31, an event anticipated by many to be profoundly damaging for the British economy.

Johnson has vowed repeatedly to take the U.K. out of the EU with or without a deal in place, while also rejecting the existing Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by his predecessor Theresa May, and pledging to return to Brussels to seek new terms.

In the past week, as 160,000 Conservative Party members cast their ballots to elect the country’s next leader, both Johnson and rival Jeremy Hunt hardened their stance on the Irish backstop clause insisted upon by Brussels, therefore increasing the likelihood of a no-deal departure.

In a recent note, Berenberg senior economist Kallum Pickering raised the risk of a hard Brexit — in which the U.K. exits both the EU’s customs union and its single market to trade on World Trade Organization terms — to 40%, making it Berenberg’s base case.

However, as Pickering pointed out, Johnson has a reputation for adapting his rhetoric to changing tides of political sentiment. A Conservative member of the House of Lords, Michael Heseltine, once described Johnson as “a man who waits to see the way the crowd is running and then dashes in front and says ‘follow me’.”

Speaking to CNBC Monday, Pickering said an unresolved Brexit was like a “kidney stone lodged in the abdomen of the British economy,” and projected greater sterling weakness until a resolution is found.

In a further note Tuesday, Pickering suggested that Johnson’s promise to scrap the Irish backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement may just be a high-risk negotiating strategy, with a low chance of success, to push for compromise from Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to accept a half-way deal. If the EU refuses Johnson’s demand, Pickering predicted, moderate British lawmakers could move to thwart a no-deal exit, setting the stage for a “major showdown in Parliament” in the fall. This could lead to a further Brexit extension, a snap election or a second referendum.

“While Johnson may be forced to take a more pragmatic line eventually, we do not expect him to use soft words on Brexit in his first speech,” Pickering wrote on Tuesday.

“In the not-unlikely event that he doubles-down and appears to harden his Brexit stance further, U.K.-oriented equities and sterling would likely react negatively.”

Boxed into a hard Brexit

Two further developments suggest that the hard Brexit risk has increased. Ahead of his anticipated coronation, Johnson has been surrounding himself with hardliners likely to box him into pursuing the exit door on Halloween come what may. As he begins to name his Cabinet this week, the extent of the euroskeptic makeup of his ministers could further impact the currency.

Meanwhile, the main opposition Labour party is sliding in the polls, rendering it a lesser threat in the event of a snap general election and potentially leading moderate Conservative members of parliament (MPs) to back no deal, in order to protect their seats from the surging Brexit Party.

The odds of an election in the fall are rising sharply. Stephen Gallo, European head of FX strategy at BMO Capital Markets, said in a note Monday that Johnson will have an “incredibly narrow window of opportunity” to exploit Labour’s vulnerability, cut a deal with the Brexit Party to preserve Conservative seats, and lay out a post-EU and domestic policy agenda.

“That window starts to close rapidly by the end of the year, and there is no telling what 2020 will bring without a new parliamentary arithmetic for the Tory (Conservative) leadership to work with,” Gallo said.

“We still believe there is more GBPUSD weakness to come.”

Kamal Sharma, director of G-10 FX strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said the combination of Brexit factors weighing on the U.K. economy meant a potential “flash crash” for sterling could not be ruled out.

“The current account deficit has been the Achilles heel for the U.K. for a number of years now. Historically, the U.K. has been a very big recipient of FDI (foreign direct investment),” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Monday.

“It’s now becoming more of a net debt story, so if investors start to suddenly give up on the U.K., for example, given the liquidity situation of sterling already, that really opens us up to a potential flash crash.”

Things can only get better

However, not all analysts were quite so pessimistic. Giles Keating, senior advisor at Torchwood Capital, told CNBC Tuesday that most of the bad news is already priced into sterling and investors could “start to look forward.”

“What do you look forward to? Fiscal expansion — can the Bank of England react to a big fiscal expansion by cutting interest rates? It doesn’t seem to me to make sense. That debate could end up being to hold rates here at a time when others were cutting them,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.”

“The Bank of England is looking at an economy where wages are accelerating. The latest wage rises are really moving up sharply, we had the National Institute warning yesterday of 4% inflation as a risk — the Bank, in my mind, can’t cut against that background.”

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Europe is at odds over who will replace Christine Lagarde at the IMF

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International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde speaks during a press conference in Tokyo on October 4, 2018.

Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

European officials are still scratching their heads over Christine Lagarde’s successor at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), according to several people with knowledge of the discussions, with no standout candidate for the role.

Lagarde is due to start her new job as president of the European Central Bank (ECB) in November, leaving the IMF’s chair empty. In Europe, EU member states agree that the next IMF managing director needs to be from the continent — but they’re struggling to rally behind one particular name.

“The truth is that there is no readily available tried and tested European all-rounder,” a European minister, who did not want to be named due to the sensitive nature of the talks, told CNBC.

There is no official shortlist of candidates, but many governments of EU nations have put forward a name to take the top job. Some of the non-official candidates are:

  • Jeroen Dijsselbloem, former Dutch finance minister and president of the Eurogroup (which brings together the 19-euro zone finance ministers).
  • Mario Centeno, the Portuguese finance minister and currently Eurogroup chief.
  • Nadia Calvino, the Spanish finance minister.
  • Olli Rehn, central bank governor of Finland and former European commissioner for the euro.
  • Mark Carney, the current governor of the Bank of England — a Canadian citizen who also has Irish and English passports.
  • Kristalina Georgieva, from Bulgaria, who is currently serving as chief executive of the World Bank.
  • Mario Draghi, the outgoing ECB president.

According to two other European officials, who also preferred to remain anonymous, none of the candidates have the right profile at this stage. Some names also don’t have enough experience or they are not liked by certain governments due to their political affiliation, their past comments or their background, the officials told CNBC. Since the IMF’s formation back in 1945, the managing director has always been from Europe.

There is also an age restriction to deal with. The IMF’s rules state that managing directors must be under 65 years of age when appointed and cannot serve beyond their 70th birthday. As such, the chances of certain candidates, such as Kristalina Georgieva, become much smaller.

“If (the) age limit is adapted to today’s realities, there is Georgieva and Draghi,” the European minister told CNBC.

France, who’s chairing the discussions across the different EU capitals, is reportedly looking at ways to change the laws. However, it is unclear whether that idea would be approved inside the IMF.

A source within the French government told CNBC that Paris “does not have a preferred candidate and will play its coordination role impartially.” Meanwhile, a separate EU official confirmed to CNBC that the aim is to have an agreement by the end of the month.

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EU has 35 billion euro list ready if US hits EU cars: EU trade chief

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European Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom holds a news conference in Brussels, Belgium March 7, 2018.

Eric Vidal | Reuters

The European Union would retaliate with extra duties on 35 billion euros ($39.1 billion) worth of U.S. goods if Washington went ahead with tariffs on EU cars, the bloc’s trade chief said on Tuesday.

“We will not accept any managed trade, quotas or voluntary export restraints and, if there were to be tariffs, we would have a rebalancing list,” European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told a committee of the European Parliament.

“It is already basically prepared, worth 35 billion euros. I do hope we do not have to use that one,” she continued.

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