AMMAN: Political stability in the West Bank has brightened the business prospects of the largest Palestinian holding firm, its chairman said on Sunday.
"Most of the companies that we invest in have shown growth in their operations and profitability last year," said Munib Al-Masri, chairman of Palestine Development and Investment Company (PADICO) on the sidelines of the firm’s AGM in Amman.
Masri attributed an 87 percent rise in net profits to $42.2 million last year to improved returns from its subsidiaries and the impact on earnings of a major restructuring the firm begun last year.
"We will continue the restructuring to focus our investments, reduce costs and improve overall performance," he added.
PADICO, the largest firm operating in Palestinian territories, is spearheading multimillion dollar private investments spanning telecommunications to real estate, industrial parks and tourism and also manages the Palestinian stock exchange.
PADICO’s gross revenues rose 43 percent in 2009 to $85.5 million while total assets rose 17 percent to $620 million at the end of last year.
The West Bank business climate — unlike the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip — was benefiting from political stability despite years of uncertainty about Middle East peace that made Palestinian and Arab investors hesitant to embark on any substantial investment in the nascent Palestinian economy.
The IMF has forecast the first growth since 2005 of seven percent this year with improved security within the areas run by the Palestinian Authority and eased Israeli restrictions on the flow of Palestinian traffic.
But Masri said although earnings outlook for 2010 remains more favourable than 2009 mainly as a result of the turnaround in business, it remains too dependant on Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians — where in previous years heavy handed Israeli restrictions paralyzed many of the firms projects.
PADICO also posted a rise in first quarter 2010 operating revenues to $20 million from $14 million in the same period last year.
"This is a clear indicator of recovery and we expect 2010 to be a better year for PADICO and its subsidiaries," Masri said.
PADICO owns 31.7 percent of Palestinian telecom firm Paltel, the largest mobile operator in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The telecoms firm saw its revenues rise to $338 million in 2009 against $332 million the previous year.
PADICO’s subsidiary, Palestine Real Estate Investment Company with prime real estate assets of over $95 million, reverted back to 519,510 Jordanian dinars ($732,722) of net profit in 2009 after posting 2.6 million dinars loss in 2008.
Other industrial subsidiaries that posted modest profit in 2009 after previous losses were forecast to improve their bottom line, boosted by a pickup in business activity, Masri said.
Masri said he expected the Palestine Securities Exchange (PSE), in which PADICO has a majority 78 pct stake, to become a listed firm next year — a move that would turn it into the first listed, privately-owned bourse in the Arab world.
The move in which PADICO would scale down its stake would raise corporate governance and the free float, Masri said of the market which currently has 39 listed stocks and a market capitalization that has already climbed 7 percent this year to stand at $2.53 billion.
PADICO’s board includes some of the most prominent Palestinian tycoons with major holdings in some of the region’s leading institutions such as Arab Bank.
Billionaire Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal is one of PADICO’s top five investors and the biggest Western investor is U.K.’s Blakeney Management which has a 7.9 percent stake.