MEED: What is your approach to the bond market?
Samer Khanachet: Since March 2006, we have had a $2bn EMTN [Euro Medium Term Note] programme in place. It is an umbrella facility we can draw on as and when the market is happy to allow.
Some other Gulf states have gone to the market quite successfully and shown there is appetite for investment. We have done a road show and it proved that, from Asia to Europe and the Gulf, there seems to be a lot of interest.
What will the funding be used for?
We manage our liabilities very carefully. We entered the current economic crisis with no short-term debt to speak of and managing that liability is part of why we have done well. The EMTN exercise is part of an ongoing process of looking at how to manage our liability proactively and pre-emptively.
Do you see this year’s revelations about Gulf corporate debts having a major impact?
The fundamentals of this region are as strong as they have ever been. Oil is back at $70 a barrel, so most of the oil-producing countries are showing surpluses and the potential and ability to pay for it are there. We have had a few failures, but all the world has. Why should we be different?
What are your growth ambitions in terms of geographies and sectors?
Our market is Mena and we have been very good at sticking to it. In commercial banking we are in six countries and in insurance we are in seven. In the media sector we are in every Mena country.
Countries like Algeria and Iraq, because they are not connected with the mainstream economic world, have been much less impacted by the crisis and are still in the process of opening up, so there are enormous opportunities.
How do you view the media sector’s prospects?
We are committed to that business. We think the merger that took place this year between Showtime and Orbit is a great step forward, which is going to inject strength into the merged operations that individually they could not have had. So we feel very excited. It is a new chapter and it is looking as promising as it ever did.
Is now an opportune time to be making acquisitions?
When we looked at potential acquisitions two or three years ago, they were very expensive and we didn’t acquire much. Clearly prices have come down and our eyes are open for opportunities to add to our existing businesses or to create new ones. We live day to day on income generated from ongoing businesses. One of the reasons we are doing better than others is that we have cash flow coming in to survive otherwise difficult times.
Are you confident that you will be absle to ride out the recession?
In Kuwait you can argue that the crisis isn’t over yet – everybody is aware of Global Investment House [which defaulted on a $200m loan in December 2008], but there are 90 other investment firms that have not opened their books yet.
Everyone is hoping that people will come in with support for acquisitions of assets or some other stimulus package. If it happens, then it will help everyone.The irony is that the economy of Kuwait is as strong as ever. The government is putting money in the bank every day but it has not yet decided how to help the private sector.