Mideast funds positive on Saudi Arabia after corruption crackdown

Saudi King Salman ordered the formation of a super committee to combat corruption in November. (SPA)
Updated 01 December 2017
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Mideast funds positive on Saudi Arabia after corruption crackdown

DUBAI: Middle East fund managers have become more positive toward Saudi Arabian equities after authorities launched a sweeping crackdown on corruption, a monthly Reuters poll showed on Thursday.
Forty-six percent of funds now expect to raise their allocations to the Saudi stock market in the next three months and none to reduce them, according to the poll of 13 leading managers, conducted over the past week.
That is the most bullish bias toward Saudi stocks since July, and compares with ratios of 31 percent and 8 percent in last month’s poll.
The crackdown alarmed the stock market because of its potential to damage the economy and undermine companies linked to suspects.
As a result, foreign investors were net sellers of stocks in the first three weeks of this month, exchange data shows. They were also concerned by rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, fueled by instability in Lebanon.
But many fund managers said they were looking past the short-term instability caused by the corruption crackdown to possibilities created by Saudi Arabia’s economic reform program, including privatizations, big new development projects and the plan to lift a ban on women driving next year.
“The crackdown on corruption that we witnessed earlier this month, along with escalated tensions between Iran and Saudi, pushes us to be cautious about our overall Saudi exposure,” said Dubai’s Arqaam Capital.
However, it added: “Short-term uncertainties are concerning, but our long-term view is net positive when putting together reform initiatives and liberalization efforts.”
The non-oil part of the Saudi economy is barely growing this year and is not expected to fare much better next year because of the planned introduction of a 5 percent value-added tax.
But the government is expected to increase spending on development projects moderately in 2018 — perhaps relying in part on funds recovered in the corruption crackdown — so some funds are starting to look toward an economic recovery in 2019.
Sachin Mohindra, portfolio manager at Abu Dhabi’s Invest AD, said that while economic, regulatory and social reforms in the region as a whole would sustain growth in the long term, for now “we expect regional investors to continue to exercise a lot of caution and volumes to remain subpar relative to history.”
 


Pakistan PM Khan expected to boost aid and trade from visit to Kingdom

Updated 18 September 2018
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Pakistan PM Khan expected to boost aid and trade from visit to Kingdom

  • Pakistan imports more than $13 billion of oil
  • Agriculture expected to be key focus

KARACHI: Faced with a financial crisis at home, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first visit to Saudi Arabia could provide a much needed boost to the country’s political and economic confidence, experts said on Tuesday.
The trip, which began on Tuesday, holds even more significance as Khan is expected to seek $2-$3 billion in economic aid from the Kingdom, with an urgent need to inject around $9 billion into the economy — to stabilize external accounts largely inflated from high imports and insufficient exports.
“Pakistan expects an injection of around $2 billion to $3 billion in order to stabilize its foreign reserves position, currency and external balance sheet,” Dr. Bilal Ahmed, senior economic analyst, told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan would largely benefit from the visit, especially if the Kingdom is convinced “to supply oil at concessionary rates which would mitigate pressure on the import bill to a large extent.”
During the last fiscal year, 2017-18, the country’s imports of petroleum stood at $13.27 billion, imported from different countries, including Saudi Arabia. “If Pakistan gets the oil at a deferred payment or at relaxed conditions the issue of the country’s cash will be resolved,” Syed Mazhar Ali Nasir, Senior Vice President of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry — an apex body of Pakistan’s industrialists and traders — told Arab News.
Bilateral trade will be another key area of focus.
“We should explore avenues for exports to Saudi Arabia by ending tariff and non-tariff barriers that have decreased the trade of goods and services,” Dr. Ikram ul Haq, a senior economist and expert in legal matters, said.
Despite holding great potential, bilateral trade between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is only $3.4 billion and largely in favor of Saudi Arabia.
Pakistan imported $3.1 billion worth of goods from the Kingdom during the fiscal year 2017-18, while exports stood at $316.7 million, data shared by the State Bank of Pakistan showed.
Suggesting new means to explore bilateral trade and investment — by relying less on traditional goods and services – Dr. Haq said: “Pakistan should try to win Saudi contracts for IT services as this is the area where we have potential to earn foreign exchange but we never tried. We must come out of traditional items like textile.”
Agriculture is another sector that Pakistan could tap into to seek Saudi investment through joint ventures, Dr. Haq said: “This area has potential to grow fast and create export surplus. Saudis investors can be lured for modern corporate farming in Pakistan to earn substantial profits.”