Kingdom scores high on prices and tax efficiency, IMD survey finds

The Kingdom was ranked highly for its consumer price inflation policy and exchange rate management. (AFP)
Updated 23 May 2018
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Kingdom scores high on prices and tax efficiency, IMD survey finds

  • Kingdom ranks second in the world for pricing of goods and services, according to IMD survey.
  • Kingdom slips three places to 39th position out of 63 countries assessed.

DUBAI: Competitive pricing and an efficient tax regime are two big highlights of the Saudi Arabian economy according to the annual ranking of global competitiveness by the Swiss business school IMD.
The Kingdom ranks second in the world for pricing of goods and services, and seventh for the efficiency of the government’s tax regime, according to the IMD’s World Competitiveness Ranking 2018.
But despite improvements in some areas of the economy, Saudi Arabia slipped three places in the global rankings, to 39th position out of 63 countries assessed.
IMD said that most countries in the Middle East overcame political tensions in the region to experience improvements in their competitiveness. The UAE was the top ranked, in 7th position, mainly due to strengthening of its international trade.
In a survey of executive opinion which accompanied the rankings, large proportions of respondents identified Saudi Arabia’s cost of competitiveness (53.7 percent), the dynamism of its economy (52.4 percent) and its competitive tax regime (45.1 percent) as key reasons for the attractiveness of the economy.
The Kingdom was ranked highly for its consumer price inflation policy and exchange rate management, and for its efficiency in assessing and collecting consumer and other taxes. Expenditure on education was also highly rated.
However, IMD also identified five key challenges in the current year to enhance overall competitiveness: Balancing the budget deficit and mitigating exposure to oil price fluctuations; developing legal and regulatory frameworks to support privatization and the development of strategic sectors in the Vision 2030 strategy.
It also stressed the need to develop human capital and increase workforce participation for men and women; continue the changes to the fees structure for business startups; and the need to adopt international best practice for licensing activities.
The US was the highest ranked country in the survey, now in its 30th year, overtaking Hong Kong in the top slot. Singapore, the Netherlands and Switzerland made up the rest of the top five countries.
The return of the US to the top slot was driven by its strength in economic performance and infrastructure, which were both ranked No. 1 in the world. Nordic countries and Canada comprised the rest of the top ten, along with the UAE.
Two big risers in the 2018 rankings are Austria (18th, up seven places) and China (13th, up five places).
Professor Arturo Bris, director of the Geneva-based World Competitiveness Center, said: “This year’s results reinforce a crucial trait of the competitiveness landscape. Countries undertake different paths toward competitiveness transformation. Countries at the top of the rankings share an above average performance across all competitiveness factors, but their competitiveness mix varies. One economy, for example, may build its competitiveness strategy around a particular aspect such as its tangible and intangible infrastructure; another may approach competitiveness through their governmental efficiency.”
The bottom five economies show a slight change in their performance, especially those countries that have experienced economic and political distress in the past few years. While Mongolia (62) and Venezuela (63) remained in the last positions, Ukraine (59) and Brazil (60) improved.
Brazil’s improvement is the first since 2010 due to a positive shift in real GDP and employment. Ukraine increased because of its business efficiency. Their rise pushed Croatia down two places to 61, IMD said.


Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

Hussain Sajwani
Updated 18 March 2019
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Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

  • Brexit a “concern” for UK property market says Sajwani
  • Developer mulls investing “up to £500 million” on London project

LONDON: The Dubai-listed developer Damac says it is scouting for additional plots of land in Saudi Arabia, both in established cities and the Kingdom’s emerging giga-projects such as Neom.
Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Damac Properties, also said the company would look to invest up to £500 million ($660 million) on a second development in the UK, and that it is on track to deliver a record 7,000 or more units this year.
Amid a slowing property market in Dubai, Damac’s base, the developer is eying Saudi Arabia as a potential ground for expansion for its high-spec residential projects.
Damac has one development in Jeddah, and a twin-tower project in Riyadh — and Sajwani said it is looking for additional plots in the Kingdom.
“It’s a big market. It is changing, it is opening up, so we see a potential there … We are looking,” he said.
“In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is the biggest economy … They have some very ambitious projects, like the Neom city and other large projects. We’re watching those and studying them very carefully.”
The $500 billion Neom project, which was announced in 2017, is set to be a huge economic zone with residential, commercial and tourist facilities on the Red Sea coast.
Sajwani said doing business in Saudi Arabia was “a bit more difficult or complicated” that the UAE, but said the country is opening up, citing moves to allow women to drive and reopen cinemas.
He was speaking to Arab News in Damac’s London sales office, opposite the Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. The office, kitted out in plush Versace furnishings, is selling units at Damac’s first development in the UK, the Damac Tower Nine Elms London.
The 50-storey development is in a new urban district south of the River Thames, which is also home to the US Embassy and the famous Battersea Power Station, which is being redeveloped as a residential and commercial property.
Work on Damac's tower is underway and is due to complete in late 2020 or early 2021, Sajwani said.
“We have sold more than 60 percent of the project,” he said. “It’s very mixed, we have (buyers) from the UK, from Asia, the Middle East.”
Damac’s first London project was launched in 2015, the year before the referendum on the UK exiting the EU — the result of which has had a knock-on effect on the London property market.
“Definitely Brexit has cause a lot of concern, people are not clear where the situation will go. Overall, the market has suffered because of Brexit,” Sajwani said.
“It’s going to be difficult for the coming two years at least … unless (the UK decides) to stay in the EU.”
Despite the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, Sajwani said Damac was looking for additional plots of land in London, both in the “golden triangle” — the pricey areas of Mayfair, Belgravia and Knightsbridge, which are popular with Gulf investors — and new residential districts like Nine Elms.
Sajwani is considering an investment of “up to £500 million” on a new project in the UK capital.
“We are looking aggressively, and spending a lot of time … finding other opportunities,” he said. “Our appetite for London is there.”
Damac is also considering other international property markets for expansion, including parts of Europe and North American cities like Toronto, Boston, New York and Miami, Sajwani said.
The international drive by Damac comes, however, amid a tough property market in the developer’s home market of Dubai.
Damac in February reported that its 2018 profits fell by nearly 60 percent, with its fourth-quarter profit tumbling by 87 percent, according to Reuters calculations.
Sajwani — whose company attracted headlines for its partnership with the Trump Organization for two golf courses in Dubai — does not see any immediate recovery in the emirate’s property market, or Damac’s financial results.
“(With) the market being soft, prices being under pressure, we are part of the market — we are not going to do better than last year,” he said. “This year and next year are going to be difficult years. But it’s a great opportunity for the buyers.”
But the developer said Dubai was “very strong fundamentally,” citing factors like its advanced infrastructure, safety and security, and low taxes.
In 2018, Damac delivered over 4,100 units — a record for the company — and this year, despite the difficult market, it plans to hand over even more.
“We’re expecting north of 7,000,” Sajwani said. “This year will be another record.”