Billionaires: Naguib Sawiris joins Egypt's gold rush

In our fortnightly roundup, Orascom chief's AKH Gold signs exploration deals while Soros invests in EV battery start-up

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris poses for a photograph on a floating pontoon in front of the New Suez Canal, operated by the Suez Canal Authority, in Ismailia, Egypt, on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. The expansion will meet future demand, with traffic expected to double to 97 vessels a day by 2023, said Mohab Mameesh, head of the Suez Canal Authority. Photographer: Shawn Baldwin/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Naguib Sawiris
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Naguib Sawiris

One of Egypt’s richest men is joining the rush to explore the nation’s untapped gold deposits as a shake-up in regulations attracts investors.

AKH Gold, a subsidiary of Altus Strategies, which is backed by billionaire Naguib Sawiris, signed four contracts worth $4.1 million to explore nine blocks in Egypt’s gold-rich Eastern Desert.

The deals were among 10 contracts agreed, the oil ministry said after a signing ceremony.

Although Egypt has a long history of gold mining that goes back to the time of the pharaohs, it has only one commercial mine – Centamin’s Sukari – and its mineral wealth remains largely underexplored and undeveloped.

Mining companies have long complained that Egypt’s system of royalties and profit-sharing agreements made it difficult for them to explore and exploit minerals.

To stoke investor interest, the country last year introduced new regulations that limited levies and dropped the requirement that miners form joint ventures with the government. The new rules gave a “strong push and incentives” to international and local companies to join the bid round announced last year, the ministry quoted Mr Sawiris as saying after the signing ceremony.

The tycoon's interest in exploring for gold is a “good sign for other investors to join, especially with the great deal of experience his companies have in mining in many countries of the world”, the ministry said.

Mr Sawiris has a net worth of $3.2 billion and is executive chairman of Cairo-based Orascom Investment Holding, a holding company with interests in financial services, telecoms and resorts. It owns asset management company Beltone Financial and stakes in telecoms businesses in Lebanon and North Korea.

George Soros, billionaire and founder of Soros Fund Management, has disclosed a stake in an electric-vehicle-battery start-up. Bloomberg

George Soros

Soros Fund Management disclosed a stake in a start-up that makes electric-vehicle batteries as it raised technology bets and exited its stake in sports betting company DraftKings.

The investment fund founded by billionaire George Soros, 90, said it held US stocks worth $4.6bn at the end of the quarter, an increase of $886m from the previous quarter, according to a regulatory filing last week.

Its largest new holding was a $280m piece of QuantumScape, which is attempting to pioneer solid-state, lithium-metal batteries for electric vehicles.

SFM also disclosed that its holding in Palantir Technologies, the controversial data-mining company co-founded by Peter Thiel, ballooned to $435m at the end of the year after the stock rose by 148 per cent during the quarter.

The investment fund originally revealed it owned 18.46 million shares of Palantir in November but quickly said the original investment was made in 2012 and it regretted the decision.

SFM said it made this investment "at a time when the negative social consequences of big data were less understood”.

Mr Soros explained that SFM had sold all the shares it was permitted to sell at the time and would keep selling.

“SFM does not approve of Palantir’s business practices,” he said.

The early investment in Palantir was converted into publicly traded shares when SFM listed on the New York Stock Exchange in September. The data-mining company, which relies on contracts from government entities such as the US Department of Defence and the CIA for much of its revenue, now has a market value of $48.5bn.

Mr Soros has used his vast wealth to become one of the world’s largest funders of groups promoting justice, democracy, human rights and progressive politics through his Open Society Foundations. He has poured billions into his philanthropic efforts and most of his investment fund’s assets now belong to the foundations rather than to the Soros family.

Over the years, the financier’s investments have conflicted with this philanthropic philosophy. His funds have at various times owned stakes in gun manufacturers and coal companies.

The UK competition regulator has set an April 20 deadline for a decision on the acquisition of Asda by billionaire brothers Mohsin and Zuber Issa. Courtesy Euro Garages

Zuber and Mohsin Issa

The UK competition regulator has set an April 20 deadline for a decision on the acquisition of supermarket chain Asda by Britain’s billionaire Issa brothers and private equity firm TDR Capital.

The parties agreed in October to buy a majority stake in Britain’s third-largest grocer from US retail company Walmart.

The brothers and TDR last Tuesday said they had completed the acquisition, which gave Asda an enterprise value of £6.8bn ($9.5bn), although it remains subject to regulatory approval.

The Competition and Markets Authority launched an inquiry into the deal in December and initially set a February 18 deadline for a so-called Phase 1, but then stopped the clock on the process while it sought additional documents.

Its inquiry has been complicated by the buyers’ plan to offload Asda’s 322 petrol stations to their own petrol forecourt business, EG Group, for £750m when the deal is completed.

Ben Silbermann, co-founder and chief executive officer of Pinterest Inc., smiles during an interview on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) during the company's initial public offering (IPO) in New York, U.S., on Thursday, April 18, 2019. Pinterest's message to investors was don't compare us to social media or a search engine. The outcome Wednesday was that it raised about $1.4 billion in an above-range initial public offering. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ben Silbermann

Pinterest co-founder Ben Silbermann's wealth topped $5bn after the Financial Times reported that Microsoft had made inquiries about buying the company.

Shares of the social networking platform rose by 7.3 per cent on February 11 on the news to close at a record $87.03 in New York, adding about $325 million to Mr Silbermann’s fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Pinterest shares traded at $89.15 last Wednesday.

Microsoft approached the San Francisco-based company in recent months about a takeover, but the talks are not currently active, the Financial Times reported.

With a market value of $53.7bn, Pinterest would be Microsoft’s largest acquisition – more than double the $26.2bn it paid in 2016 for LinkedIn.

SFM made this investment at a time when the negative social consequences of big data were less understood

Mr Silbermann, 38, had previously rejected the idea of a takeover, saying in a 2018 interview with German newspaper Handelsblatt that Pinterest would remain an independent company.

His wealth has almost doubled in the past four months as the company’s shares have surged. The digital scrapbooking company said fourth-quarter revenue rose by 76 per cent from a year earlier while the number of active users grew by more than a third to 459 million.

Mr Silbermann made $227m cash from share sales in 2020, regulatory filings show.