Arab states warned against complacency over debt

Jihad Azour, director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia department, said higher oil prices should spur a change in the region’s fortunes. (AP)
Updated 02 May 2018
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Arab states warned against complacency over debt

  • Oil prices have reached around $75 a barrel from under $30 a barrel in early 2016
  • After the GCC saw their economic growth shrink by 0.2 percent last year, their economy is expected to return to growth in 2018

DUBAI: The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday warned Arab states against complacency over a looming debt crisis, urging continued economic reforms despite a rise in oil prices.
Crude prices have rebounded in the region thanks to a deal by producers to trim production, but the IMF said such a change in fortunes should not get in the way of overhauling state spending.
“Required reforms include further steps toward full elimination of energy subsidies, and changes to pension and social security systems — including revisions to retirement age and benefits,” the IMF said in its Regional Economic Outlook for May.
Jihad Azour, director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia department, said higher oil prices should spur change.
“We should not be complacent ... oil prices are going up. That definitely does not mean that we should not introduce the reforms. On the contrary, the current environment offers the opportunity to accelerate some of these reforms,” Azour said.
Oil prices have reached around $75 a barrel from under $30 a barrel in early 2016.
Overall growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which includes all Arab countries and Iran, was forecast by the IMF to reach 3.2 percent this year compared to just 2.2 percent in 2017.
The partial recovery in oil prices will be a boost for the Gulf Cooperation Council states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE — which supply almost a fifth of global crude oil.
After the GCC saw their economic growth shrink by 0.2 percent last year, impacted by a 0.7 percent contraction by the Saudi economy, their economy is expected to return to growth in 2018.
The Council’s economy is forecast to grow by 2.2 percent this year and 2.6 percent in 2019, the IMF said.
Following the oil price slump in mid-2014, GCC members undertook fiscal measures and reforms to cut public spending and boost non-oil revenues.
Azour said that Saudi Arabia’s economic consolidation measures to cut a persistent budget deficit and diversify the economy away from oil remains the correct policy.
“The current strategy that is based on reaching a balanced budget by 2023 is the right one,” he said.
Despite the improved economic forecast, the IMF estimated cumulative overall fiscal deficits in the region to be $294 billion in 2018-22.
Around $71 billion of government debt is expected to mature during the same period.
“The rapid buildup of debt in many of them (MENA countries) is a cause for concern. Debt has increased by an average of 10 percentage points of GDP each year since 2013, with countries financing large fiscal deficits,” the IMF report said.
An impending increase in interest rates, making borrowing more expensive, will complicate the problem, it added.
According to the IMF, the economy of oil-importers should grow by 6.2 percent annually to maintain unemployment at the current rate of 10 percent.
MENA countries need to create 25 million new jobs over the next five years, Azour said, while warning of the negative consequences of unemployment coupled with rising debt levels.
“The average debt in the region for oil-importing countries exceeds 80 percent,” of gross domestic product (GDP), he said, stressing such a figure is “beyond what is acceptable.”


China’s Xiaomi swings to net profit in Q3 on robust sales in India, Europe

Updated 19 November 2018
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China’s Xiaomi swings to net profit in Q3 on robust sales in India, Europe

  • Profit for the three months through September reached $357.23 million
  • The firm has been adding new brands to its smartphone portfolio to target niche consumers

HONG KONG: Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Inc. said on Monday it swung to a net profit in the third quarter, beating analyst estimates, driven by robust sales in India and Europe.
Profit for the three months through September reached 2.48 billion yuan ($357.23 million), versus an 11 billion yuan loss in the same period a year earlier. That compared with a 1.92 billion yuan average of five analyst estimates compiled by Refinitiv Eikon.
Xiaomi also said operating profit sank 38.4 percent to 3.59 billion yuan in the third quarter. Revenue rose 49.1 percent to 50.85 billion yuan.
The mixed results come amid a slowdown in smartphone purchases both in China, where Xiaomi once was the top-selling handset brand, and overseas.
Nevertheless Xiaomi, along with fellow low-cost handset makers Oppo and Vivo, accounted for around a quarter of the global smartphone market in the first half of 2018, showed data from researcher IDC.
Xiaomi’s fastest-growing markets are India, where it has had success with its budget Redmi phone series, and Europe, where it entered in 2017 with launches in Russia and Spain. Earlier this month it released its flagship Mi 8 Pro device in Britain.
But to weather the global market slowdown, analysts said Xiaomi needs to expand to new markets and also sell more higher-priced devices with wider profit margins.
The firm has been adding new brands to its smartphone portfolio to target niche consumers. Concurrent with today’s earnings, it announced a partnership with Meitu Inc, a maker of a photo app popular with young women, to sell phones under its brand. Earlier this year it launched Black Shark, a phone targeted at gamers, and Poco, a value-for-money device aimed at India.
Mo Jia, who tracks China’s smartphone makers at research firm Canalys, said attempts to sell more expensive devices requires changing its brand perception.
“It’s still very hard for Xiaomi to change its perception of being a low-end device manufacturer as the majority of its smartphone shipments are the Redmi series.”
Xiaomi also aims to transform itself from a smartphone firm into a software company. As the firm prepared for its IPO, founder Lei Jun touted Internet services — namely advertisements placed on the firm’s in-house apps — as its future and key differentiator from other handset brands.
In the third quarter, Xiaomi’s smartphone division grew revenue by 36.1 percent while its Internet service division grew 85.5 percent. But phones made up 64.6 percent of total sales, while Internet services made up 9.3 percent.
The results are the second set released by Xiaomi since the smartphone maker raised $4.72 billion in an initial public offering (IPO) in June, valuing the firm at about $54 billion — around half of some earlier industry estimates of $100 billion.
Its shares have fallen roughly 20 percent since they started trading in July amid a broader Chinese stock market sell-off and concern about a slowdown in China’s tech industry.