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Brunei Middle East Business in Brief

EU clears CSN's takeover bid for Corus

BRUSSELS: EU regulators cleared on Monday CSN's plans to buy Corus, giving a boost to the Brazilian steelmaker's plans to take over the Anglo-Dutch group, which is also the takeover target of Tata Steel of India. The European Commission, the EU antitrust watchdog, said that its "investigation has found that the proposed transaction would not impede effective competition in (Europe), as the parties' activities only overlap to a limited extent". Corus has recommended shareholders to accept the bid from Companhia Siderurgica Nacional (CSN), which valued the group at about £5.8 billion (US$11.4 billion). Tata's offer, meanwhile, stands at around £5.6 billion. Both bids include debt worth about£ 900 million. CSN and Tata, steelmakers from two of the world's emerging economic superpowers Brazil and India are battling for Corus as they seek to gain ground on world number-one steelmaker Arcelor Mittal.

Eurozone ministers fret over yen weakness

BRUSSELS: Eurozone finance ministers sounded the alarm Monday about the yen's recent weakness, with the monetary bloc's top political official saying the Japanese currency should better reflect the strength of the economy. Preparing for an upcoming meeting of G7 finance chiefs in Germany, eurozone ministers focused "intensely" on exchange rates amid growing concern in Europe about possible political pressure in Japan to keep interest rates low. "Japan's current economic recovery should be reflected in the yen's exchange rate," said Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker after chairing the eurozone ministers' meeting. With Japanese growth improving after years of lacklustre performance, Japan's rock-bottom interest rates are seen in Europe to be the result of political pressure on the Bank of Japan. The yen has fallen to record lows recently against the euro and the dollar on expectations that Japan would keep its super-low interest rates. The Japanese currency's weakness is fuelling concerns in the eurozone because it makes exports from the 13-nation European currency club more expensive on international markets compared to those from Japan.

BoA fined for lax money laundering control

WASHINGTON: The NASD securities watchdog said Monday it had fined Bank of America Investment Services, Inc US$3 million for failing to comply with US government anti-money laundering laws. NASD spokesman Herb Perone said the fine was the largest ever to be levied against a broker-dealer under US anti-money laundering rules. The fine related to offshore accounts held on the Isle of Man, a well-known tax haven. "BAI fundamentally failed to meet its obligations with these high risk accounts by failing to adequately investigate and pursue red flags, especially in the face of repeated requests for additional information about the account holders from its own clearing firm," James Shorris, the NASD's head of enforcement, said in a statement.

Middle East banks may enter Indonesian market

JAKARTA: Three Middle East banks Al-Baraqah Islamic Bank, Qatar Islamic Bank and Al-Salam Bank are likely to enter the Indonesian market, a local newspaper reported. The Jakarta Post reported Indonesia's special envoy to the region, Alwi Shihab, as saying Al-Baraqah Islamic Bank and Qatar Islamic Bank would open branches early this year but it had not been decided how they would expand their business. "They will probably acquire local commercial banks and convert them into Syariah (Islamic) banks," Shihab said at a seminar on Middle Eastern investment. "These Middle Eastern countries are very keen on investing in Indonesia. They are very aware of the potential we have. However, the number of investment projects on the table is limited." Qatar Islamic Bank is the Gulf's fourth-largest lender by market value while Al-Salam Bank is a Bahrain-based Islamic bank. Under Islamic or Sharia law, interest is banned and income must instead be derived from a fundamental economic transaction such as trade in goods and services, direct investment in a business or renting out a property. Experts have said Indonesia has the potential to become a major player in global Islamic finance due to its 220 million people.

Merril Lynch & Co to buy First Republic Bank

NEW YORK: Merrill Lynch & Co, the largest US investment bank, has agreed to buy First Republic Bank for US$1.8 billion, the company said. Regulators and shareholders of First Republic still have to approve the merger. The San Francisco-based bank specialises in luxury home mortgages and will increase Merrill's wealthy customer base. First Republic shareholders will get US$55 dollars per share in the deal 44 per cent higher than the bank's closing price on Friday. The bank has 43 branches and is valued at US$10.7 billion. The share price of First Republic jumped more than 40 per cent to almost US$54 dollars, while New York-based Merrill Lynch shares fell 1.76 per cent to US$92.87 dollars in morning trading on Wall Street.

Dubai to build world's largest airport

DUBAI: Dubai already has the fastest growing airport in the Middle East, handling over 28 million passengers in 2006, but the booming emirate is on course to build another one the world's largest. In the vast desert stretching east of Jebel Ali port and free zone, one runway is nearly finished. So far it remains the only visible infrastructure of the Dubai World Central International Airport (JXB), whose target is to handle 120 million passengers a year when completed. Five more runways are to follow, with the airport due to be in operation by the end of 2008. Hundreds of construction vehicles and thousands of labourers are working non-stop to meet this deadline for the first phase. "Once the work is complete, this airport will be larger than any airport we know," said Khalifa al-Zafeen, chief engineer in Dubai's aviation authority. The airport is part of the Dubai World Central (DWC) mega-project.



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