What many Westerners may know about the Middle East—vast oil reserves, the flush, or failing, Dubai, traditional values, and its unmistakable downside, terrorism roots and the limited opportunities for women—falls far short of what the vast region has to offer investors.
Whatever your impressions, the Middle East is overflowing with lucrative investment opportunities, in part because it has been slower to develop than other parts of the world.
Equally important for investors are the yet-untapped youth and consumer markets.
Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure is key for billionaire Nassef Sawiris. Egyptian Sawiris is his country’s richest man and the CEO of the Middle East’s largest construction company. It was his firm that built Burji Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, which opened in January in Dubai on Palm Island. (See video of the skyscraper here).
But what the Middle East needs most urgently are the less glamorous, but nitty-gritty essentials of everyday life—good roads, reliable electricity systems, clean water and sewage facilities. Sawiris told CNBC that he plans to keep building infrastructure throughout the region.
American billionaire Tom Barrack, CEO of Colony Capital, who has made his mark partnering with well-known brands—Atlantis, Accor, Carrefour (the region’s Walmart)—told CNBC that he plans to continue in that vein in the Middle East. His businesses also include gyms, supermarkets and movie theaters.
“It’s an enormous market that is just beginning to take off,” Angus Blair, head of research for the Egyptian-based Beltone Financial, told CNBC. As an example, car sales in Egypt are up 400 percent annually over seven years ago, said Blair, who has been covering the region for two decades. He agreed the youth demographic guarantees significant growth going forward and noted that the infrastructure and consumer areas are primed for major expansion.
“The retail spending power has not reached the maximum,” Eyad Mashal, managing director of Capital Investment Group, told CNBC. “There’s lots of room for consumer spending to do better, be bigger and get stronger.”
Be sure to watch our primetime special "Big Money in the Middle East" next Thursday, April 8 at 8pm Eastern.