Investment Adventures in Emerging Markets


I recently visited Muscat, the capital of Oman. Oman has a very strategic position in the Middle East, controlling the tip of the Musandam peninsula even though the peninsula is separated from the rest of Omanby land belonging to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). That tip points right into the Straits of Hormuz, which is the choke point for oil leaving Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, Kuwait, Iraq and the UAE from the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea, leading to theIndian Ocean. On a clear day, you can see Iran from the tip of the peninsula. Oman’s military, therefore, has a big responsibility to protect that waterway.

Like its neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Oman has a reasonable amount of oil, though of course, not as much as Saudi Arabia. With advanced recovery techniques, Omanhas been able to increase production to about 800,000 barrels per day, compared to Saudi Arabia’s current production of about 9 million barrels per day. So the Sultan of Oman has wisely been promoting other industries such as manufacturing and tourism in this country of three million people (of which one million are expats from places like India, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Pakistan). For example, Sohar, a city north of Muscat, is being developed as a manufacturing zone and a port. We traveled there to see how it was growing and to view a plant that was utilizing gas from the country’s natural resources.

We made a number of company visits while we were in Oman. We talked to an investment company that was active in their ownership of a bank in conjunction with a Jordan-based bank. The investment company was also planning a massive real estate development in a fast-growing industrial center and free port in the south of Oman. Elsewhere in Oman, we visited a major oil field-servicing firm involved in providing supply ships for offshore oil fields, engineering services for the construction of oil field projects and all kinds of related activities. The firm has thousands in its workforce  in Oman and overseas in countries across the Middle East, central and eastern Asia, Africa and Europe.

One interesting meeting was with the founder of an Omani business empire. His was a rags-to-riches story: He started out manning a dhow, a traditional Arab sailing vessel, and trading in fish and gold between Oman and India, learning to speak Hindi in the process. He got his first big break when he obtained a license to distribute electronic goods in Oman. He then expanded into 20 other businesses, and today, he probably owns billions of dollars in assets—quite an achievement in one lifetime!

In terms of tourism, I think Oman is certainly a wonderful tourist location. The weather is warm, the beaches are clean and wide, the hotels are exceptional, and the people of Oman are very friendly and hospitable, something we noticed as soon as we arrived at the airport. On our last night in Muscat, we walked past a number of impressive hotels owned by international chains, equipped with all the amenities that any tourist could imagine and ranging from six-stars to four-stars, to fit various budgets.

I think Oman presents some very promising prospects for both investment and tourism, and I look forward to returning on my next visit to the region.

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