Saudi Arabia’s consumer prices fall in April, fourth month in a row

The annual declines in the consumer price index in Saudi Arabia are partly a consequence of a base effect that raised prices last year after the introduction in January 2018 of a 5% value-added tax. (Shutterstock)
Updated 21 May 2019
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Saudi Arabia’s consumer prices fall in April, fourth month in a row

  • Economists still expect deflation in 2019 after prices rose throughout 2018
  • The International Monetary Fund projects GDP growth of 1.9 percent

DUBAI: Saudi Arabian consumer prices fell 1.9 percent year-on-year in April for the fourth month in a row but were unchanged from March, data from the General Authority for Statistics showed.
The annual declines in the consumer price index are partly a consequence of a base effect that raised prices last year after the introduction in January 2018 of a 5% value-added tax (VAT), economists have said.
The annual fall in the CPI index, however, narrowed from March when the index had dropped 2.1 percent. Some economists see the narrowing of deflation as a sign that Saudi Arabia is having some success in boosting its non-oil sector, while global oil prices have remained under pressure in recent years.
“The further easing of deflation in Saudi Arabia in April suggests that stronger activity in the non-oil sector at the start of this year is (finally) feeding through to a pick-up in price pressures,” said Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics in a note.
Economists still expect deflation in 2019 after prices rose throughout 2018 following the introduction of the VAT, which was imposed to boost non-oil revenue in response to a long-term drop in oil prices.
Capital Economics expect Saudi CPI to fall 1.3 percent in 2019, while Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank’s projects the CPI index to decline 0.9 percent this year.
“The big picture remains that the unwinding impact of tax and administered price hikes implemented in early 2018 has revealed the weakness of underlying inflation in the kingdom,” Tuvey said.
After contracting in 2017, the economy grew 2.2 percent last year, but is forecast to grow more modestly this year.
The International Monetary Fund projects GDP growth of 1.9 percent, buoyed by an expansion of the non-oil economy as the government steps up spending. Y
The central bank chief said in February, when asked if he expected deflation this year, that he expected consumer demand and real estate loans would stave it off.
Credit grew in the first quarter by more than 3 percent, its fastest pace in more than two years, fueled by a jump in mortgages and in loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises.
Tuesday’s data showed the sub-index for housing, water, electricity, gas and fuel prices down 7.8 percent from a year earlier. The sub-index had fallen 8.1 percent in March.
Prices for food and drinks, however, rose 1 percent and prices for education rose 1.3 percent.


‘Fuel of the future’ comes of age as Aramco opens first hydrogen filling station

Updated 17 June 2019
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‘Fuel of the future’ comes of age as Aramco opens first hydrogen filling station

  • Fatih Birol’s comments were a deliberate poke at those experts who think that the sheer logistics of hydrogen make it always an unlikely solution to global energy challenges
  • Birol’s article was followed by a report from the IEA that put some meat on the bones of the argument that hydrogen is key to solving problems such as global warming

DUBAI: Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, cracked a joke in the Financial Times a couple of weeks ago.
“Hydrogen is the fuel of the future, and it always will be,” he wrote about the fuel that many experts agree could hold the key to the world’s energy problems.
It was a deliberate poke at those experts who think that the sheer logistics of hydrogen — generation, storage, and transportation — make it always an unlikely solution to global energy challenges.
Birol’s article was followed by a report from the IEA that put some meat on the bones of the argument that hydrogen is key to solving such problems as global warming and environmental degradation.
“The world has an important opportunity to tap into hydrogen’s vast potential to become a critical part of a more sustainable and secure energy future … The world should not miss this unique chance to make hydrogen an important part of our clean and secure energy future,” the report said.
That argument will get a critical boost today, when Saudi Aramco, the biggest oil company in the world, opens its first hydrogen fueling station in Dhahran Techno Valley, in the heart of the Kingdom’s oil producing region.
Aramco has partnered with Air Products, a US company that has been a pioneer in the use of industrial gases, to produce a filling station for hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

 

It is very much a test. “The collected data during this pilot phase of the project will provide valuable information for the assessment of future applications of this emerging transport technology in the local environment,” Aramco said when the project was first announced.
But it is something Aramco has been investigating for a long time. Ahmed Al-Khowaiter, Aramco’s chef technology officer, said: “The use of hydrogen derived from oil or gas to power fuel cell electric vehicles represents an exciting opportunity to expand the use of oil in clean transport.”
Hydrogen — essentially what is left when you take the oxygen out of water — has been recognized as a potential fuel source for many decades. Motor manufacturers developed a hydrogen motor engine 50 years ago, but the ease and accessibility of hydrocarbon fuels — oil, gas and coal — made it uneconomic to develop this technology beyond the prototype stage.
Now, as the debate over the role of hydrocarbons in the global environmental balance has become ever more intense, some experts, including Birol and other influential parts of the thought-leadership establishment, believe hydrogen is the next Big Thing in global energy trends.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) said recently that “green” hydrogen offers a solution to the world energy challenge, and that is the problem the theoreticians are struggling with: Hydrogen is released naturally in the process of burning hydrocarbons, but it is self-defeating, in an environmental sense. if you have to burn oil, gas or coal to produce it.
On the other hand, renewable sources, like sun, wind and water, do not produce enough hydrogen to be practically or commercially viable, and not at the right times, when people actually need it.
But, as the WEF noted recently “low-cost green hydrogen is coming”, as technology advances mean the cost of renewable energy falls dramatically each year. The Middle East already has a very big and very cost-efficient program for solar energy generation.
The other challenges lay in how to store and transport hydrogen. It can be loaded onto a tanker like LNG, or pushed through pipelines, but it would require a huge investment to change current logistics systems — essentially designed for oil and LNG — to handle hydrogen.
Many countries, including Saudi Arabia, already have the infrastructure associated with oil and gas refining and petrochemicals production to be able to equip “hydrogen hubs,” as long as there is government will and commercial incentive to do so.
For the Kingdom, it looks like a no-brainer for the future. As Birol said: “So, hydrogen offers tantalising promises of cleaner industry and emissions-free power. Turning it into energy produces only water, not greenhouse gases. It’s also the most abundant element in the universe. What’s not to like?”

FACTOID

Technological advances mean low-cost ‘green’ hydrogen offers a solution to the world energy challenge, according to the World Economic Forum.