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Romanian firms could use pan-EU AI platform aiming to mobilise the entire European AI community

Romanian companies have the opportunity to use a pan-EU AI platform called AI4EU aiming to mobilise the entire European AI community. The project will provide practical assistance to help users – SMEs, start-ups, entrepreneurs, scientists, industrial companies, venture capital firms, etc. – to benefit from the platform.

The European Commission’s AI4EU project (Artificial Intelligence for European Union) was officially launched tlast month with a view to building the first European on-demand Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform and mobilising the entire European AI community.

The project has a budget of EUR 20 million. The project leader of AI4EU is the French group Thales, which is coordinating platform roll-out and promoting collaboration within an active ecosystem extending far beyond the current membership of the project, which includes 79 organisations from 21 EU countries.

Through the AI4EU project, the European Commission is seeking to make AI promises real for European society by boosting Europe’s technological and industrial capabilities, improving industrial competitiveness and progressively accelerating the adoption of AI in all sectors of the economy.

The future platform will position Europe as a leading player on the world AI stage with a strong focus on ethical issues.

The project includes the creation of a Europe-wide ethics observatory to lead broad discussions and debate over the role of humans in an AI-enabled society, and to promote the development of explainable, verifiable AI.

The Thales Group has been chosen by the European Commission to coordinate overall project roll-out and, like all the other partners involved, will make world-class AI tools, components, modules, knowledge, algorithms and use cases available on the platform.

Any member of the extensive European ICT (Information and Communications Technology) community will be able to use these elements directly, without requiring theoretical knowledge.

The community formed by the project will also provide practical assistance to help users – SMEs, start-ups, entrepreneurs, scientists, industrial companies, venture capital firms, etc. – to benefit from the platform.

The objective of this three-year project is to promote collaboration within the AI ecosystem in Europe to encourage stakeholders to share, use and create value from new solutions in strategic sectors of the European economy, including robotics, healthcare, media, agriculture, IoT and cybersecurity. It will also provide key inputs to help shape a strong and comprehensive strategic agenda for European AI.

One of Business Review’s flagship events of 2019, MindChain is the biggest Blockchain-focused event ever held in Romania.

 

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A new residential complex with 223 apartments is under construction in Bucharest

A new residential complex will appear in Titan area in Bucharest with an investment of EUR 10 million by the real estate developer Alexandru Tiron. The complex named Yola Residence will have 223 apartments with 1, 2 or 3 rooms.

The prices are to be between EUR 49,900 and EUR 82,900 (VAT included) and the first phase will be finalized this year. The complex will have at least 223 parking spaces that will be sold with EUR 3,000 (VAT included).

The construction begun in December 2018 and will be done in the spring of 2021.

Alexandru Tiron had also built Sara Residence, a complex with 204 apartments.

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European Parliament poll: Which Romanian parties will get the most seats in the May elections

The European Parliament has launched the first forecast of its future political structure, based on representative national polls.

According to aggregated data, in the elections scheduled for May 26, the Romanian Social Democratic Party (PSD) would get 10 seats, with a voting intention of 26.5 percent.

The party forecast to get the second-most MEPs is PNL, with a voting intention of 23 percent, which would get them eight seats in the European Parliament.

The third place in the poll is taken by Pro Romania, the party founded by former PM Victor Ponta. According to the EP’s poll, this party would get three seats, with a voting intention of 9.6 percent.

Three seats each are also likely to go to USR and ALDE.

The PLUS party, run by former PM Dacian Ciolos, is likely to get two seats, and so are PMP and UDMR.

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Romania’s banks hit all-time assets at end-2018 just before the “greed tax” on decade-low NPLs

The 34 banks operating in Romania have registered at the end of last year the highest assets in history, as improved credit demand combined with low NPL rates have boosted assets and earnings, central bank data show.

The total bank assets in Romania increased by 5,4 percent year-on-year in December, up to RON 451.1 billion (EUR 96.7 billion), equal to around 48.3 percent of the estimated GDP in 2018.

Running out of revenue sources, the government has recently introduced a tax on bank assets of 0.3 percent from January 1st, 2019.

The tax is due quarterly – and at the value registered at end-2018, the quarterly tax would amount RON 1.35 billion per quarter and RON 5.4 billion (EUR 1.14 billion) per annum.

The return on assets (ROA) key-index jumped by 22 percent in December 2018 compared with December 2017, to 1.59, but declined compared to September (1.76 percent), according to central bank series consulted by Business Review.

ROA is calculated by dividing annualized net profit by average total assets, and this means that the Romanian banks have registered a total profit of close to RON 7 billion in January-December 2018, in annual terms.

A recent BR Analysis showed that Romania’s major banks have posted impressive profits in the first nine months of last year as their interest income, related to rising interest rates on loans in a moment when inflation peaked, significantly increased.

