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Oman 2016 | FINANCE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Abdul Samad Al Maskari, CEO of Al Madina Investments, on the investment climate in Oman.

How do you assess your performance over the past year?

Last year was a challenging year mainly on the fluctuation of the global oil price. Even so, we can safely say that our performance was satisfactory. We could have performed better if fluctuations in the economy could have been better projected. However, these are the norms of an investment company that offers investment banking activities. Having said that, we managed to close with a net profit of OMR1.1 million and we distributed a 5% cash dividend to shareholders.

How would you describe the state of the investment climate this year in Oman?

We cannot isolate ourselves from what is happening in the rest of the world, and we have been affected by the low oil prices, the wars in Yemen and Syria, and the events in the rest of the Middle East. But in the long run, we think the situation will stabilize. The Omani economy itself is strong, with the government focusing on building infrastructure and SMEs, and working diligently to improve services. Due to the stabilization of the Omani economy we have seen good interest from all GCC investors to invest in the Omani market especially in the private equity market that complies with sharia principles.

Where is the focus of most of your investments?

We are mainly focused on the Omani market, and we are focusing on different sectors where we see that there is a lot of potential, such as real estate, hospitality, education, and healthcare. On top of that we have the responsibility to show investors in the GCC and in the rest of the world that there are many opportunities in Oman, which needs to be tapped.

How is Islamic banking performing?

We are now in the third year of Islamic offerings in Oman. This is considered a young sector. We noticed that the asset books of the Islamic banks and windows have been growing tremendously. However, to grow in a rapid manner, the banks need to be more creative when it comes to introducing their products and offerings. I support the Central Bank imposing some restrictions on certain concepts such as Tawaruq, which has been debatable in this industry. With these restrictions it gives the opportunity for players to introduce alternatives products. As for the Islamic capital markets, more sukuks need to be issued by government-related entities and corporates. To date, we are proud to say that we are the first to advise the first sukuk in Oman, which was the Tilal Development Sukuk issued in 2013. The regulators and players also have to conduct more awareness programs for Islamic banking to be fully understood by the Omani market.

Is the company using any strategies to cope with the downturn in oil prices?

Any company in the investment or equity markets has to face this problem. Our portfolio is well diversified. We have many different projects where we are collaborating together with the technical experts to add value to the entire portfolio. While the economy runs 80-90% on oil, we have other sectors as well, and the government is pushing to improve gas and tourism, for example.

What is the major challenge for Al Madina Investments in this region?

The major challenge is the business environment. It is a challenge to come up with different kinds of projects that will add value to the county. We developed, for instance, Al Madina Real Estate and Al Madina Takaful and different private equity companies in different sectors, and these provide many jobs for Omanis. Altogether we have around 3,000 to 4,000 employees, with nearly 85% Omani employees. Top management is a mix of Omanis and expatriates.

How is Omanization affecting your business, and where are the existing gaps?

Omanization started with common jobs, such as accounting and administration, and now we are seeking Omanis for technical jobs such as financial modeling, research, managing balance sheets, and so on. There are too few qualified Omanis, so competition is stiff and expensive. We recruit students from university. Right now one of our main projects is in the healthcare sector. Therefore, our responsibility is to increase the number of Omani doctors. We have wonderful Omani doctors who should be in the spotlight. Doctors are doctors, and they do not market themselves.

What are your expectations for the coming year and your long-term outlook?

I am always optimistic. There is a lot to be done and we see a clear and promising path in front of us. The Oman economy is a young economy. There are a lot of projects to be built and products to be brought to the market. The railway project, the airport, and the port will open even more opportunities. Between those and the huge hospitality sector, the health sector, and the education sector, there are a lot of opportunities.