Senior finance executives in the Middle East upbeat despite uncertainty

In Saudi Arabia, 71 percent of finance executives expected strong or modest growth this year. (Reuters)
Updated 19 June 2019
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Senior finance executives in the Middle East upbeat despite uncertainty

  • Some 72 percent of those polled regionally thought they would see economic growth this year
  • The report also highlighted the core importance of next-generation technology and innovation on corporate dynamics

DUBAI: Senior finance executives in the Middle East are less optimistic about the prospects for economic growth than they were 12 months ago, but remain positive on the outlook for their companies and investments.
That was the main finding for the region of an international poll conducted for American Express, the global financial services firm, by Institutional Investor, the business information group, and presented to media and corporate clients in Dubai yesterday.
Mazin Khoury, chief executive officer for American Express in the Middle East, said financial executives were “operating in unsettled times.” Despite this, “they are concentrating on their day-to-day business but keeping an eye on the future,” he added.
Some 72 percent of those polled regionally thought they would see economic growth this year, compared with 92 percent last year, in part due to oil price fluctuations. Only 10 percent said there would be a significant contraction in growth.
In Saudi Arabia, 71 percent of finance executives expected strong or modest growth this year, roughly the same as in the UAE. Amex noted that “despite oil prices rising in early 2019, long-term global trends point to more supply and less demand.”
The poll was taken late last year, before even greater recent volatility in the global oil markets, as well as worries about global trade and faltering economic growth.
A majority of them — some 64 percent — thought that “socio-economic changes and global trade policy” would strengthen their companies’ growth prospects, with only 5 percent expecting these factors would weaken their outlook. That was broadly in keeping with global averages, Amex said.
“Expanded foreign trade will be based more on organic strategies than partnerships, the executives through, with most companies likely to set up or expand foreign operations and use online media for marketing to pursue international growth strategies,” in a sign of a more nimble approach to foreign trade in the Middle East.
The report also highlighted the core importance of next-generation technology and innovation on corporate dynamics, as well as the importance of young people under the age of 24, as both customers and employees.
Some 78 percent of respondents said they had explicit strategies to appeal to “Generation Z” consumers, who make up between 50 and 64 percent of regional populations.
The report did not include data relating to consumer spending by Amex customers. Khoury said that his business had not seen any impact from recent negative trends in economics or geopolitical factors.
“If it happens it will not affect American Express alone, but there has been no impact. It is too early to judge,” he said, referring to increased tensions in the Arabian Gulf region.
“Our customers are still calling us to book their travel, we are still engaging with corporates
and signing new corporates. They are continuing to spend,” he told Arab News.


SoftBank to launch Vision Fund 2 mega-venture

Updated 24 July 2019
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SoftBank to launch Vision Fund 2 mega-venture

  • Vision Fund 2 will aim to pull in existing investors such as the Public Investment Fund in Saudi Arabia and Mubadala in the UAE
  • Vision Fund 2 is expected to at least equal the original fund’s $97 billion fund, and could reach $150 billion

LONDON: The global mega-investor SoftBank Vision Fund is preparing to launch another giant investment venture.
Vision Fund 2 will aim to pull in existing investors such as the Public Investment Fund in Saudi Arabia and Mubadala in the UAE, the biggest investors in the original fund along with SoftBank, the Japanese group run by Masayoshi Son.
Sources told Arab News that Vision Fund 2 is expected to at least equal the original fund’s $97 billion fund, and could reach $150 billion — which would make it the largest private investment fund in history.
A team from SoftBank Investment Advisers led by its chief executive Rajeev Misra and Masayoshi Son have been in preliminary discussions with potential investors for several months.
They have been talking to sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and elsewhere, as well as big global corporates, some of which were also investors in the first fund.

*** Read our full interview with CEO Rajeev Misra here: SoftBank Vision Fund stands shoulder to shoulder with Saudi Arabia — CEO Rajeev Misra ***
Investment is also expected from global banks, insurance companies and pension funds, and SoftBank is expected to put up about $40 billion.
The first phase of the launch is due to end “in the next few months,” with a final close around 12 months later.
The original fund plans to return profits to existing investors over the next few months, including big partners such as PIF, Mubadala and SoftBank. If they see healthy returns they may be more likely to invest heavily in the new fund.
The interests of Saudi Arabia and the Vision Fund align as the Kingdom diversifies away from reliance on oil, Misra told Arab News. “Our commitment is to support the creation of tens of thousands of jobs in Saudi Arabia, high-tech jobs not blue collar, over the next few years,” he said.