During the last few years, the government has adopted a strategy of wage-led growth, stimulating household consumption and GDP growth rates, but this model has generated larger fiscal and current account deficits – as well as higher inflation rates.

The improved results of Romanian banks are due to a sharp decline of non-performing loans (NPL) ratio, from 6.41 percent in December 2017 to 4.95 percent – the lowest level since 2009 – in December 2018, according to central bank’s data.

But banks still struggle to find clients for their loans, as loan-to-deposit ratio key-index has continued to decrease – from 74.7 percent in December 2017 to 73.6 percent in December 2018, despite higher consumer and mortgage loans’ demand from individuals.

Romania’s banking system has currently 34 banks, after a period of consolidation.

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Apple bought startup PullString to boost Siri services

Apple has decided to buy PullString, a San Francisco startup focused on the development of voice apps for Amazon’s Alexa, Google assistant, and Internet of Things hardware, according to Appleinsider.com. The deal is worth under USD 100 million.

PullString was known as ToyTalk and it was founded by former Pixar executives in 2011 when voice-powered applications were still at the beginnings. Company’s main product, Converse, is a voice design and artificial intelligence tool that allows customers to create apps with custom voices and advanced sound design.

Initially, the company had interactive Hello Barbie and Thomas the Tank Engine products. Recently, the company moved into IoT devices with a focus on virtual assistants.

It is unknown what Apple has planned for PullString but everyone expects that it will focus on Siri’s feature set. Siri was the first voice assistant on the market but it was surpassed by Alexa (Amazon) and Google’s Assistant, so Apple is supposed to work on Siri.

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Two new partners join KPMG Legal’s leadership team

KPMG Legal Romania is expanding its Litigation & Dispute Resolution, Corporate and M&A practices by recruiting top lawyers Vlad Peligrad and Catalin Oroviceanu to join KPMG Legal’s team as coordinating partners. Both formerly worked for Magic Circle firms.

KPMG Legal Romania is a growing practice, with a broad range of specialisms, building on KPMG’ s rich history and values and combining uncompromising legal acumen with innovation, team spirit and true passion for the legal profession. It is part of the KPMG Legal global network, whose strategy is to double its headcount in the next few years.
KPMG Legal Romania’s leadership team has five partners led by Laura Toncescu, a lawyer with more than 20 years of experience in legal services and with a particular specialization in Financial Services. Nicoleta Mihai and Sebastian Olteanu, the existing coordinating partners, complete the firm’s managing team, focused on strategizing the path to success for a team of 28 experienced senior lawyers.

Vlad Peligrad has more than 17 years of legal practice in international law firms, with broad experience and knowledge in litigation & arbitration, insolvency procedures, fraud investigations and crisis management. His expertise includes assisting and representing major international companies in all types of litigation – civil, tax, white collar, as well as international and domestic arbitration. He was the sole winner of the Litigation category for Romania in the Client Choice Awards 2016 and he has been ranked by Chambers Global and Legal500 in their Dispute Resolution sections, since 2015.
Vlad also has wide transactional experience in project finance, infrastructure and concessions/PPP projects as well as in bank lending and real estate finance transactions, accumulated both in Bucharest and New York.
He has a Ph.D. in law and completed his LL.M with The George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. He previously worked for the Bucharest office of Clifford Chance as head of its arbitration practice and the New York and Bucharest offices of Salans. Before joining Salans, Vlad was an associate with another Big 4 law firm.

“I am glad to join the KPMG Legal team and bring my expertise to the firm’s well-established practice with the aim of developing a top team of litigators and offering our clients an integrated approach to their needs. Teaming up with highly-skilled tax and business advisers will ensure our clients some of the best advice and representation in their relations with the Romanian authorities and courts. My vision is to offer our clients not only pure legal advice, but also clear strategic intelligence. Having KPMG’s professionals and expertise alongside will help us to be the strategic adviser our clients require, with clear understanding of the client’s industry, business and needs, so that we can provide legal services which are tailored to better serve clients’ interests. From this perspective, our aim is to develop the local footprint for litigation and arbitration for clients in all industries, especially for global corporate, local and international financial institutions”, says Vlad.

 

 

Cătălin Oroviceanu has more than 17 years of experience in both local and international law firms, as well as with a private equity fund active in Romania. Over several years, he has been involved in numerous M&A transactions in various industry sectors, representing buyers and sellers alike during due diligence processes and negotiation and closing of sale-purchase agreements, joint venture/shareholder agreements, and management agreements. Cătălin has also carried out various restructuring processes (mergers and spin-offs) for both high-profile and local investors. He regularly publishes articles and has taught corporate law for 10 years at the Law School of the University of Bucharest. He holds an LLM (University College London, Faculty of Law) and a Ph.D. in law. He was, until recently, the head of legal for the Romania-based activity of Abris Capital Partners. Previously, he has worked for the Bucharest office of Clifford Chance, as well as for a law firm affiliated with another Big 4 company.

