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.
What does the UK election result mean for Britain and the EU?
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to supporters at the Copper Box Arena on December 11, 2019 in London, United Kingdom.
Leon Neal | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson has secured a five-year term as prime minister with a comfortable parliamentary majority, paving the way for Britain to leave the European Union by the end of next month.
The projected result, which proved even more decisive than pollsters had forecast, follows a bitterly-fought and divisive election campaign.
It is expected that the newly-elected prime minister will return to Downing Street with an outright majority of 74 seats, according to an updated version of the exit poll.
In the early hours of Friday morning, the Conservatives had returned enough Members of Parliament (MPs) to ensure an overall majority in the House of Commons. That’s because the center-right party has surpassed the 326-seat threshold required, with some constituencies still to declare.
Johnson’s victory bookends more than three-and-half years of political wrangling after a small but clear majority of the British electorate voted to leave the EU.
At around 6:00 a.m. London time, sterling traded at $1.3470, more than 2.3% higher.
How does Johnson plan to ‘get Brexit done’?
The former London mayor repeatedly encouraged voters to re-elect the Conservatives in order to “get Brexit done,” promising that only his party would be able to deliver his so-called “oven ready” divorce deal to take the country out of the bloc by Jan. 31.
Unlike his predecessor Theresa May in June 2017, Johnson now has a relatively strong mandate to try to put an end to the U.K.’s long-running constitutional crisis.
Speaking shortly after winning his seat of Uxbridge in west London in the early hours of Friday morning, Johnson described the national poll as “historic.”
It “gives us now, in this new government, the chance to respect the democratic will of the British people, to change this country for the better and to unleash the potential of the entire people of this country,” Johnson said.
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn had promised that, if elected, his left-leaning Labour party would hold another EU referendum within six months. This vote would have offered Britain the choice between a “credible” renegotiated leave deal — including a customs union and close single market relationship with the EU — or the option to remain.
However, Labour ultimately failed to return enough MPs to the House of Commons to prevent another Conservative-led government.
The Houses of Parliament on October 23, 2019 in London, England.
Peter Summers | Getty Images News | Getty Images
“Boris Johnson is set for a huge majority in the general election, which will give him a free hand to pursue the long-term trade deal with the EU he wishes,” Mujtaba Rahman, managing director of Europe at Eurasia Group, said in a research note shortly after the exit poll was published Thursday evening.
“It means the U.K. will leave the EU on 31 January. Crucially, Johnson will not be beholden to the 20 hardline Brexiteers in the European Research Group, who would have enjoyed much more influence if had won only a small majority. “
“Johnson will have to decide whether to remain closely aligned with the EU, or diverge sharply,” Rahman said.
Reduced hard Brexit risk
As the dust settles on Britain’s third general election in less than five years, many market participants will seek clarity from the government on what happens immediately after Jan. 31.
The world’s fifth-largest economy will maintain relations with the EU until at least the end of 2020 as it negotiates trade and other ties to the bloc.
“An orderly Brexit from the EU on 31 January 2020 will reduce the Brexit uncertainty somewhat,” Kallum Pickering, senior economist at Berenberg, said in a research note published Thursday.
“Of course, the U.K. could still have a hard exit from the single market and customs union at the end of 2020 if the U.K. and the EU do not manage to strike a free-trade agreement in time for the end of the transitional period.”
“But even in this respect, the apparent election result mitigates the risk: If the exit poll is right and Johnson is set for a big majority, the hardline eurosceptic wing of the Conservative will matter less than before. This would make it easier for Johnson to go for a longer transitional period if needed,” Pickering said.
Johnson has consistently said he will be able to secure a trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020 or leave without one if he doesn’t.
To be sure, a so-called “no-deal” Brexit is seen by many inside and outside of Parliament as a “cliff-edge” scenario to be avoided at all costs.
Johnson’s “oven ready” deal states that if Britain wants to extend the transition period beyond the end of next year, his government must give notice to Brussels by the end of June.
