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The Times: Doha: A hotspot transformed by sheer energy

EXTRACT: Shell’s $18 billion Pearl GTL project at Ras Laffan is the biggest single investment by the oil major anywhere in the world.

THE ARTICLE

Once synonymous with interminable WTO wrangles, Doha is now better known for its $50bn QIA fund hoovering up global assets

Nick Hasell
September 20, 2007

The marble-clad lobby of the Ministry of Finance is the closest that the curious visitor will get to the Qatar Investment Authority. The government-backed fund, whose assets are estimated conservatively at $50 billion (£25 billion), does not do interviews.

However, Yousef Hussain Kamal, Qatar’s Minister of Finance, does. But he is bemused at the suggestion that it might help the QIA’s cause to be more forthcoming. “It is not necessary,” he says. “The people who are involved in the investments know us, and we know them. Why should we make it public? They know our capacity and our capabilities.”

It is that capacity that has made Doha – previously best known for hosting the WTO talks and last year’s Asian Games and as the headquarters of al-Jazeera, the Arabic satellite broadcaster – such a fixture on the financial pages over the past few months.

Nowhere more so than in Britain, where the QIA – at just two years old, the youngest of the Gulf’s sovereign wealth funds – has been vigorously hoovering up assets ranging from Four Seasons, the nursing home operator, to Chelsea Barracks and One Hyde Park, London’s most expensive apartment block. But it is the bravado of the QIA’s bids for J Sains-bury and for Nasdaq’s 30 per cent stake in the London Stock Exchange, that has truly set it apart.

That Doha should direct its surplus petrodollars towards these shores is not so odd. Qatar ceased to be a British protectorate on gaining independence in 1971, but strong ties remain.

That much is evident from the disproportionate number of executives hired from Britain to build the country’s financial services sector, from Delta Two’s Paul Taylor, the Londoner who is fronting the Sains-bury’s bid, to Philip Thorpe, the former Imro chief executive who heads the Qatar Financial Centre Regulatory Authority, its nascent financial watchdog. In planning to merge its three regulators into a single entity next year, Qatar is emulating the model pioneered by the Financial Services Authority ten years ago.

Britain is returning the compliment. Last year, UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), the body that supports British businesses overseas, designated Qatar as one of a clutch of “high-growth markets” on which to focus its efforts.

That partly explains the frequency of visits to Doha by the Duke of York, special envoy to UKTI, whose tasks include smoothing Vodafone’s bid for Qatar’s second mobile phone licence.

There is already evidence of progress. British exports to Qatar rose 35 per cent in 2006, while the British Embassy’s trade delegation in Doha reports a 350 per cent rise in inquiries from British companies this year. Britons already represent the biggest Western expatriate community in the city, numbering about 7,000.

But the ultimate source of this interest, and of Qatar’s phenomenal economic growth, is not to be found on the dusty, palm-dotted streets of Doha but at a sprawling industrial complex 50 miles to the north. At Ras Laffan, on the tip of this pancake-flat peninsular jutting into the Arabian Gulf, the coast of Qatar meets the North Field, the world’s largest gas reservoir.

When Shell discovered the field in 1972 it had been looking for oil, and was disappointed to have instead struck a commodity that had no commercial market close by.

But subsequent advances in liquefied natural gas (LNG) technology – which cools gas to -180C, shrinks it to a liquid one six-hundredth of its size and allows it to be shipped in tankers – has meant that Qatar has spent the past decade ramping up its output for export overseas. From 2 million tonnes in 1997 it is expected to ship 77 million tonnes by 2011, using a fleet of 54 giant Korean-made tankers built under the biggest shipping order since the Second World War.

The recipients include Britain, which within a couple of years will be getting up to 20 per of its gas from North Field, through the South Hook terminal in Wales.

Qatar is also producing oil, piped gas – which it supplies to the United Arab Emirates – and high-grade distillates from its gas-to-liquid (GTL) facilities. Shell’s $18 billion Pearl GTL project at Ras Laffan is the biggest single investment by the oil major anywhere in the world. Mohamad Moabi, manager of economics at Qatar National Bank, says: “In the space of a decade, Qatar has diversified away from a single commodity into a basket of energy-related products.” It is that diversification that is enabling Qatar’s GDP to double every five years, such that it should reach $100 billion by 2010; roughly the same as Egypt, a country with a population 80 times its size.

That explains why Qatar, with a population of 910,000, has the highest per capita GDP in the world. With oil prices around $80 a barrel, and the production life of the North Field running into centuries, it is not expected to lose that mantle anytime soon.

Doha

Origin of name: from the Arabic ad-dawha, a reference to the “big tree” that stood at the site of the original fishing village

Area: 132 sq km

Population: 410,000

Density: 2,574 people/km

GDP: $54 billion

Exchange rate: 7.28 Qatari Riyal equals £1

Cost of living: loaf of bread QR1

Visa regulations: 14-day visas can be purchased on arrival for QR100

Time zone: GMT+3hrs

Website: qatar-info.com

Other airline carriers from the UK: Qatar Airways, BMI, KLM, Air France, Turkish Airlines, Etihad Airways, Emirates Airlines, Gulf Air, Lufthansa, Swiss Air, Syrian Air, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/markets/article2492330.ece

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