I bring along diversified experience, gained not only in reputable law firms, but also at “ground level”. I like to think that this gives me a unique advantage, as I’m able to view things not only
from the perspective of the lawyer, but also from the commercial perspective of the client. People who have worked with me over time can probably say that I have a “no nonsense” and deal-making approach. The Corporate and M&A practice environment is very competitive these days, with a significant number of law firms doing this type of work, pressure on fees and, at times, less focus on quality. My view is that KPMG Legal is well-equipped to successfully compete on this market. The affiliation with KPMG gives us the unique advantage of being able to offer a holistic approach and provide integrated services (advisory, tax and legal) to a high level of quality, which can only be beneficial for clients and their partners. The technological awareness and the approach to human resources of KPMG Legal (and KPMG in general) are other key points that, in the medium and long term, will be able to make a difference in this ever-changing landscape of legal services”.

 

 “At KPMG Legal Romania, we place trust, professionalism and legal excellence at the top of our priority list. In this context, I am very happy to welcome Vlad and Catalin to our team, and, given my experience in working with them in the past, I am confident that they will contribute with their professional and personal qualities to provide our clients with a service which is unique in the market”, said Laura Toncescu.

 

 

 

 

René Schöb, Head of Tax & Legal adds: “Having Vlad and Catalin joining our team is a demonstration of our ambition to grow the legal practice and enlarge our footprint on the market by attracting very experienced and well-established professionals. We understand from our clients that they value combined advice which includes tax, legal and advisory since it shortens the project time and assures a harmonized outcome and conclusions in cross-functional projects. By continuing also our digitization of the practice, we will be well equipped for the future challenges of the legal market, which is increasingly faced by technological disruption”, René Schöb, Head of Tax & Legal adds

 

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Transgaz starts building key-gas pipeline aiming to allow Moldova’s Capital city to import gas from Romania

The state-owned company Transgaz has officially started to build a key-gas pipeline that will allow Moldova to import Romanian gas for its Capital city.

The second phase of the Iași-Ungheni-Chișinău pipeline, 120 km-long, will connect Chisinau with Ungheni, allowing most part of Moldova and especially the Capital city to use Romanian gas and avoiding the current monopoly of the Russian giant Gazprom.

“The project represents a geopolitical gain, aiming to reduce the energy dependence of the Republic of Moldova through the alternative route it proposes, as well as a contribution to the general strengthening of the country’s pro-European path. In order to secure the financing of the project, I signed with the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg, in January, the financing contract worth EUR 38 million for the Ungheni – Chisinau interconnection,” Transgaz CEO Ion Sterian said.

Romania will complete the connection of the Republic of Moldova to the European gas network by 2020, allowing to the poorest country on the continent to have access to multiple gas sources.

In February, Transgaz won the bid for the purchase of Moldova’s Vestmoldtransgaz, company operating the Moldovan section of the Iași-Ungheni gas pipeline.

After the acquisition of Vestmoldtransgaz, Transgaz has the full control of the gas interconnection between Moldova and Romania, including the future extension of the Iași-Ungheni pipeline until Chișinău.

Vestmoldtransgaz was put up for sale by Moldova’s government for EUR 9 million and Trangaz has to invest more than EUR 90 million within the next two years.

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Total value of real estate investments up to EUR 940 million in 2018

The total value of real estate investments in the office, commercial, industrial, office and commercial segments in 2018 amounted to EUR 940 million, and Romanian investors were involved in about 25 percent of the transactions, according to a report by CBRE Group.

The volume of transactions completed last year has a similar level to the one recorded in 2017, but 30 percent higher than 2016, according to the CBRE Group’s market report. For the fourth consecutive year, the office space sector attracted the largest number of transactions, with 55 percent of the total agreements reached in 2018.

The ranking is completed, at a considerable distance, by commercial spaces which accounted for 33 percent of transactions, 7 percent for industrial premises, while hotels and other transactions count for the remaining 5 percent.

The Bucharest real estate market had the most intense activity in 2018, with 77 percent of the total investments registered at the national urban level. Domestic investors were the most active, accounting for almost 25 percent of total transactions, followed by South African funds, which accounted for 18 percent, and by Portuguese investors with 13 percent.

According to CBRE, the largest transactions in 2018 took place in the second half of the year, on the office space and retail space segments. The largest transaction was the sale of The Bridge (I and II) office project, which passed from developer Forte Partners to Dedeman, following an agreement worth EUR 150 million.

