Google races to parry the rise of Facebook in India

Google CEO Sundar Pichai mapped out a new strategy for India. (Reuters)
Updated 05 September 2018
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Google races to parry the rise of Facebook in India

  • Facebook’s success has shaken Alphabet Inc’s Google, led by an Indian-born CEO, Sundar Pichai, who has made developing markets a priority
  • Google officials in India earlier this year were alarmed to learn that Facebook Inc. was likely to generate about $980 million in revenue in the country in 2018

DUBAI: Google retains only a slight lead over Facebook in the competition for digital ad dollars in the crucial India market, sources familiar with the figures say, even though the search giant has been in the country far longer and has avoided the controversies that have dogged its rival.
Facebook’s success has shaken Alphabet Inc’s Google, led by an Indian-born CEO, Sundar Pichai, who has made developing markets a priority.
Google officials in India earlier this year were alarmed to learn that Facebook Inc. was likely to generate about $980 million in revenue in the country in 2018, according to one of the sources. Google’s India revenues reached $1 billion only last year.
Google is now pushing back, attempting to lure customers with better ad-buying tools and more localized services.
The battle in India reflects an epic challenge for Google in developing markets around the world that are crucial to the company’s long-term growth — many consumers in those country’s are gravitating to Facebook and its siblings, Instagram and WhatsApp, at the expense of Google search and YouTube, and advertising dollars are quick to follow.
“Facebook is a far more user-friendly platform, even though they haven’t created features specifically for Indian advertisers,” said Vikas Chawla, who runs a small ad-buying agency in India.
Facebook ads, compared with those on Google search or YouTube, tend to transcend language barriers more easily because they rely more on visual elements, said Narayan Murthy Ivaturi, vice president at FreakOut, a Singapore-headquartered digital marketing firm. Pinpointing younger consumers and rural populations is easier with Facebook and its Instagram app, he and other ad buyers said.
And Facebook is succeeding in India, which has the fastest-growing digital ad market of any major economy, despite internal turmoil and political controversy. It has been without a country head for the last year, and has faced a series of incidents in which rumors circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp have prompted mob violence.
Facebook and Google between them took 68 percent of India’s digital ad market last year, according to advertising buyer Magna. Media agency GroupM estimates digital advertising spending will grow 30 percent in India this year.
Eight Indian ad buyers interviewed by Reuters were divided on whether Facebook would overtake Google in Indian ad revenue. That such a question would even be debated explains why Pichai, Google’s CEO, has pressed to flip the company’s approach to emerging markets.
“India is the most important market for the ‘Next Billion Users’ initiative,” Caesar Sengupta, the head of the effort, told Reuters last week.
For many years Google designed its services for early adopters of new technology, who tended to be in Silicon Valley, said Nelson Mattos, who oversaw Google’s Europe and Africa operations for several years.
“Over time, as you saw the growth of Facebook, the importance of WhatsApp and other tools in these new markets, and not the same adoption of Google, the company started to realize that maybe they had to change that approach,” Mattos said.
Shortly after taking the helm three years ago, Pichai mapped a new strategy for places such as India: More services tailored to locals; more marketing on radio, billboards and TV; more local staff and start-up investment.
Google’s India workforce has more than doubled since to 4,000 employees, about eight times Facebook’s presence, according to a tally of LinkedIn profiles. Its products evolved too, becoming easier to use with low- data plans.
The efforts are bearing fruit. Indian users during the first half of this year spent more time on Google services than on Facebook services, according to estimates from audience measurement firm Comscore.


Saudi Real Estate Refinance Co. plans up to $1.07bn sukuk sale this year

Updated 23 April 2019
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Saudi Real Estate Refinance Co. plans up to $1.07bn sukuk sale this year

  • The plan by SRC, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign Public Investment Fund, comes as it prepares to purchase more home loan portfolios
  • SRC, formed in 2017, is also keen to tap foreign institutional investors for its debt sale this year

RIYADH: Saudi Real Estate Refinance Co. (SRC), modelled on US mortgage finance firm Fannie Mae, aims to issue up to 4 billion riyals ($1.07 billion) of long-term sukuk this year, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

The plan by SRC, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign Public Investment Fund, comes as it prepares to purchase more home loan portfolios from mortgage financing companies and banks to boost the Kingdom’s secondary mortgage market.

SRC, formed in 2017, is also keen to tap foreign institutional investors for its debt sale this year, Fabrice Susini told Reuters in an interview.

“Our strategy is clearly to tap the market twice this year,” he said. “We are really looking at probably issuing something between ... 2 and 4 billion riyal that we may be issuing in two tranches.

He said SRC was looking at sukuk in the 10 to 15-year range, to help minimize refinancing risks. “Generally speaking we are trying to issue as long as possible,” Susini said.

He said the company was assessing whether it could also issue bonds in currencies other than the local riyal.

In March, SRC completed a 750 million riyal sukuk issue with multiple tenors, under a program that allows it to issue up to 11 billion riyals of local currency denominated Islamic bonds.

“The rule of the game for us is, like many projects across the Kingdom, attract liquidity from foreign investors,” Susini said.

He said SRC had spent 1.2 billion riyals from its balance sheet buying mortgages from local mortgage financing companies and provided liquidity to these firms.

It has also signed initial accords with several commercial banks to acquire housing mortgage portfolios.

Saudi Arabia’s housing ministry is targeting the mortgage market to reach a total value of 502 billion riyals by 2020 from around 300 billion riyals now.

The government wants to increase activity in the real estate market as it moves to revitalize the economy and is taking steps to reform the sector as part of its 2030 reform plan.

It has been working with developers and local banks to counter a shortage of affordable housing — one of the country’s biggest social and economic problems. Saudi Arabia wants 60 percent of its nationals to own homes by 2020, up from 47 percent in 2016.

The size of real estate financing relative to its gross domestic product is 5 percent in Saudi Arabia compared to 69 percent in the United States, 74 percent in the United Kingdom and 43 pct in Canada, the housing ministry has said.

“The goal of SRC in this market was to make sure that we will be able to refinance at least around 10 percent of the market in 2020, and 20 percent of the market by 2028,” Susini told Reuters.