Threat of financial crisis has not gone away, WEF warns
Threat of financial crisis has not gone away, WEF warns
The WEF’s global competitiveness report — its annual ranking of the strength of 137 economies around the world — warns that 10 years on from the global financial crisis, “the prospects for a sustained economic recovery remain at risk due to a widespread failure on the part of leaders and policy-makers to put in place reforms necessary to underpin competitiveness and bring about much-needed increases in productivity.
“Levels of ‘soundness’ have yet to recover from the shock of 2007 and in some parts of the world are declining further. This is especially of concern given the important role the financial system will need to play in facilitating investment in innovation,” the WEF added.
The economies of the Middle East and North Africa improved their average performance in the first half of 2017, despite challenges mainly from the decline in energy prices. The most improved country in the region was Egypt, up 14 slots to 101 in the world.
“Low oil and gas prices are forcing the region to implement reforms to boost diversification, and heavy investments in digital and technological infrastructure have allowed major improvements in technological readiness. However, these have not yet led to an equally large turnaround in the region’s level of innovation,” the WEF said.
The UAE was again ranked top of the regional rankings, at 17th, down one slot from last year. Saudi Arabia was ranked 30th, also down one position.
Qatar fell by seven positions to 25th, though the WEF noted that the report was compiled before the economic effects of the economic sanctions introduced by some of its Gulf neighbors because of allegations of terrorism funding.
“The country will have to ensure better access to digital technologies for individuals and businesses, and further strengthen educational institutions,” the WEF said.
On Saudi Arabia, the report said: “The macroeconomic environment has improved slightly after the 2015 oil price shock, but financial market efficiency has deteriorated as interest rates increased in 2016 and credit growth slowed.
“The country has stable institutions, good-quality infrastructure, and the largest market in the Arab world. Saudi executives see restrictive labor regulations as their most problematic factor for doing business: The labor market is segmented among different population groups, and women remain largely excluded,” the WEF added.
Another concern is the lack of adequately educated workers. Although tertiary enrolment is strong at 63 percent, more efforts are needed to advance the quality of education and align it with economic needs, the report said.
The UAE “continues to lead the Arab World in terms of competitiveness, but it loses one place as other countries post even larger gains,” the WEF said.
“This improvement shows the resilience of the UAE economy, in part due to increased diversification, which is reflected in its stable macroeconomic environment and its ability to weather the double shock of lower oil and gas prices and reduced global trade,” the report added.
Although the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts gross domestic product (GDP) growth to drop to 1.3 percent this year, non-oil growth is expected to pick up, suggesting that the country’s diversification strategy is bearing fruit. To further increase its competitiveness, the UAE will have to speed up progress in terms of spreading the latest digital technologies and upgrading education.
For the ninth consecutive year, Switzerland — home of the WEF — was judged the most competitive economy in the world, narrowly ahead of the US and Singapore, which switched positions in second and third.
Another key finding of the report is that competitiveness is enhanced, not weakened, by combining degrees of flexibility within the labor force with adequate protection of workers’ rights.
“With vast numbers of jobs set to be disrupted as a result of automation and robotization, creating conditions that can withstand economic shock and support workers through transition periods will be vital,” the WEF said.
The data also suggests that the reason innovation often fails to ignite productivity is due to an imbalance between investments in technology and efforts to promote its adoption throughout the wider economy.
Klaus Schwab, WEF founder and executive chairman, said: “Global competitiveness will be more and more defined by the innovative capacity of a country. Talents will become increasingly more important than capital and therefore the world is moving from the age of capitalism into the age of talentism.”
Saudi insurance stocks soar as female drivers take to the road
LONDON: Saudi insurance stocks surged on Sunday, with investors expecting the sector to reap significant dividends following the lifting of the ban on female drivers.
Insurance stocks — one of the worst performing sectors on the Saudi bourse for the year to date — outperformed other classifications on Sunday, ending 2.4 percent higher, compared with a 1.8 percent rise for the Kingdom’s headline index.
Amana Insurance and AlRajhi Takaful were the best performers of the day, gaining 9.9 percent each. Tawuniya, the Kingdom’s largest insurer, ended Sunday 1.1 percent higher, with only one of the country’s 33 listed insurance providers closing lower for the day.
The lifting of restrictions on female drivers — which came into effect on Sunday after first being announced in September — is part of a series of wide-ranging reforms introduced as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 economic transformation program, designed to diversify the economy away from a reliance on oil revenues.
The advent of women drivers is forecast to benefit the economy by significantly increase female participation in the workforce, and stimulating financial, insurance and retail sectors among others.
The insurance sector is set to draw particular benefit from the move, but may remain under pressure, according to rating agency S&P.
“We anticipate that efforts of the local authorities to tackle the large number of uninsured drivers, combined with the arrival of women drivers … and the introduction of additional benefits under the unified medical policy from July 1, will support further premium growth in the industry in the medium term,” said S&P in a research note in April.
“However, these factors may be offset by the large number of foreign workers that have already left or will be leaving the Kingdom in 2018.”
In spite of yesterday’s price surge, insurance stocks are 8.4 percent lower for the year to date. Tadawul as a whole is up 15.6 percent so far this year, making the bourse one of the world’s best performers for 2018.
Investor sentiment on Sunday was also boosted by investor optimism after index provider MSCI announced last week that it would upgrade Saudi stocks to its Emerging Markets Index from next year.
The widely anticipated upgrade — which puts Saudi equities on an index tracked by around $2 trillion worth of global assets — is expected to attract up to $40 billion of international funds, Tadawul CEO Khalid Al-Hussan told Arab News last week.
MSCI’s upgrade came after a similar move by fellow index provider FTSE Russell in February, which is also scheduled to come into effect from next year.
Banks were among the other bright performers on Tadawul on Sunday. Arab National Bank led gains, closing up 4.2 percent, while blue-chip names NCB and AlRajhi rose 1.6 percent and 2.3 percent respectively.
Some petrochemical companies also added value, Reuters reported, following a rise in oil prices after OPEC decided on only modest increases in crude production last week.
Outside Saudi Arabia, Gulf markets posted minor gains. In Dubai, where the index was flat, Air Arabia was unchanged. Shares in the airline have declined by more than 10 percent since early last week, when the company said it had hired experts to protect its business interests in private equity firm Abraaj, which has filed for provisional liquidation. The airline said its exposure was around $336 million.
Last week, the UAE’s securities regulator asked listed companies to declare their exposure to Abraaj.