The second transaction, in value terms, aimed to change the share structure of the ParkLake Shopping Center and amounted to EUR 120 million. Thus, Sonae Sierra became the sole shareholder of the shopping center, by acquiring the 50 percent stake in Caelum Development.

Among the most valuable transactions in 2018, the sale of the Oregon Park office complex, developed by Portland Trust, to Lion’s Head Investment for EUR 110 million, sold the Militari Shopping Center, the West Bank commercial center, to the Southern Investment Fund -african, Mas Real Estate, with 95 million euros, and the sale of The Landmark office project to investment funds Revetas Capital and Cerberus Capital Management for EUR 65 million.

In 2018, the average transaction value fell by 5 percent compared to the previous year to EUR 29 million.

Offices in Bucharest attracted the highest interest, accounting for 97 percent of all transactions in this segment. In the case of commercial premises, 69 percent of the agreements covered projects in Bucharest, and the rest were in other cities in Romania.

Raw yield (return on Class A projects in the most rated areas) is declining for all sectors – industrial, office and retail. The evolution of local yields is in line with the trend in Central and Eastern Europe, which is a sign that the market is active with a good level of investment and transactions, analysts say.

The gap between Romania and other countries in the region, such as Hungary and Slovakia, has diminished, but there is room for further decreases in this yield in all sectors of the domestic real estate market. Thus, the lowest earning performance was recorded by the commercial sector – 6.5 percent, followed by the office space segment – 7 percent and by the industrial premises, with 7.75 percent.

Real estate analysts expect that in 2019 investment activity will have a similar pace to that of 2018 due to important agreements that are currently in different phases of negotiation. It is estimated that premiums will continue to decline slightly, especially in the office space market.

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Internet of Things solutions for companies included in Vodafone’s portfolio

Vodafone Romania is offering Internet of Things (IoT) solutions dedicated to companies from various industries. Recently company launched cutting-edge solutions dedicated to the retail companies designed to accelerate their digital transformation journey with direct impact in improving business efficiency and customers’ experiences. Vodafone Business, the new brand philosophy for enterprise, reflects company’s role as a trustworthy partner to deliver business solutions and the best expertise for the companies’ digital success.

“Vodafone is a reliable digital partner for companies in Romania, offering the most relevant suite of smart solutions tailored to each industry’s needs. The future of IoT is very exciting and our teams will continue to design and implement innovative solutions ahead of market. The recent launched retail dedicated solutions help our partners increase processes efficiency, open new revenue streams and improve customer experience”, stated Cristian Giuhat, director Enterprise Marketing, Vodafone Romania.

Rapid advancements in technology and breakthrough innovations are shifting traditional retail to digital. A seamless shopping experience is mandatory for retailers, regardless of their size. Thus, more and more are reinventing themselves by using the latest technology to improve customer relationships and streamline processes.

Vodafone Romania’s IoT smart solutions portfolio for retail includes a wide range of dedicated solutions among which “Vodafone Smart Counting”, “Vodafone Digital Media Signage & Smart Analytics”, “Vodafone Heat Map”, “Vodafone Stock Alert”, “Vodafone Queue Management”.

“Vodafone Smart Counting” provides retailers with traffic information allowing them to organize the activity in the most efficient way.

“Vodafone Digital Media Signage & Smart Analytics” allows the business owner to run digital promotions based on specific segment criteria increasing the campaigns success rates. From the buyer side this solution provides superior shopping experience.

“Vodafone Heat Map” is monitoring, through smart sensors, the most frequently accessed shopping areas in a store. With the use of the valuable data available, the retailer will be able to better understand shoppers’ needs in order to offer them immediate benefits, as they are able to get their products easier and reduce the time allocated for shopping.

“Vodafone Stock Alert” solution offers retailers a better stock management and increases customer satisfaction by always having their preferred goods on the shelf.  For example, the pastry shelves enabled with smart sensors are monitored in real time. When a shelf reach to a certain quantity of products, the shop staff receives an alert and is able to swiftly prepare new products to fill it, so that the customers  is able to find fresh products at any moment.

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Romania’s energy companies fined RON 20 mln for breaking rules

The Romanian energy regulator (ANRE) has sanctioned several companies in the sector with fines totaling RON 20 million (EUR 4.5 million) for breaking the national rules.

“The main sanctions were applied for the non-observance of the legal obligations of the suppliers / producers and the transport operator regarding the physical and commercial imbalances, the failure to fulfill the obligations of the suppliers regarding the constitution of the natural gas stocks, the non-fulfillment of the legal obligations regarding the connection to the distribution networks,” ANRE said.

ANRE inspectors carried out 357 control actions at the large gas operators and applied 312 contravention fines amounting to RON 8 million.

The largest part of this amount, of RON 5.9 million, was applied to the distribution operators.

The electricity operators were subject of 276 contravention fines amounting to RON 4 million.

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