European Union (EU) flags fly from flag poles outside the Berlaymont building.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images
It means that despite the party’s campaign slogan to “get Brexit done,” political debate about the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU is likely to reach fever pitch once again over the coming months.
“It took Canada seven years to finalize a trade deal with the EU, so this looks like wishful thinking. Any delays could hit the value of the pound,” Hamish Muress, senior currency strategist at OFX, said in a research note ahead of the vote.
Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party wins UK election with commanding majority, Sky News reports
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves after a news conference at the European Union leaders summit dominated by Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium October 17, 2019.
Piroschka van de Wouw | Reuters
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has secured a majority in the House of Commons after winning their 326th seat, Sky News reported.
An earlier exit poll had projected that the Conservatives would win 368 seats in Parliament, a gain of 50 seats from the 2017 election. The U.K. pound quickly jumped more than 2% on the news.
After winning his seat in Uxbridge, Johnson said: “At this stage it does look as though this one-nation Conservative government has been given a powerful new mandate, to get Brexit done and not just to get Brexit done but to unite this country and to take it forward.”
Earlier, Jeremy Corbyn announced he will not be leading the U.K.’s opposition Labour party in future elections, following what he called a “disappointing night.”
Speaking on ITV on Friday, Corbyn said Labour will go through a reflection process and that he will lead the party during this period. However, he confirmed that he will not be leading the opposition party in any future election.
“This is obviously a very disappointing night for the Labour Party with the result that we’ve got,” Corbyn said.
The result of the election is expected to have a decisive effect on the direction that Brexit takes, three-and-a-half years since the U.K.’s referendum on EU membership.
Liberal Democratic leader Jo Swinson lost her seat to the Scottish National Party. She had campaigned to overturn the 2016 Brexit vote.
Johnson’s Brexit divorce deal has been agreed to in principle by the U.K. Parliament but is yet to be fully ratified by lawmakers. There have been deep divisions over the deal on offer and how close the U.K. should stay aligned to the EU after its departure from the bloc. The future of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has also been a major sticking point.
The impasse and political chaos in the House of Commons ultimately led to Thursday’s snap general election as Johnson lost the slim majority he held in the U.K.’s lower chamber of Parliament. The vote is the first to be held in the winter months since 1974 and the first December election since 1923.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Johnson has no mandate to take Scotland out of the European Union and demanded that they must be allowed to hold a fresh independence vote on its place in the United Kingdom.
This is a breaking news story, please check back later for more.
—CNBC’s Christine Wang and Holly Ellyatt contributed to this article.
SNP’s Sturgeon says Johnson has no mandate to take Scotland out of EU
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Boris Johnson has no mandate to take Scotland out of the European Union and demanded that they must be allowed to hold a fresh independence vote on its place in the United Kingdom.
In British elections held Thursday, Prime Minister Johnson looks set to win big and remain in power, with early results indicating his Conservative Party has gained a clear majority of parliamentary seats.
Speaking to BBC News, Sturgeon said, “I have a mandate, a fresh, renewed and strengthened mandate to offer the people of Scotland a different future.”
The exit poll, commissioned by Sky news, the BBC and ITV, projected the Scottish National Party (SNP) would win 55 out of 59 seats in Scotland.
Exit polling by Ipsos Mori was released soon after voting stations around the U.K. closed at 10 p.m. London time. It’s a survey of thousands of voters which has been reliably accurate in recent years. The poll projected that the Conservatives would win 368 seats in Parliament, a gain of 50 seats from the 2017 election.
“There is a mandate now to offer the people of Scotland the choice over our own future,” Sturgeon told Sky News on Friday.
“There is a clear desire and endorsement for the notion that Scotland should not be landed with a Boris Johnson government and ripped out of Europe against our own will,” Sturgeon told Sky News.
Reports suggest that Sturgeon is expected to write to Johnson next week asking him for approval to stage a new referendum. According to the Guardian, the prime minister is expected to reject the request.
Scotland, part of the United Kingdom for more than 300 years, rejected independence by 10 percentage points in a 2014 referendum.
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